With a career that lasted as long as Merle Haggard’s, you can’t help but be of an influence to a few artists. However, as last night’s ‘Sing Me Back Home’ tribute concert, held on the one-year anniversary of his passing (as well as what would have been his 80th birthday), at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena showed, the total scope of Haggard’s genius was not just limited to artists within the mainstream Country format. There were many acts from outside the genre on the show last night, such as Sheryl Crow, Keith Richards, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, but it all came off rather seamless. Here are ten of the many moments from the show that we’ll be remembering for a while!
“Sing A Sad Song,” Alison Krauss & The Cox Family
The first of Haggard’s 105 chart entries was given a somber and reverential treatment from one of Nashville’s most respected vocalists. That would have been fine alone, but add the pristine harmonies from The Cox Family, and you have one of the most passionate performances of the night!
“Working Man’s Blues,” Warren Haynes & Billy Gibbons
Though Merle Haggard’s music was mostly traditional Country, this 1969 ode to the working man struck a chord with fans of many styles. To perform the classic, two of Rock & Roll’s biggest bad-asses delivered a soulful performance that was very much…..bad-ass!
“White Line Fever,” John Mellencamp
It wasn’t a hit single for Haggard, but the song, a tip of the hat to the lifestyle and allure of the road, has earned a place in the hearts of many fans. Mellencamp’s performance of this one, complete with a fiddle and squeeze box, made for one of the most energetic sets of the night!
“Silver Wings,” Alabama
What a creative roll Haggard was on in 1969. Again, just like with ‘White Line Fever,’ this classic was never a hit, but it struck a chord with many, including Randy Owen. The lead singer of Alabama told the crowd that the first two songs that he ever learned and performed were Haggard songs. That influenced showed up on a gorgeous and wistful performance of this track.
“It’s All In The Movies,” Ronnie Dunn
Some people prefer the early Hag. Some love the later years. As for me, it’s hard to beat his recorded output from the mid-1970s, when he was firmly in control of his artistry. This number one from 1975 happens to be my favorite Haggard song, and one of my favorite singers, Ronnie Dunn, delivered a knockout performance that shows just why he has earned the respect that he enjoys among today’s younger artists – similar to the spell that captivated Dunn about Haggard. Spellbinding!
“I’ll Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” Hank Williams, Jr.
If you go into any bar in Nashville on any given night, you’re going to hear many aspiring singers perform this 1981 chart-topper. Nobody does it with as much fire as ‘Bocephus.’ The crowd rose to attention with his performance of this honky-tonker, which Williams knocked out of the ballpark.
“Misery & Gin,” Miranda Lambert
The ACM Female Vocalist of the Year has often credited Merle Haggard as being one of her major crushes – and we doubt she will be recovering from that feeling anytime soon. At the same time, don’t look for any of the 15,000-plus crowd to forget this vulnerable and gritty performance of the 1980 hit that was Haggard at his most painful. There’s a reason Lambert wins so much – and she proved it here!
“Reasons To Quit,” Willie Nelson & Keith Richards
One of the biggest responses from the crowd was due to this unexpected pairing. The true magnetism of both of these artists made the performance magical, giving the crowd one of quite a few moments to stand on their feet throughout the night!
“That’s The Way Love Goes,” Connie Smith
On a night that included many guests from other genres, one of Country Music’s all-time great female voices delivered a riveting performance of one of Haggard’s later hits. Smith was one of Haggard’s favorites (Isn’t she on everybody’s list?), so her inclusion here was both necessary – and triumphant!
“Natural High,” Sheryl Crow
Watching the timeless Crow perform a beautiful version of this 1985 top ten hit from Merle Haggard makes me even more upset that Country Radio didn’t give her Feels Like Home album more attention. In a town where many female vocalists have copied her style and sound, Crow remains the real deal. Incredible – and that’s only the beginning of describing the moment.