Margie Lemons — “Victoria Texas, when the boys still had station wagons ;)”
Margie Lemons — “Victoria Texas, when the boys still had station wagons ;)”
by: Nancy Kruh
Since Merle Haggard’s death a year ago, his widow, Theresa, says the pain of the loss has been so difficult that she hasn’t been able to turn on a radio for fear of hearing his songs. “It’s been hard,” she says, “to even look at pictures because it’s been too emotional.”
All that changed on Thursday night, as she stood on stage at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena – behind her, a billboard-size portrait of her husband, in front of her, a sea of fans eager for a reminder that Hag lives on in his music.
For the next three hours, a staggering list of stars offered Theresa Haggard – and the world – ample evidence of his immortality in a tribute to the country titan. The concert was held exactly one year after the day of his death on his 79th birthday.
For her part, Theresa alternated between her most familiar spot – singing backup on her husband’s songs – and sitting to one side of the stage and soaking in the performances. The lineup had been long announced, but the surprises came in which mood of Haggard’s music each artist would pick.
A subdued Miranda Lambert channeled the Haggard gloom in “Misery and Gin,” delivering it in a black dress and ending with her hands in prayer, a glance upward and a wave to the heavens. Hank Williams Jr. had no trouble connecting with the reckless Haggard in a raucous “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” Dierks Bentley went wistful – what he called “Merle Haggard’s version of a happy Christmas song” – with a bouncy “If We Make it Through December.”
Alabama spoke to the mournful Haggard with “Silver Wings,” shunning the all-star backup band and stripping down the song to three-part harmony and Randy Owen’s acoustic guitar. Kacey Musgraves offered Haggard at his most hopeful with “Rainbow Stew.”
Before the concert, Musgraves, 28, told how she discovered Haggard’s music as a little girl “digging through my grandpa’s record collection.” During her teen years singing traditional country on the Texas Opry circuit, she said, she kept his songs in constant rotation on her setlist.
Everyone on stage, it seemed, had a personal connection to the music, if not the man himself. Old friend Tanya Tucker picked “Farmer’s Daughter” – a song she had last performed for Haggard at a long-ago birthday party. Connie Smith took the classic “That’s the Way Love Goes”; last year, the Hall of Famer contributed her voice to Haggard’s funeral at his request.
Chris Janson, whom Haggard selected to open what would be his final concerts at Nashville’s hallowed Ryman Auditorium, joined Jake Owen for a rousing duet of “Footlights.”
Owen, too, long ago found a kindred spirit in the Hag, and he reveled in getting to sing in the icon’s lower register. “If I could make a career out of singing songs like ‘Footlights’ every night,” Owen, 35, said before the concert, “I’d be the happiest man on Earth.”
The evening’s lineup crossed genres, as well as generations. John Mellencamp easily found the rock vibes in “White Line Fever,” and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and Warren Haynes took “Working Man Blues” literally, turning it into a soul-stirring blues guitar romp.
There was no better proof of Haggard as the great musical common denominator than the appearance of the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, who entered the stage wearing a classic Haggard fedora.
“It’s good to be here,” Richards, 73, said, wryly adding, “Good to be anywhere.”
The legendary rocker spurned his own roots and let the whine of a steel guitar guide him through “Sing Me Back Home,” drawing the crowd to its feet. But an even more ecstatic response awaited the next performer, Haggard contemporary and recording partner Willie Nelson.
Richards stayed on stage as stand-in for the Nelson-Haggard duet “Reasons to Quit.” Then Richards departed, and Nelson called in Kenny Chesney to take Haggard’s part in a solemn “Pancho and Lefty.” Re-stoking the stage fires, Toby Keith helped Nelson through a rollicking “Rambling Fever.”
At evening’s end, Theresa Haggard – who sang, danced and wept through the concert – thanked the artists and said what was on everyone’s minds: “I know Haggard is here right now.”
As most of the lineup gathered back on stage, Nelson stepped to the microphone and with all the irreverence he could muster delivered those immortal country words, “We don’t smoke marijuana …” The stars gleefully joined in to send off the sellout crowd with a howling, cathartic “Okie From Muskogee.”
Sing Me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard was filmed by Blackbird Productions for eventual television broadcast.
Dozens of country and rock artists turned out Thursday night for “Sing Me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard,” a salute to the country legend on the one-year anniversary of his death and what would have been his 80th birthday.
From Keith Richards’ heartfelt “Sing Me Back Home” to Miranda Lambert’s aching “Misery and Gin”
Willie Nelson, Keith Richards, Kenny Chesney, John Mellencamp, Loretta Lynn, Hank Williams Jr. and Dierks Bentley were among the performers who interpreted songs from Haggard’s more than 50-year career at the concert in Nashville.
Willie Nelson and Miranda Lambert, especially, delivered moving tributes. Nelson sang “Reasons to Quit” with the Rolling Stones guitarist, and then duetted with Kenny Chesney on “Pancho & Lefty,” while Lambert turned in a devastating rendition of “Misery & Gin.”
The concert was filmed for broadcast on a network and date to be announced.
Here’s the set list to “Sing Me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard”:
Ben Haggard & the Strangers – “What Am I Gonna Do”
Ben Haggard, Aaron Lewis & the Strangers – “Heaven Was a Drink of Wine”
Tanya Tucker & the Strangers – “Farmer’s Daughter”
Bobby Bare & the Strangers – “The Fugitive”
Connie Smith & the Strangers – “That’s the Way Love Goes”
John Anderson & the Strangers – “Big City”
Toby Keith & the Strangers – “Carolyn/Daddy Frank”
Jake Owen and Chris Janson – “Footlights”
Miranda Lambert – “Misery & Gin”
Rodney Crowell – “You Don’t Have Very Far to Go”
Jamey Johnson – “Kern River”
Jamey Johnson and Alison Krauss – “If I Could Only Fly”
Alison Krauss – “Sing a Sad Song”
Alabama – “Silver Wings”
Hank Williams Jr. – “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”
Loretta Lynn – “Today I Started Loving You”
Lynyrd Skynyrd – “Honky Tonk Nighttime Man”
The Avett Brothers – “Mama Tried”
John Mellencamp – “White Line Fever”
Kacey Musgraves – “Rainbow Stew”
Ronnie Dunn – “It’s All in the Movies”
Billy Gibbons – “The Bottle Let Me Down”
Warren Haynes and Billy Gibbons – “Workin’ Man Blues”
Dierks Bentley – “If We Make It Through December”
Lucinda Williams – “Going Where the Lonely Go”
Sheryl Crow – “Natural High”
Keith Richards – “Sing Me Back Home”
Keith Richards and Willie Nelson – “Reasons to Quit”
Willie Nelson and Kenny Chesney – “Pancho and Lefty”
Willie Nelson and Toby Keith – “Ramblin’ Fever”
Willie Nelson and cast – “Okie From Muskogee”
M. Ward, Ray Benson, Valerie June, the Felice Brothers and Ray Wylie Hubbard are among more than a dozen performers added to the schedule for Willie Nelson’s annual Luck Reunion, set for March 16 at Nelson’s hill country property just west of Austin in the midst of South By Southwest.
Here’s the current lineup, spread across three stages, with more still to be added:
World Headquarters Stage: Willie Nelson & Family, Conor Oberst & Friends featuring M. Ward and the Felice Brothers, Margo Price, Valerie June, Big Thief, Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, Insects Vs. Robots, Devon Gilfillian, Indianola, Bee Caves and a special surprise headlining guest.
Chapel Stage: Lillie Mae, Andrew Combs, Twain, Kelsey Waldon, Frankie Lee, National Reserve, Red Shahan and more.
by: Eric Spitznagel
Willie Nelson is one of those rare American icons that you’re just not allowed to dislike. He doesn’t have to be your favorite artist. You don’t even need to be able to name any of his songs—he’s got well over 2,000 of them, and off the top of my head I can only recall “On the Road Again”. But saying you don’t care for Willie Nelson is like saying that Elvis Presley was overrated, or that Abraham Lincoln gets too much press, or shrugging off the Bill of Rights as overrated claptrap. No, sorry, that’s just not okay. Loving Willie Nelson, like paying taxes and pretending to have an opinion about politics, is just part of being a citizen of the United States. Nobody’s asking you to memorize the lyrics to “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys” or “Good Hearted Woman”, but if you happen to hear one of those songs on the radio and it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you’ve shamed yourself and your country. Why not just spit on the flag while you’re at all, ya fucking commie?
I called Willie Nelson to talk about his latest album, American Classic, a collection of standards (his third since 1978’s megahit Stardust) that comes out next Tuesday, August 25th. It took me almost a month to track down the 76-year-old singer—actually, if you include my entire history of trying and failing to interview Nelson, it’s been at least two years. “We just can’t find him,” his PR rep has repeatedly told me. Given Willie’s age and propensity for smoking immense amounts of cannabis, that’s actually pretty remarkable. One doesn’t usually encounter senior citizens who are quite so wily and elusive. But that’s why Willie Nelson is a legend.
Eric Spitznagel: During your almost 50-year career, you’ve dabbled in a diverse array of musical styles. You’ve done country, pop, gospel, rock, jazz, and even reggae. Is there a genre that you wouldn’t touch with a ten-foot pole? Can we expect a Willie hip-hop record any time soon?
Willie Nelson: (Laughs.) Well, you know, I try to do what I think I can do. I’m not sure that doing a rap record would be the best idea I ever had. I like to stick with music I know I can play. I love classical, but I don’t think I could ever play it. I’m just not qualified.
You’ve never been tempted to pick up a French horn?
Oh, I’ve thought about it. But it never ends well. The only time I ever picked up a horn, nothing came out the other end. I was disappointed at the time, because I kinda thought I could play anything. But I guess that isn’t true.
You re-recorded “Always On My Mind” for American Classic, which was originally a huge hit for you in 1982. Is that what happens when you’ve been in the business this long? “Aw crap, I did that one in the 80s? Why didn’t anybody fucking tell me?!”
(Laughs.) That’s possible. In fact, I suggested to my producer that maybe I’d done that song enough. But Barbra Streisand had talked about maybe wanting to do “Always On My Mind” with me for the album, so that’s the reason we recorded it, just on the outside chance she’d do it. But then she wasn’t available, and we just had the version I did by myself. I honestly would’ve left it off the album, because I thought I already did a pretty good take on that twenty-seven years ago.
You also recorded “Baby it’s Cold Outside” with Norah Jones. I’m not sure how closely you’ve listened to the lyrics, but I’m pretty sure that song is about date rape.
Yeah. That’s what I liked about it. (Laughs.) It’s about this guy who’s finally found what he needs from this gal and he’s just going for it.
You’re kidding, right?
Oh, I don’t know. You think it’s about rape? I’ve been listening to that song for a long time and I never picked up on that. The song’s older than you and me put together, probably.
Those lyrics are kinda difficult to interpret any other way. When a song begins with a woman pleading “the answer is no” while trying to get out of a dude’s apartment, it seems pretty inevitable that their date ends with a police report.
(Laughs.) A lot depends on how you sing it. You could make any song sound creepy if you wanted. It’s all about the inflection. At least the lyrics aren’t too obvious.
I guess that’s true. It could be so much worse. (Sings.) “You’re hurting my arm/ Baby’s it’s cold outside.”
Yeah, yeah. That’s when you know something is really wrong. (sings.) “My leg’s turning blue/ Baby’s it cold outside.”
You’ve been touring with Bob Dylan this summer. What’s it like backstage? Is it all giggles and pillow fights?
Honestly, no, it’s not that exciting. I open the show, so I usually get to the stadium first. I go on at 6:10, play for about hour and then get out of the way so that John Mellencamp can come on. Then Bob Dylan finishes it up. By the time Bob goes onstage, I’m a couple hundred miles down the road.
So the two of you haven’t had a chance yet to sit down with a one-hitter and share war stories?
Nope, not yet. There’ll hopefully be time for that later. And I think it’ll take more than a one-hitter. (Laughs.)
How have you resisted walking over to Bob and ripping that god-awful mustache off his face?
Bob has a mustache? I didn’t notice.
It’s just horrible. It’s like a cross between Vincent Price and a 14-year-old boy trying to grow facial hair. I love the man’s music, but somebody has to shave that thing.
Well, I’ve never been one to carry around a razor. (Laughs.) So I think he’s safe with me.
You sold the rights to “Family Bible,” one of your first songs, for just $50 and it went on to become a gospel classic. In hindsight, do you feel cheated?
No, no, not at all. I needed the $50 real bad. If the same thing happened today and I needed $50, I’d sell another one.
Do you have any songs lying around that you’d be willing to sell to us for $50?
I’d have to see the money first.
You’re shockingly prolific. It seems like you’re releasing a new record every few months. In the time it’s taken to do this interview, have you composed another album worth of songs in your head?
(Laughs.) Yeah, I sure have. And I’ve already sent it to you. Check your email. I sent you mp3s of some rough cuts.
Wow. Thank you, Willie. And you’re not even going to charge us for this one?
Naw, that one’s for free. It’s not really my best work.
As a country music legend, can you do something to stop the mullet?
(Laughs.) I can try if you want, if you think it’s worthwhile. I’ll try to write a song that’ll make it happen.
Would you? Just rewrite “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” but make it about mullets.
(Laughs.) So it’s “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Grow Mullets?”
Hey, you’re the artist. I’m just trying to push you in the right direction.
I’ll see what I can do.
You did a song in 2006 called “Cowboys Are Frequently, Secretly Fond of Each Other,” in which you claimed that “Inside every cowboy there’s a lady who’d love to slip out.” Is your inner lady a redhead too?
Um. (Long pause.) I’m not sure I know exactly what you’re talking about.
I don’t think I could be any clearer. Does the female Willie Nelson have a fire crotch? Does the red-headed stranger have a red snatch patch?
Well c’mon, I gotta have some secrets. (Laughs.) I’ll tell ya, though, I don’t cross-dress a lot. And my voice is kinda lower than most, so I don’t think I could get away with that. I don’t have anything against anybody. I’m not prejudiced in any way that I can think of. That’s just not the guy I am.
You once claimed that marijuana is better than sex. You’ve either been having terrible sex or smoking some really, really, really incredible weed. Which is it?
I don’t think I ever said that marijuana is better than sex. If I did, I must’ve been really fucked up. But no, I don’t think I ever said that. Marijuana is a nice high, but that’s about all you can say about it.
You got stoned on the roof of the White House in 1978. Not that we’d ever try it, but if we happen to be in the White House and we happen to have a fat Austin torpedo on us, how do we get up to the roof?
(Laughs.) Oh god, it’s been too many years. It’s kinda hard to tell you on the phone. I’ll send you a map.
How’d you even find your way up there the first time? Did you just make a lucky guess?
The fella that I was with knew his way around, so I didn’t ask any questions. I just followed him.
Now that there’s a Democrat back in the White House, it’s probably safe to light up again. Have you gotten the call from Obama yet?
Not yet, but I’m expecting it any day. (Laughs.) Next time I see him, I’m gonna ask if there’s a new way up to the roof that I should know about.
You’ve got your very own flavor of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. What’s the THC content on that?
It’s high. I’ll just say that. It’s very, very high. It’s the equivalent of eight pounds of Oaxacan.
Yeah, you need to be careful with this stuff. It’s a lot. One bowl at a time.
Bruce Robison wrote a song called “What Would Willie Do?” Given your history, don’t you think it’d make more sense to ask, “What Would Willie Not Do?”
I think so, yeah. (Laughs.)
Not everybody’s liver is as durable as yours.
It’s funny you said that. There was a guy who worked for me named Poodie Locke. He was my road manager for 35 years, and he died just a few weeks ago. I hated to lose him. There’s a picture on my ice box of Poodie I’m looking at it right now, and it says “What Would Poodie Do?” I crossed off “What Would” and wrote in “What Didn’t“. (Laughs.) But I guess that applies for me too, doesn’t it?
That’s an excellent question. What haven’t you done yet? Hand-gliding? Gator rasslin’? Hunting men for sport?
Well I don’t know. I’ve tried to do as much as I can, but every day has something new. That’s how I like it. I’m always surprised to find out that there’s still so much left to do. I may have to wait till tomorrow to see what it is, but I know there’s some things out there I haven’t done.
So you’re telling us you haven’t tasted the sweet nectar of human flesh?
(Laughs.) Can’t say that I have.
Despite your hard-living, you seem as healthy as ever. What’s your secret?
Well, here’s the thing. For a long, long time, I had to spend my days trying to recuperate and recover from all the bad stuff I did at night. I’d wake up in the morning and think, “Well, how much fun did I have last night?” Because I had to spend the entire day trying to make up for it. After awhile, I just got tired of it, and I just quit abusing myself so much at night. It made my days easier.
I’ve heard that you enjoy jogging. How did you discover that? And were you being chased at the time?
(Laughs.) You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But no, I’ve always been a big jogger. I like to run and ride my bike and swim. I’m also into martial arts. I’ve always been an athlete, ever since I was a boy. So it’s not unusual that I’m still doing it. Despite my reputation, I really do enjoy things that are good for me.
You recently earned a black belt in Taekwondo. Under what circumstance would Willie Nelson kick somebody’s ass?
Probably under no circumstances. A guy who really knows martial arts doesn’t have to kick anybody’s ass. He knows when to just get out of the way.
You have a reputation for carrying guns in public. Are you packing right now?
No, no, I don’t carry guns anymore. It’s not necessary. I don’t know if anybody else in my group does. There might be one or two guys, like some of the security guys, but I don’t know. I never really ask. But not me, I have no use for a gun anymore.
I find that vaguely depressing. The guy with the nickname “Shotgun Willie” doesn’t have an arsenal of firearms strapped to his hip? What about your guitar? Isn’t it named Trigger?
Well yeah, but Trigger was a horse. Trigger was Roy Rogers’s horse.
So your guitar can’t also be used as a weapon? I was hoping it was a James Bond kinda thing. If the audience starts getting mouthy, you could just mow ’em down.
(Laughs.) No, I’m afraid not. Trigger is just my horse. It’s not a weapon at all.
In the mid-60s, you briefly gave up music for pig farming. Do you still keep a few pigs around the house for inspiration?
Oh yes. You know there’s nothing prettier than a pig. Have you ever seen an ugly pig?
I can’t say that I have.
I guarantee you’ve never seen an ugly pig or an ugly bulldog. There’s just something about them that just turns me on. (Laughs.) I’ve got pigs all over the house.
Do you take your pigs on tour with you?
Absolutely. I’m always on tour, so I never get rid of them. I just keep pigs in the back of the tour bus. Have you ever heard of pigs in a blanket? Well, you ain’t ever seen nothing like these pigs. (Laughs.)
You wrote a book called The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes. What’s the dirtiest joke you’ve ever heard?
Hmm. (Long pause.) See, my idea of a really great dirty joke isn’t something you can share with everybody. You gotta watch yourself.
Come on, you can tell us. We won’t judge you.
Well, one of my favorites goes something like this…. A kid asks his mama, “How come you’re white and I’m black?” And she says, “Honey, from what I can remember of the party, you’re lucky you don’t bark.”
(Laughs.) Wow. That is good. But you’re right, probably not for everybody.
You gotta be careful. Not everybody can appreciate a funny goddamn joke.
In the 1979 comedy Electric Horseman, you said, “I’m gonna get myself a bottle of tequila and one of those Keno girls who can suck the chrome off a trailer hitch.” Thirty years later, are those still words to live by?
(Laughs.) Well, there are a few things these days that I don’t crave as much anymore. I can get along without Tequila. And it’s hard to find chrome trailer hitches these days.
(Long pause. We both burst into laughter.)
I think I hear what you’re saying. If given the chance, you wouldn’t turn down some private time with a Keno girl?
(Laughs.) Ooooh the Keno girls, I do love ’em. I’ll sing ’em a song
by: Melany Cox
ELTON —Willie Nelson and Family will perform Saturday at the Bell County Expo Center, the first concert in the much-anticipated 30th Anniversary Concert Series.
Willie Nelson’s career has spanned over six decades and includes more than just his musical prowess. The Texas icon is also an entrepreneur, author, actor and activist. He has released more than 200 albums and had numerous chart-topping hits.
Tickets for the Willie Nelson show went on sale Dec. 2, 2016. Jennifer Weir, director of sales and marketing, said tickets sold out within 12 days.
The concert will begin at 8 p.m. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Weir said people can come early and enjoy a meal from one of the food trucks that will be on site.
“We normally don’t do that for a concert, but since it’s sold out we’re going to have some food trucks out in the plaza area so they can enjoy themselves a little bit,” she said.
Weir said the Expo Center staff is pumped up for the concert.
The concert series lineup was announced in November 2016 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Bell County Expo Center. Tickets for every show cost $30 for every seat.
Christian group Casting Crowns will perform Saturday, April 22, and rock legends ZZ Top will perform May 20. In February, the Expo Center announced Bone Thugs-N-Harmony had also been added to the lineup. The hip-hop group will perform Friday, April 28.
Tickets for the three remaining shows in the series are on sale now. They can be purchased at www.bellcountyexpocenter.com or by calling 512-474-5664.
WILLIE NELSON AND FAMILY
with Special Guests Margo Price and
Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Ages: All Ages
Gates: 5:00 pm
Show: 6:00 pm
Rain or Shine
TICKETS ON SALE FRIDAY, MARCH 3 at 10:00 AM
VIP – $225.00
Click for more information
Gold Circle General Admission – $75.00
General Admission – $55.00
Tickets may be purchased online at Ticketmaster.com, by phone at 800-745-8000, at the Coliseum Box Office, and all Ticketmaster locations. Handicap seating is available in General Admission Grandstand on first-come, first-served basis. Infants in arms do not need a ticket.