Better Than: A cold beer, a shot of whiskey, and a good cry.
All the old outlaws are only getting older.
Last night, though, the Red-Headed Stranger and the Okie From Muskogee proved that they might be wizened gentlemanly grandaddies who sing about love, heartbreak, drinkin’, tokin’, towin’ the line, and lovin’ the lord. But they’re “still alive.” And they’re still hard as fuckin’ railroad spikes.
Two of the lone remaining country badasses still standing (and singing), Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard charmed men in Stetsons, women in pearls, and children in “I Love Willie” onesies at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida.
|Photo by Sayre Berman|
At 7:30 p.m. sharp, Merle the Mule kicked off the show, running and rambling through a half-dozen tunes that cut straight from some latest triumphs (“If I Could Only Fly”) to rowdy midcareer brawlers (“I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”) to a string of late-’60s classics: “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Mama Tried,” and “Today I Started Loving You Again.”
Only two weeks ago, Hag had been hospitalized with pneumonia. And he was forced to cancel a few gigs. But yesterday evening, aside from a little roughness in his voice, he seemed in solid shape, even laughing at the Reaper.
“It’s nice to be here,” Merle croakily cackled, pausing between ditties. “Well, it’s nice to be anywhere.”
“Someone called me up the other day and said, ‘I heard you had a heart attack and died,'” the bemused 75-year-old dude shook his head. “I said, ‘Nope, still alive.’
|Photo by Sayre Berman|
By 8:54 p.m., though, it was time for the second part of the show as Willie returned and the Texas flag unfurled to the floor behind him.
Wearing a big black hat just like his pal Merle, the 79-year-old Red-Headed Stranger waded into “Whiskey River” with a wide smile on his charming, craggy face. Crooning “Still Is Still Moving to Me,” he illuminated the mysteries of being at work while being at rest. And doubling back for another boozy anthem, Willie was “singing whiskey for my men, beer for my horses” with the whole damn place on backing vocals.
Merle Haggard’s Setlist:
-“If I Could Only Fly”
-“Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Star”
-“I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”
-“The Bottle Let Me Down”
-“Today I Started Loving You Again”
-“The Fightin’ Side of Me”
-“If We Make It Through December”
-“Folsom Prison Blues” (Johnny Cash cover)
-“Take Me Back to Tulsa” (Bob Wills cover)
-“Okie from Muskogee”
-“Pancho and Lefty” (With Willie Nelson)
Willie Nelson’s Setlist:
-“Still Is Still Moving to Me”
-“Beer for My Horses”
-“Good Hearted Woman”
-“Funny How Time Just Slips Away”
-“Me and Paul”
-“Call Me the Breeze” (Lynyrd Skynyrd cover by Lukas Nelson)
-“Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”
-“Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground”
-“On the Road Again”
-“Always on My Mind”
-“Texas Flood” (Stevie Ray Vaughan cover by Lukas Nelson)
-“Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” (Hank Williams cover)
-“Hey Good Lookin'” (Hank Williams cover)
-“Move It on Over” (Hank Williams cover)
-“Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” (Fred Rose/Roy Acuff/Hank Williams cover)
-“Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die”
-“I Saw the Light”