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February 28, 2014 at 6:30 AM

Does Merle Haggard still have it? Maybe | Concert preview

(Myriam Santos)

(Myriam Santos)

Merle Haggard, the legendary outlaw country singer, can be forgiven for looking a little older at the Grammys last month.

Appearing on stage with fellow outlaws Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, Haggard offered up a spirited version of “Okie from Muskogee” that showed he still has some charm left as a performer. But it also demonstrated his vocal limitations — Haggard turns 77 in April — and makes you wonder how he would fair in a full-length show.

Fans will get a chance to see Saturday, March 1, when Haggard comes to the Emerald Queen Casino in Tacoma.

Haggard has actually maintained a pretty impressive recording streak in this century, recording nine albums including 2010’s “I Am What I Am.” However, fans of his newer work expecting to hear more recent cuts might be disappointed. With a staggering 38 No. 1 hits, Haggard could play two shows of nothing but his most popular songs and still have a couple left over.

And that would be perfectly fine with most people. Seeing Haggard play “Mama Tried” or “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” in person is a bucket-list check mark for a lot of country fans, and while this probably won’t be the last time Haggard hits the road there’s a sense that the end is in sight.

That makes this tour a bit of a victory lap for Haggard, so it seems an appropriate time to celebrate one of the first outlaw country artists, whose propagators also include Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Hank Williams Jr.

By the mid-1960s the toned-down “Nashville sound” had taken over country music and robbed it of any kind of danger. It was this sound that Haggard and his cohorts successfully subverted, both with their music and also their style and swagger.

Outlaw country has always been the antidote to Nashville’s tendency toward glitz and glamour. It was never more obvious that an outlaw element is still a necessary part of the country-music landscape than at the Grammys, as Haggard, Kristofferson and Nelson were joined on stage by buttoned-up
country-pop star Blake Shelton, who can be too slick for his own good, despite being one of the most bankable artists working today.

Who knows exactly how much Haggard has left in the tank? If nostalgia can’t carry the day and he ends up disappointing some fans, perhaps he should break out one of his newer songs and remind the crowd of a simple truth he’s never wavered from: “I’m just a seeker, I’m just a sinner and I’ll be what I am.”
Be what you are and make no excuses — that’s outlaw.

Merle Haggard

8 p.m. Saturday, March 1, Emerald Queen Casino, 2024 E. 29th St. Tacoma; $35-$70 (800-745-3000 or ticketmaster.com).

Comments | More in Country | Topics: Concert Preview, Merle Haggard


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