Haggard, whose mood is triumphant after battling lung cancer that was diagnosed in 2008, this year celebrated his 75th birthday and 50th year as a recording artist, with no sign of the disease returning. Not surprisingly, the overall mood of Working in Tennessee is happy, laid back, a little ornery and a little wistful. It opens with the title track, an ideal Western swing workout that underscores Haggard’s oft-confrontational relationship with “Music Row.” In addition to his 19-year-old son doing some guitar and vocals, other family collaborations include Sometimes I Dream, co-written with his daughter, Jenessa, and the autobiographical tale, Down on the Houseboat co-written by his wife, Theresa who also joins him in a duet of the Johnny Cash-June Carter standard, “Jackson.”
The son of Oklahoman immigrants to the Bakersfield oilfields, Haggard is the real deal. This is a man who sings Okie From Muskogee with rare conviction, and someone who’s lived in a boxcar, served a stint in San Quentin, dug ditches, drove big rigs and it all comes out in songs like I’m a Lonesome Fugitive, Sing a Sad Song, and Workin’ Man Blues.
While his music remained hardcore country, he pushed the boundaries quite far. Like his idol, Bob Wills, the great innovator of western swing music, (who left him his fiddle when he died) Haggard’s music became a melting pot that drew from all forms of traditional American music - country, jazz, blues, and folk. Combined with his deep baritone and songwriting that earned him the moniker, “poet of the common man” he’s developed a distinctive style all his own.
Haggard’s longtime band, The Strangers, who’ve been with him since the mid ‘60s, and have become known as one of country music’s finest road bands, have received numerous industry accolades themselves, including being eight-time winners of the Academy of Country Music’s Touring Band of the Year Award and have recorded several albums on their own.
Though he’s been through “a rough patch” in the last few years, Haggard says he’s “swinging back full throttle now. Music keeps me alive. It makes me breathe better. It’s funny, but I feel better when I come off a tour than when I start out,” an amazing accomplishment for a man who’s had part of his lung removed due to cancer. With no looking back, Haggard continues to produce songs and perform live with an energy and enthusiasm that defies his years.
Opening for Merle Haggard will be The Fryed Brothers, known for their crowd-pleasing blend of country, blues, swing, boogie-woogie and good old roadhouse rock ‘n’ roll. Having carved out a reputation as “the best biker band in the world” the Fryed’s incredible musicianship and great vibe always make for an entertaining show.
The Mateel encourages attendees who will be drinking alcohol to enjoy the evening and have a safe trip home. For those who’ve enjoyed themselves “a little too much,” Blu Graham, owner of the Lost Coast Adventure Tours shuttle will be offering shuttle rides to and from the event between 7:30 p.m. and 1:00 a.m.
Blu can be reached on his cell phone at (707) 502-7514 to arrange for a pick up. He will service everywhere from Dean Creek to Benbow and will charge a nominal fee. Please use this service rather than drive after drinking if you don’t have a designated driver.
The Mateel Community Center is donating 100% of net ticket proceeds from this event to South Fork High School.
Doors open at 7:30 p.m. with music by The Fryed Brothers Band at 8:30 p.m. The bar will feature domestic and microbrews on tap. Snacks will be available in the kitchen benefiting KMUD Radio. Don’t miss this rare chance to see country music royalty, Merle Haggard up close and personal at the Mateel Community Center on Friday, Sept. 14.
Special thanks to sponsors Lagunitas Brewing Company and Aurora Innovations for their generous contributions to this event.