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merle haggard

Sunday, July 28th • 4:30pm • Main Stage

 

The word “legend” usually makes an appearance at some point when discussing Merle Haggard. It’s an acknowledgment of his artistry and his standing as “the poet of the common man.” It’s a tribute to his incredible commercial success and to the lasting mark he has made, not just on country music, but on American music as a whole. It’s apt in every way but one.

The term imposes an aura of loftiness that’s totally at odds with the grit and heart of Haggard’s songs. “I’d be more comfortable with something like “professor,” he once told a reporter, and the description suits him. Studying, analyzing and observing the details of life around him, Haggard relays what he sees, hears and feels through his songs. The lyrics are deceptively simple, the music exceptionally listenable. Others who have lived through those same situations recognize the truth in the stories he tells. But Haggard’s real gift is that anyone who hears his songs recognizes the truth in them. When a Merle Haggard song plays, it can make an innocent-as-apple-pie grandma understand the stark loneliness and self-loathing of a prisoner on death row; a rich kid who never wanted for any material possession get a feel for the pain of wondering where the next meal will come from; a tee-totaling pillar of the community sympathize with the poor heartbroken guy downing shots at the local bar.

As a result, Haggard found his songs at the top of the charts on a regular basis. Immediately embraced by country fans, he also earned the respect of his peers. In addition to the 40 #1 hits included here, Haggard charted scores of Top Ten songs. He won just about every music award imaginable, both as a performer and as a songwriter, and in 1994 was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. His body of work easily places him beside Hank Williams as one of the most influential artists in country music.

It would be difficult to find an artist as creative, as successful, and as stubbornly true to himself as Haggard. In between his hits, he made albums that paid tribute to the musicians who influenced him, like Jimmie Rodgers, Lefty Frizzell and Bob Wills – done out of respect rather than commercial calculation. He blended elements of jazz, rock, blues and folk music into his arrangements, while staying true to the traditions of country. No matter what the current fashion of the moment was in music, Haggard always went his own way.

“I’ll tell you what the public likes more than anything,” he told the Boston Globe, “It’s the most rare commodity in the world – honesty.”

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