Last Night: Merle Haggard At Mo's Place
Next month, President Obama will look on while Willie Nelson inducts Merle Haggard into the Kennedy Center ring of honor, our nation's artistic equivalent of a Purple Heart. A glance at the Hag's tour calendar could offer a small clue why.
Haggard plays palatial performing-arts palaces and falling-apart municipal auditoriums, and any county fair or casino that can meet his asking price. The Myerson Symphony Center in Dallas and DC's Country Junction in Lowell, Ind., the Dodge City Civic Center and the Mother Church of Country Music, Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. Back in February, Haggard and Kris Kristofferson played Verizon Wireless Theater.
He is equally at home, and at peace, in every one. Although perhaps a little disoriented. "I'm not exactly sure where we're at," he told the beyond-packed audience at Katy shopping-center honky-tonk Mo's Place Sunday night. "But we're having fun, and we're glad to be here."
As someone who has written expertly and indelibly about ex-cons forever on the run and the blanket of hard times that descends like a fog once every generation or so, Haggard doesn't get much credit for his humor. Maybe that's why it stood out.
When he said "I'd like to introduce the Strangers," his longtime backing band - including youngest son Ben, a real mother of a guitarist, and wife Teresa, June to his Johnny on the set-closing "Jackson" - promptly began shaking hands and greeting one another.
He stopped one of the most somber songs he's ever written, "Are the Good Times Really Over (I Wish a Buck Was Still Silver)," to amend the line "... and a joint was a bad place to be" to "...and a joint was a nice place to be." Willie Nelson's not inducting him for nothing, you know.