This was about as perfect as a night of music could get.
By TIMOTHY FINN
The Kansas City Star
I suppose if you were one of the 1,000 people whose seat was in the blocked-off street outside Knuckleheads you could have complained about the view. And a few times I wished the volume was higher on Merle Haggards vocals. Otherwise, Thursdays sold-out show was a master class in songwriting and performance, delivered outdoors on a comfortably warm late-summer night.
Haggard, 75, is one of country musics greatest songwriters. He burnishes his legend with a no-frills, common-man attitude that belies his stature. He was in good voice Thursday, backed by a steady six-piece band and two singers who assisted him through a 90-minute set stacked with some of his best-known material.
He opened with Ramblin Fever, appropriate for a guy now in his fifth decade of touring. Haggard is the rare songwriter who doesnt fuss much with the arrangements of his songs. For the most part, he plays them like he recorded them, like everyone remembers them.
Some of his most popular songs came early: The Bottle Let Me Down, Silver Wings, I Think Ill Just Stay Here and Drink. During Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Star a train roared by, and Haggard imitated its whistle with a few hard riffs on his guitar.
During his cover of Folsom Prison Blues, a woman ran onstage, then initiated a pursuit through the crowd by two of the doormen. Haggard continued singing through it all, unfazed. Two other covers were highlights: Take Me Back to Tulsa and Townes Van Zandts Pancho and Lefty.
A slight lull or two set in during tracks like Are the Good Times Really Over for Good. Otherwise the vibe was upbeat all night.
Not too proud to give his crowd which ranged in age from 20-somethings to people Haggards age what it came for, he reprised two of his standards: The Fightin Side of Me and Okie From Muskogee. If hes weary from having played them a hundred dozen times, he never shows it. Thats another facet if his charm: He seems to have as good a time performing his stout and stellar catalog as his admiring fans have hearing it.
Ramblin Fever; The Bottle Let Me Down; Mama Tried; Silver Wings; Twinkle, Twinkle, Lucky Star; Folsom Prison Blues; I Think Ill Just Stay Here and Drink; I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am; Today I Started Loving You Again; Are the Good Times Really Over; Thats the Way Love Goes; The Fightin Side of Me; Pancho and Lefty; Workin Mans Blues; California Blues; Honky Tonk Night Time Man; Old Man From the Mountain; Working in Tennessee; Take Me Back to Tulsa; Okie From Muskogee.