Merle Haggard + Jamey Johnson at Congress Theater | Concert preview
An icon of outlaw country teams up with the Alabamian heir apparent.
If Merle Haggard sounded as if he’d been around the block a few times even from the earliest moments of his ’60s heyday, well, that wasn’t entirely off base. A hard life and hard living—and even a little hard time served in San Quentin—gave Haggard’s songs the tinge of weary truth. Yet the Hag could also be heartfelt and, when he felt like it, funny, too. In fact, his brand of country remains a perfect encapsulation of a bygone musical era, and his myriad classic songs are a gift to every bartender, drinker and jukebox alike. From the sentimental “Hungry Eyes” to the (possibly mock) reactionary “Okie From Muskogee.”
Having survived a host of ailments, from heart attacks to lung cancer, the 75-year-old Haggard’s hardly taking it easy, releasing a string of solid late-career albums (most recently 2011’s excellent Working in Tennessee) and hitting the road with a surprising degree of dedication, given he had nothing to prove several decades ago and has even less to prove today, which is as close to a definition of a legend as it gets. And if you’re still not convinced, the stats—40 No. 1 hits—drive his status home.
Support comes from Alabama’s Jamey Johnson, whose 2008 breakthrough, That Lonesome Song, and in particular the 2010 double album, The Guitar Song, earned him comparisons to acts like Haggard and many of his so-called outlaw peers.