CARY — Photo gallery
Cool and goofy tend to be thought of as mutually exclusive, but there are rare exceptions. One of them sauntered onto the Booth Amphitheatre stage Tuesday evening, 75-year-old Merle Haggard, resplendent in fedora and shades as he strapped on an electric guitar and surveyed the audience.
Ive had too much to drink already, he deadpanned. The crowd was still laughing as he started in on Ramblin Fever, and before you know it the bucolic outdoor setting was transformed into a smoky late-night honky tonk. The Hag tends to have that effect.
Nowadays Haggard is touring with his fellow icon, singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson, although the setup was a bit unconventional. Rather than opening the show with a separate set of his own, Kristofferson shared the stage and backup band with Haggard, and they alternated songs for 90 minutes.
Kristofferson never had the prettiest voice to begin with as a singer, well, lets say hes a great songwriter and leave it at that but hes learned to use that to his advantage. By now, Kristoffersons wounded, ravaged yelp fits songs like Help Me Make It Through the Night more appropriately than his voice of 40 years ago ever did. He did most of the signature tunes youd expect, including songs made famous by Johnny Cash (Sunday Mornin Comin Down) and Janis Joplin (Me and Bobby McGee).
Still, it was Haggards night, and he broke out some Man-in-Black mojo of his own with an ace cover of Folsom Prison Blues. Haggards latest version of his backup band The Strangers features his teenage son Ben on lead guitar, but it was hardly nepotism because the kid has already figured out how to add just-right decorative flourishes while knowing his place and keeping out of dads way.
The apple didnt fall far from the tree, Kristofferson observed during the younger Haggards guitar solo on Help Me Make It Through the Night.
Alas, Haggard and Kristoffersons duet take on Okie From Muskogee was kind of a train wreck, mostly because it wasnt clear everyone onstage actually knew that one. But plenty of others hit the mark, including Mama Tried, Today I Started Loving You Again, I Never Go Around Mirrors and Working in Tennessee. During the latter song, Haggard put down his guitar and took up a fiddle to saw away.
Its all country music, ladies and gentlemen, he said. Undeniably, that it was.