On a North Texas night chilled by an early winter snap Merle Haggard and Marty Stuart brought a welcome reprieve by turning up the heat.
“I hope you didn’t come looking for some fancy show. If you did you just wasted your money!” Stuart grinned, making a reference to the lavish Ft. Worth venue typically showcasing symphonies, ballets, operas and musicals.
But not tonight. This cold night the capacity-filled Bass hall had been transformed into a rowdy roadhouse, though a tad highfalutin one.
No chairs or longnecks were thrown (and no chicken wire across the stage required) during Stuart’s set but the atmosphere created was just that. Stuart is the consummate showman – in tight leather pants and silver rooster comb of hair – as he worked the crowd into a frenzy. Well, the crowd was largely equally as sliver, so let’s say a tizzy. He and his always extraordinary band, the Fabulous Superlatives – Kenny Vaughan on guitar, Harry Stinson on drums and Paul Martin on bass, – brought a level of bluegrass-level virtuosity that Start had honed personally from his many years in country music, including his start with Lester Flatt. The majority of the brief but satisfying set was from their just-released double album, “Saturday Night/Sunday Morning.” Honky-tonk barn-burners mixed with Gospel pew-kneelers set toes-tapping and hands-clapping.
And in the case of Stuart’s astonishing mandolin solo, jaws dropping.
As Merle Haggard said later in the program “Marty likes to work in Nashville, I DON’T! But he keeps that town alive.”
Stuart introduced the 77-year-old Haggard as he strolled out on stage as nonchalantly as a living legend might.
Decked in Blacks slacks, boosts and a black jacket with brown leather trim (my bets a Manual exclusive) a fedora/cowboy hybrid chapéu and dark sunglasses, The Hag wasted no time launching into “Big City.”
The classics kept coming, his own hits like “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star,” Silver Wings,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink” and others including Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” Blaze Foley’s “If I Could Only Fly,” and the Townes Van Zandt he and Willie made into a radio staple “Pancho and Lefty.”
A hush fell over the crowd during his reverent rendition of “Are the Good Times Really Over.” As the song reminiscences simpler times, and better music, without resorting to saccharin tropes of as he asks teh question most of us ask whe watching a oucntry awards program, “Are the good times really over for good?”
Not as long as Haggard and Stuart walk this earth.
Haggard appeared to be a bit winded and he mentioned several times about “Being out of breath” and feeling like he was having an “asthma attack.” Given hsi recent history with health issue there was palpable concern and calls of encouragement as he sipped some hot tea a delivered on-stage by a background singer.
The one soap-box moment of the night came when Haggard asked the audience who was in favor for legalization of marijuana? He then asked “Who’s against it?” Following rhetorically with, “Why?” (video below)
Are the good times really over for good? Not as long as Haggard and Stuart walk this earth.
Merle Haggard’s set list: “Big City,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star,” Silver Wings,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” “If I Could Only Fly,” “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive,” “Mama Tried,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “If We Make It Through December,” “Are the Good Times Really Over,” “Pancho and Lefty,” “Footlights,” “Train of Life,” “San Antonio Rose,” “Old Fashioned Love,” “Working in Tennessee” (with Marty Stuart) and “Okie From Muskogee” (with Marty Stuart) No encore.