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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Concert shows off Merle Haggard, the entertainer

The Crazy Horse, Irvine, Cal., Aug. 7, 2001

By Dan MacIntosh

IRVINE, CA - This Tuesday night concert found a country legend in a frisky mood and showed off Merle Haggard, the entertainer.

When The Hag took the stage, in an un-tucked and loose fitting shirt and shades, and jokingly asked if "Silver Wings" was a fast or slow song, this remark served as a foreshadowing of lighthearted things to come. This sadness-saturated love song may not be light fare, but its singer wasn't even going to let his sad songs bring him down tonight.

Much like a fortunate prospector, just about anywhere Haggard plunges a shovel into his back catalogue, he strikes gold. From drinking songs like "Just Stay Here and Drink" and "Tonight, The Bottle Let Me Down," to the social commentary of "Big City" and "Are The Good Times Really Over For Good?" most everything in his set list was a winner.

Along the way, the Hag threw in a few Lefty Frizzell tunes, since Frizzell guitarist Norman Stevens was (literally) sitting in with the band. His presence gave Haggard an excuse to promote his upcoming album, "Roots," which features old standards like "If You've Got The Money (I've Got The Time)" as well as other Frizzell and Hank Williams songs.

This next album, like the last one ("If I Could Only Fly"), will be on the punk label Epitaph, which is a company for which he had nothing but kind words. The same could not be said for his old label, Curb, though. In fact, he even mockingly suggested that if anybody in the audience wanted to promote a three-round fight between himself and Mike Curb, he would be a willing participant.

When it came time to do his big hit "Okie From Muskogee," he introduced it as a song that "doesn't mean anything to us." He even kidded about offering to trade it to Willie Nelson for his signature song, "Crazy."

It's debatable if Haggard even meant the harsh words the song leveled against San Francisco and its hippies; especially when he followed it up and closed with "Back In Frisco," a love song to that city by the bay.

Haggard enjoyed himself for the hour and a half he was on stage. While he didn't showcase his distinctive singing much, except on a right-perfect rendition of the ballad "If I Could Only Fly," he nevertheless sounded in tip-top shape. Instead, he fed off the energy of this adoring crowd, and made them laugh when they weren't singing along loudly to his fine songs.

The show was opened by The Dorados, which advertises itself as 'all fish music, all the time,' and delivered on this slogan like a guaranteed catch.

While its all-fishing them grew a little bit old after a while, with songs like "Too Much Beer Not Enough Bait," this drummer-less and bass-less (the musical instrument, not the fish) played its country straight, and especially shined on the Western vocal harmonies of "High Sierra Hideaway."