It was nice to know that “while I was out” Mike was able to entertain West Marin and beyond with a good Hardly Strictly Bakersfield show. I got to hear the show yesterday after finding the time to listen after returning from eleven days on the road. My trip wrapped up fittingly by having the privilege of attending a Merle Haggard Concert in Santa Barbara. After kicking myself for missing the Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson concert in Santa Rosa this past spring I was determined to catch this Bakersfield legend in this lifetime. I searched for tickets and found that the Davis and Chico shows were sold out long ago, but found some good seats in Santa Barbara. We have some good friends in SB, so why not make a trip out of it? What the heck!
The show was at the Arlington Theatre in downtown Santa Barbara on State Street. It is a beautiful venue with the interior designed to look like one is sitting under the stars. My engineer husband was curious about the seismic qualities of the building, but not one to dwell on the likelihood of natural disasters other than that “they do happen” I settled in to enjoy the concert. We were seated next to a man who seemed to be attending the concert alone. I asked him if he was a big Merle Haggard fan and he answered in an Australian accent that he had in fact, planned his trip to the US around this show, in part. We got to chatting and it seems that Richard Allen lives in Derby, Australia on the northwestern coast and runs a music shop that still sells plenty of cassette tapes to the aborigines. He was instrumental in starting the local radio station 6DBY. There is even a country show called Country Bumpkins with Gordon Marshall on Saturday mornings, but alas, they do not stream. Can you say “sister station”? But I plan to stay in touch with Mr. Allen since he has some recordings of a Mawry who recorded with the Buckaroos.
At the exact strike of 8:00 pm the show started (A + for being on time!) the show kicked off with The Strangers backing two young men from North Carolina, Chris and Taylor Malpass. it seems that these young lads have been performing since the age of seven and have been opening for Hag on this tour. They were strong vocalists and excellent showmen and are working on a new album as they have been signed by Hag Records. They did remind the audience repeatedly that we were there to see a “legend of country music”. If you found yourself at a Merle Haggard concert and weren’t suffering from a severe head injury I do believe that you would know that you were there to see a legend of country music, but perhaps I am looking at things through Bakersfield colored glasses.
Merle then made his way to the stage and that is when folks started standing up. The man warrants a standing ovation at the beginning of a show. However, after folks were seated and the first chords of the guitar were struck, there was more standing up, as the young lads from the bar who had been waiting for Merle to grace the stage had decided to find their seats. It was only slightly distracting. Merle played many of my favorites including White Line Fever and That’s the Way Love Goes, but he really got in the groove when he sang Kern River. He did Working Man’s Blues and Okie from Muskogee and a few tunes from his new album Chicago Wind, which is available at Merlehaggard.com . The Strangers were tight and included a saxophone, the famous and amazing pedal steel guitar and Merle’s son on guitar.
It was an honor to attend the concert. Merle’s voice is not what it once was after surviving lung cancer last year, but he was genuinely having a good time up there with his band, including his son. My trip to Santa Barbara followed a visit to the Pacific Northwest to see my father who is also suffering from lung cancer, so there was a bitter sweet quality to seeing a legend and survivor singing some of my favorite Bakersfield tunes. A big thanks to Mike for holding down the fort (more than holding down the fort) and for Dr. BLT and his dedication of a brand new song called Merle’s Girl that was previewed on FM radio on KWMR while I was sitting enjoying basking in the presence of a Bakersfield Legend.