Two legends, count ‘em. Two living legends on one stage. Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson, July 25 at the State Theatre in Minneapolis, playing and singing to a sold-out house of absolutely delighted fans. The night was all very off-hand, loose knit, just a couple good ol’ boys a-pickin’ and a-grinnin’, havin’ theirself a honky-tonkin’ good time.
Kristofferson strolled on-stage with the casual, lanky stride that’s become a trademark and, naturally, the place went nuts. He did a solo number on acoustic guitar and harmonica, then brought out the band and announced Merle Haggard with such a sales pitch you wouldn’t think everybody already knew who Haggard is. But, that’s country tradition. Anyway, once again all pandemonium breoke loose. Never let it be said Minnesotans don’t show up and support their favorite country stars.
It was an hour-and-a-half set, kind of uneven—some of the slower tunes sort of just plodded—but on the whole you don’t even have to know who these two guys are or particularly be a fan of the genre to appreciate a job generally done well. Merle Haggard’s voice—how old is the fella by now?—is still in good shape, nice and clear with an occasional boost of genuine power to it. His cover of the Johnny Cash classic “Folsom Prison Blues” was a nice highlight to the night. So, at the end of the evening, was his extremely off-the-cuff rendition of his most famous cut (which he didn’t write all by hisself—the drummer from his backup band the Strangers, Roy Edward Burris, helped) “Okie from Muskogee.” Haggard started and stopped the song no less than three times. Not ‘cause he didn’t know what he was doin’, but because he just felt like cuttin’ up. And while he was at it, got Kristofferson to sing his own variation on the first verse. They finally did get through the song and nobody in the audience minded one little bit. Kris Kristofferson, face it, can’t carry a tune in a bucket. But, he sure can write ‘em. Accordingly, cataracts of applause went up when he did “Me and Bobby McGee,” “Sunday Morning Comin’ Down” and “Help Me Make It Through The Night.”
It truly is, as the saying goes, a night to remember. Hell, how you ever gonna forget seeing Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson on the same stage?
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