Last of the Breed

Merle Haggard steps into the Gruene Hall

Outside the historic Gruene Hall
Outside the historic Gruene Hall (by Austin Powell)

For Merle Haggard, home’s only a honky-tonk away. The original country outlaw, now 76, has spent the better part of the past decade on the road, conducting another never-ending tour that’s overcome double pneumonia, diverticulitis, and much more. Friday night he pulled into the historic Gruene Hall in New Braunfels.

Like close friend Willie Nelson, the Lefty to Haggard’s Pancho, the Hag’s five-decade revue has grown into a family affair. His wife Theresa and daughter Jenessa sing backup vocals, while his youngest son, Ben, holds down lead guitar. The most inspiring moments of the evening derived from their interactions, like Ben spurring the insurgent country-funk of “Fightin’ Side of Me” and the anthemic “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.”

It’s also part muscle memory, as if Haggard’s playing to keep the feeling alive. His distinctive baritone still comes through strong, especially in the rough elegance of “Silver Wings” and “That’s the Way Love Goes.” His fiery fiddle added some Western swing to “Corrine, Corrina,” 2011 title track “Working in Tennessee,” and the Kris Kristofferson standard “Take Me Back to Tulsa.”

Haggard never veered off-course, either. He played exactly 60 minutes, with no encore and little in the way of banter, knocking out hits like only he can: “Mama Tried,” “The Bottle Let Me Down,” “Are the Good Times Really Over,” one right after the next. Each song built on the last until the curtain closed with an extended “Okie from Muskogee.”

In that setting – the dust and sweat in the summer air and creaky wooden floors pulsing in step with the music – it was a special evening, a fleeting glimpse at a man who’s truly the last of the breed.

Set List

“Big City”

“Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star”

“I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink”

“Silver Wings”

“That’s the Way Love Goes”

“Folsom Prison Blues”

“Mama Tried”

“The Bottle Let Me Down”

“Are the Good Times Really Over”

“Today I Started Loving You Again”

“Fightin’ Side of Me”

“Corrine, Corrina”

“Working in Tennessee”

“Take Me Back to Tulsa”

“Okie From Muskogee”

More Merle Haggard
Down Every Road with Merle Haggard
Down Every Road with Merle Haggard
“He was a character out of The Grapes of Wrath

Tim Stegall, April 7, 2016

The Merle, Marty & Willie Party
The Merle, Marty & Willie Party
A different kind of bro-country

Jim Caligiuri, Nov. 12, 2014

More by Austin Powell
Record Review: The Young
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Aug. 22, 2014

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Merle Haggard, Gruene Hall, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Theresa Haggard, Janessa Haggard, Ben Haggard

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