Merle Haggard To Give Concert At Horse Center

This appeared in the Lexington News-Gazette - July 14, 2003

A big-time country music show will be making a stop at the Virginia Horse Center next month. Legendary performer Merle Haggard and popular entertainer Marty Stuart will be bringing their "Electric Barnyard Tour" to the horse center on Sunday, August 17.

Haggard, perhaps best known for his 1969 hit, "Okie From Muskogee," has been a mainstay of the country music scene for over 40 years, having logged 39 number one hits. Haggard, who spent time in San Quentin prison before launching his country music career in the early 1960s, has recorded such songs as "Lonesome Fugitive," "The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde," and "Today, I Started Loving You Again."

Stuart, a singer-songwriter who has recorded a few hits of his own, has had a fairly lengthy tenure in the country music business. At age 13 back in 1972, he got his start as a mandolin player in Lester Flatt's bluegrass band. Later, he spent six years as a guitarist with Johnny Cash. As a solo artist, Stuart has carved out a niche as a hillbilly rocker.

Haggard will perform with his band, the Strangers, while Stuart will be accompanied by his new band, the Fabulous Superlatives. Also performing will be the bands BR5-49 and Old Crow Medicine Show.

A "mobile venue" will be brought to the horse center grounds for the concert. "The Electric Barnyard mobile venue," according to literature provided by promoter Jam Productions, "comes complete with a 300-foot stage, lighting, sound, a general admission seating area, box office and concession area."

John Scott, the horse center's interim executive director, said he's been told to expect a convoy of seven or eight tractor-trailers to arrive on the morning of the concert to set up the mobile venue. Scott said the promoter hopes to draw a crowd of 3,500.

The challenge facing Scott and his staff is to make ample preparations for a crowd of this size, and the accompanying traffic it will bring, on the final day of a major horse show, the National Barrel Horse Association Colonial Nationals. The dual shows will provide a trial run for the horse center's future plans to regularly schedule nonequestrian events and horse shows simultaneously.

Those plans were announced earlier this year as a means of drawing new revenues to offset the projected future loss of state funding for the horse center's capital debt. The first of these planned nonequestrian events won't be held until this fall or possibly next spring, after some renovations have been made to the indoor coliseum, said Scott.

The Haggard/Stuart concert is not part of these plans. This event "is purely coincidental," he said. "We were just picked up as a spot along the way. [The promoter] knew we held a fair here and figured we had the space to hold this."

The concert "is not going to be a big money maker for us," said Scott, "but will break the ice for what we're trying to do."

Tickets are to go on sale this Saturday, July 19, at 10 a.m. by Ticketmaster. Tickets can be ordered by phone at (540) 951-8427 or (434) 846-8100 or online.

By Ed Smith

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