Haggard, Stuart Take Stage At Superstore Arena

This appeared in the Huntington Herald-Dispatch - August 23, 2003

This one was for the working man.

Born in a converted boxcar 66 years ago in Oildale, California, Country Music Hall of Fame Member and blue-collar poet Merle Haggard brought a lifetime of hard traveling hits to share with a small, but rowdy crowd of about 2,000 Friday night at the Big Sandy Superstore Arena as The Electric Barnyard Festival tour rolled into town.

Sauntering on stage with sunglasses and his trademark pork pie hat, at a bit past 9 p.m., Haggard held the crowd in the palm of his hand from the get go, receiving a standing ovation just for being there.

It just got better from there as "The Hag," the only country singer in history to be featured on the cover of the jazz magazine, "Downbeat," started rolling out some of his 39, No. 1 hits being played by himself on lead electric guitar and his silky smooth 7-piece band The Strangers, one of the few country bands that features saxophone and trumpet.

Hearing Haggard rolling out "Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink" and "Silver Wings" was just the reason Tom Pierce -- a Portsmouth, Ohio, resident and aspiring country singer/songwriter who splits time in Nashville -- drove up from Tennessee.

"Merle’s never been the greatest singer but it’s always been all about the songs," said Pierce, wearing a white Copenhagen cowboy hat signed by the legendary Nashville songwriter Harlan Howard ("I Fall to Pieces").

Haggard started making music on a national level in 1965, just five years after he was paroled from San Quentin.

With his work-stained poetry played with influences of folk, country blues, and jazz, Haggard went on an incredible roll starting in 1967, racking up 37 top 10 hits, with 23 of those reaching No. 1.

The 66-year-old singer, who was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996, is releasing a new CD, "Haggard Like Never Before" on September 30.

And the common man’s poet has already made waves with his first single, "That’s the News," which has been released to more than 1,000 radio stations and featured on many national news networks.

Hag’s Huntington date got ink in the latest issue of Rolling Stone, which pointed out Haggard’s song blasting the media for its pack coverage of sensational events.

"I find it strange that we’re debating the trial of someone in Modesto (the Laci Peterson murder) when we have soldiers deployed all over the world," Haggard told Rolling Stone.

Hillbilly rocker Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives opened Friday night’s show with a nice, long set.

The four-time Grammy Award-winning artist put some pure country over on the crowd, slipping Merle Travis’ coal-mining song, "Dark as a Dungeon" and the haunting public domain songs, "Long Black Veil" into a hot, rocking set that included plenty of his hits such as "The Whiskey Ain’t Working," as well as some of his new cuts from his Country Music CD, including the clever, country corn of "Too Much Month At the End of the Money."

Crafted after the Grand Ole Opry tent shows of the 1930s and ’40s, The Electric Barnyard Tour started July 6 in Sierra Vista, Arizona, and has swept through small towns in Haggard and Stuart’s attempt to take their country music to the working men and women in America’s rural places.

There are half a dozen shows left for the tour, which winds down August 31 in Batavia, New York

By Dave Lavender

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