Noel and Ben Haggard with The Strangers

If you had told me two years ago that I would two-step to Merle Haggard's Okie from Muskogee performed by his son's Noel and Ben Haggard,  I would have said that you were absolutely crazy.

But, last night at The Palace on Stephen Ave, that is exactly what happened.

Growing up, I was never a real fan of the music my parents listened to, which is pretty typical of a lot of kids I suppose. But now that I consider myself a little older and (sometimes) a little wiser the classic country giants like Merle Haggard, Hank Williams, Johnny Horton, Johnny Cash, and Marty Robbins have become some of my favorite artists.

Merle passed away on his 79th birthday, April 6th 2016 due to complications from fighting pneumonia, joining fellow music heavyweights such as Johnny Cash, George Jones and Waylon Jennings in the great divide. As it inevitably does, time took another living legend from the world and left an empty space in the hearts of not only his family, but his fans as well. Thankfully, under the advice of his father Ben set out on the road with big brother Noel, and with guitars in hand, they're giving music lovers like me a chance to experience the Hag's music live.

Last night at The Palace is probably one of the best night's I've had in Calgary since I moved here nearly two years ago. Despite it's grand name, the Palace was a surprisingly intimate setting for the two Haggard sons to offer up a set list that included some of Merle's better known songs like Fightin' Side of Me, Mama Tried, Workin' Mans Blues, Today I Started Lovin' You Again, Sing Me Back Home, and a nod to Johnny Cash with Folsom Prison Blues.

The first thing you'll notice is that the Ben and Noel are instantly down to earth. I was expecting to see them dressed perhaps a little more ... classic rock'n'roll-ish, but instead Ben and Noel looked every bit the part of a working man and their talent speak for itself. And boy, they did not disappoint.

Now, if you were just wondering if the Haggard boys are just riding their father's coattails of success, let me disavow you of that notion right here and now. If you close your eyes and listen, the second that young Ben Haggard opens his mouth to sing, it's like listening to Merle himself. At the young and tender age of 25, Ben played with his father's band since he was 15 and let me tell you - he's got the chops and the talent to carve his own name and his own identity within the music scene. Ben not only has a voice that was made to sing, but his ability to make that guitar sing is something you really have to see to believe.

Bringing with them The Stranger's - The Hag's original band - the whole evening was not only a wonderful tribute to Merle and his undeniable and legendary contribution to music, but a quiet showcase of some of the best musical talent I have ever seen. The second that Norm sat down - a kindly gentlemanly lookin' fellow who's been part of the band since 1967 - to a raucous greeting of 'NORM!! HOW'S IT GOIN' OLD BUDDY!?" shouted by one very enthusiastic attendant you instantly knew you were in for a treat. Norm worked magic last night and we applauded him all night long.

The show was only two or three songs in before the dance floor filled up with couples two-stepping. Far more experienced than I am, I loved watching them make their way around the floor from my comfy perch in the balcony. By the end up the show, with enough liquid courage, and the unmistakable notes of Okie from Muskogee filling the air, I was led - only under slight protest - to the dance floor with the easy reassurance that all I had to do was follow my dance partner. I've never really been a person who's been good at following - whether it's dance steps, advice, or directions I generally tend to fail miserably or end up lost and with only a vague notion of where I am and where I'm supposed to go. I only missed one turn, which wasn't too bad, and wasn't nearly as bad as I expected it to be. I merely threw my head back and laughed - what else can you do really? For someone who'd never two-stepped before I think I did pretty good. And I was reassured that the dance lessons can continue at home in the living room.

So, I guess that all that's really left to say is a giant thank you - a thank you to Ben and Noel and The Strangers for an amazing night of music, laughter, singing and dancing; a thank you to Hag for giving us really great music that still resonates with people two and three generations on; and to my date and long-suffering dance partner for one helluva night.


Popular Posts