merle haggard

Merle Haggard at the Fox Theater on March 8, 2014. 

John Harte / For The Californian

 A year later, the world remembers. Bakersfield's most revered songwriter is still being celebrated and mourned Thursday, on what would have been his 80th birthday.

How present is this city's favorite son 12 months after his April 2016 passing from double pneumonia? Google the words "Tribute to Merle Haggard" and see some of the evidence: You get 81,000 hits.

Dozens of those web pages focus on Thursday's big show in Nashville.

"Sing Me Back Home," an all-star concert tribute to Haggard taking place at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, transcends the country music genre. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sheryl Crow and John Mellencamp — none of them exactly Grand Ole Opry regulars — are on the bill along with a dozen others more closely identified with country music, including Willie Nelson, Kenny Chesney and Miranda Lambert. The show will be recorded and broadcast at a later, unspecified date.

That so many musicians who made names for themselves outside the country music realm would feel compelled, even obligated, to honor the poetry of the Oildale troubadour speaks to the respect and broad appeal he engendered.

But performers across the popular music spectrum have been setting aside moments in their live shows to honor Haggard — and, again, not all of them them are country.

Tom Waits, whose songwriting takes Haggard's sense of irony to another level, told Rolling Stone last year how Haggard's music gives a voice to "the lives of common ordinary folks who we had all stopped seeing."

“When I was a teenager I was listening to songs like they were books and studied them to learn how to write songs of my own," Waits said. "Who ever thought that something great could come out of Bakersfield? It made me feel a whole lot better about living in a place called National City.

"Haggard songs,'" he said, "are lived in, broke in and filled with longing. His last name will always be an adjective."

Bob Weir, whose Grateful Dead covered Haggard's "Mama Tried," gave a similar eulogy. Gov't Mule, Eric Church, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill, LeAnn Rimes and Toby Keith represent a smattering of the artists who have paid musical respects on stage in the past year.

A Merle Haggard movie is in the works, too — an authorized biopic Haggard signed off on not long before his death. His friend, Carl Cooper, is said to be working on the concept with GMH Productions.

"Done It All"– after his 1971 track "I’ve Done It All" — is based on a script by Cliff Hollingsworth, who co-wrote "Cinderella Man," the Russell Crowe film about 1930s boxer James Braddock.

Bakersfield honors Haggard this Sunday at the Haggard Boxcar Festival, the grand opening of the late singer-songwriter's newly restored boyhood, set for the Kern County Museum.

They're calling it "the first" Haggard Boxcar Festival, suggesting the event, largely bankrolled by the Cynthia Lake Charitable Trust, may have legs.

Ben Haggard, scheduled to perform at the tribute show in Nashville, will have flown in from Oklahoma City to headline the Boxcar Festival, along with the brother Noel Haggard and The Strangers, their father's band.

Johnny Owens, the youngest of Buck Owens' three sons, is on the bill as well; he and his Buck Fever Band are as close in tone and appearance to his Buckness as any that walk the earth today. James Carothers performs as well. Food sellers, craft vendors and lectures — including one by this reporter, at 2 p.m. on the General Store porch — are on the bill too.

If the length and breadth of the goodbye is at all indicative of the respect and affection, Merle Haggard meant more to his hometown, and the broader world, than even he could have imagined.

Robert Price can be reached at 661-395-7399. Follow him on Twitter at @stubblebuzz

(1) comment

Ibjoann55

Merle Haggard will always be "The Man*, there is no one who has given their entire life to the music he gave to us. Sending prayers to the entire Haggard family with great gratitude for sharing this legends life with the world! Ben Haggard truly hope that we will see much more of you! God Bless you Mrs. Haggard, (Theresa) and Ben along with Noel, and Marty and the entire family for the sharing of the father and husband with us for his entire life time.

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