Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard at Hard Rock Live, February 7

Photo by Sayre Berman
Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard
Hard Rock Live, Hollywood
Thursday, February 7, 2013

Better Than: A cold beer, a shot of whiskey, and a good cry.

All the old outlaws are only getting older.

Last night, though, the Red-Headed Stranger and the Okie From Muskogee proved that they might be wizened gentlemanly grandaddies who sing about love, heartbreak, drinkin', tokin', towin' the line, and lovin' the lord. But they're "still alive." And they're still hard as fuckin' railroad spikes.

Two of the lone remaining country badasses still standing (and singing), Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard charmed men in Stetsons, women in pearls, and children in "I Love Willie" onesies at Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida.

But hell yeah ... They also joked about death while demanding that the whole world just "Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die."

Photo by Sayre Berman

At 7:30 p.m. sharp, Merle the Mule kicked off the show, running and rambling through a half-dozen tunes that cut straight from some latest triumphs ("If I Could Only Fly") to rowdy midcareer brawlers ("I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink") to a string of late-'60s classics: "The Bottle Let Me Down," "Mama Tried," and "Today I Started Loving You Again."

Only two weeks ago, Hag had been hospitalized with pneumonia. And he was forced to cancel a few gigs. But yesterday evening, aside from a little roughness in his voice, he seemed in solid shape, even laughing at the Reaper.

"It's nice to be here," Merle croakily cackled, pausing between ditties. "Well, it's nice to be anywhere."

Photo by Sayre Berman

"Someone called me up the other day and said, 'I heard you had a heart attack and died,'" the bemused 75-year-old dude shook his head. "I said, 'Nope, still alive.'

"Then," he paused, "we heard Willie was sick. But that wasn't true either." And Haggard laughingly snorted, ribbing his ol' buddy about his medical Mary Jane habit. "Hell, the last time I heard of Willie even havin' a headache was about 35 years ago."

He sang a few more favorites: "Big City", "The Fightin' Side of Me," "If We Make It Through December." And the rhinestone-studded, cowboy-hatted, blue jean-clad crowd hooted and hollered.

But Merle was still musing on mortality. "Do y'all miss Johnny Cash?" he wondered before bellowing through "Folsom Prison Blues," then removing his heavy black hat and tipping it to the sky in honor of beloved J.R.

Photo by Sayre Berman

Rounding into the final turn of the night's set, Haggard paid tribute to another hero, Bob Wills, with a rollicking run through "Take Me Back to Tulsa," marveling, "Now that is country music, folks."

Then introducing his signature tune and second-to-last song of the evening, Merle delved half-seriously into discussing the origins of "Okie From Muskogee" -- still a funny fuckin' takedown of hippies and other layabouts, even 43 years later.

"This song was written for my father, who hailed from the great state of Oklahoma," Haggard told all those men, women, and children. "But over the years," the old outlaw added, "a lot of people asked me why I wrote that song. And I said, 'Mainly, because I'm the only one who knows the words,'" he cagily explained. "But there were other reasons too."

After Merle finished shouting "We still wave Old Glory" and the Hard Rock crowd's cheers quieted down, Willie walked out. They smiled. They hugged. And the two longtime trail buddies grabbed up their guitars, galloping into the late Townes Van Zandt's song, "Pancho and Lefty," that they made famous.

Hell yeah ... The perfect sing-along for a sunset ride.

Location Info


Hard Rock Live

1 Seminole Way, Hollywood, FL

Category: Music

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