“It’s good to be here – good to be anywhere,” Keith Richards said during his intro. “We’re here to celebrate Merle Haggard. This is his first birthday.”
Richards strummed a weepy acoustic guitar and crooned a creaky approximation of Haggard’s country twang. The psalm-like arrangement swelled with steel guitar, fiddle, piano and backing vocals from gospel group the McCrary Sisters.
The tribute show, “Sing Me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard,” held on what would have been Haggard’s 80th birthday, also featured performances from Sheryl Crow, John Mellencamp, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Loretta Lynn, Toby Keith, Hank Williams, Jr. and Kacey Musgraves, Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Anderson, Bobby Bare, the Avett Brothers, Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, Ronnie Dunn, Alabama, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Warren Haynes, Lucinda Williams and Connie Smith.
After Haggard’s death, Richards taled about the country icon’s distinguishing music and image in an interview with RollingStone.com this past year. “When Merle broke through, he was akin to Johnny Cash in the starkness of the sound,” he said. “But it was more melodic. You felt like this guy knew shit. There was a wisdom in it. I still sing and play ‘Sing Me Back Home’ on the piano. That’s my party piece, baby. It’s just so real, so touching. There’s a guy on death row. You know when this song finishes, it’s all over. That’s it, pal.”