Wednesday, June 1 , 2016, 2:03 am | Fog/Mist 56º

  • Follow Noozhawk on LinkedIn
  • Follow Noozhawk on Pinterest
  • Follow Noozhawk on YouTube

Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Jeff Moehlis

Jeff Moehlis: Merle Haggard Lives Up to His Legend in Concert at Chumash Casino

By Jeff Moehlis, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

Merle Haggard is many things: a country music legend with 40 No. 1 songs, an important architect of the gritty Bakersfield sound, a notable in the outlaw country movement and a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He is also an ex-convict who saw Johnny Cash perform while imprisoned at San Quentin, which inspired him to clean up his act. He's a lung cancer survivor, a father and a grandfather.

And at the Chumash Casino Resort last Thursday night, at age 77, he showed that he is still a highly entertaining performer whose voice has aged quite well.

The show began with a few warm-up songs, then Haggard took over the vocals starting with the song "Big City," the first of many hits from across the decades.

There were lots of early classics, including "The Fugitive," "Silver Wings," "Workin' Man Blues," "Today I Started Lovin' You Again," "California Blues" with a quick yodel at the end, "The Bottle Let Me Down," which he introduced as "one for all the drunks in the house," and the patriotic (and, back in the day, controversial) "The Fightin' Side of Me," which he dedicated to our country's servicemen.

Favorites from later in his career included "Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star," the mournful "Kern River," Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty," which Haggard recorded three decades ago with fellow traveler Willie Nelson, the amusing "Motorcycle Cowboy" and "Are the Good Times Really Over" with a few funny additions.

Haggard's recent output was nicely represented by the swinging "Working in Tennessee," which he introduced by telling how his beloved Martin guitar that he donated to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tenn., was swept away in a flood a few years ago. For this tune, he switched from rhythm guitar to fiddle, and he stayed on fiddle for the old Bob Wills song "Take Me Back to Tulsa."

The show ended with Haggard's best-know song, "Okie from Muskogee."

Originally released during the Vietnam War, this was either a denunciation of the hippie movement or a satire of the squares, or probably a bit of both. At the Chumash Casino Resort, it seemed to resonate with the crowd, especially the rewritten line "We don't do that deadly marijuana / We get drunk like God wants us to do."

Throughout the evening, Haggard was backed by his amazing band The Strangers, with bandmate since 1965 Norman Hamlet (pedal steel guitar), plus Renato Caranto (sax), Jim Christie (drums), Taras Prodaniuk (bass), Floyd Domino (keyboards), Scott Joss (fiddle) and his son, Ben Haggard (lead guitar).

To my ears, Haggard lived up to his legend at the Chumash Casino Resort, and as he approaches 50 years after his first No. 1 song, it seems that he isn't about to slow down.


Love's Gonna Live Here (Buck Owens song)
Chase the Feeling (Kris Kristofferson song)
F.D.R. Jones (from Babes on Broadway)
Big City
Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star
Ramblin' Fever
The Fugitive
Motorcycle Cowboy
Kern River
California Blues
The Bottle
Let Me Down
Silver Wings
Pancho and Lefty (Townes Van Zandt song)
Are the Good Times Really Over
If I Could Only Fly
Workin' Man Blues
The Fightin' Side of Me
Today I Started Loving You Again
Working in Tennessee
Take Me Back to Tulsa (Bob Wills song)
I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink
Okie from Muskogee

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, The opinions expressed are his own.

Reader Comments

Noozhawk's intent is not to limit the discussion of our stories but to elevate it. Comments should be relevant and must be free of profanity and abusive language and attacks.

By posting on Noozhawk, you:

» Agree to be respectful. Noozhawk encourages intelligent and impassioned discussion and debate, but now has a zero-tolerance policy for those who cannot express their opinions in a civil manner.

» Agree not to use Noozhawk’s forums for personal attacks. This includes any sort of personal attack — including, but not limited to, the people in our stories, the journalists who create these stories, fellow readers who comment on our stories, or anyone else in our community.

» Agree not to post on Noozhawk any comments that can be construed as libelous, defamatory, obscene, profane, vulgar, harmful, threatening, tortious, harassing, abusive, hateful, sexist, racially or ethnically objectionable, or that are invasive of another’s privacy.

» Agree not to post in a manner than emulates, purports or pretends to be someone else. Under no circumstances are readers posting to Noozhawk to knowingly use the name or identity of another person, whether that is another reader on this site, a public figure, celebrity, elected official or fictitious character. This also means readers will not knowingly give out any personal information of other members of these forums.

» Agree not to solicit others. You agree you will not use Noozhawk’s forums to solicit and/or advertise for personal blogs and websites, without Noozhawk’s express written approval.

Noozhawk’s management and editors, in our sole discretion, retain the right to remove individual posts or to revoke the access privileges of anyone who we believe has violated any of these terms or any other term of this agreement; however, we are under no obligation to do so.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.