Saturday, August 18 , 2018, 4:24 am | A Few Clouds 67º


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

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.

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 Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

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.

Sign Up Now >