Merle opened with "Ramblin' Fever," and within the next 20 minutes hammered out "Silver Wings," "Mama Tried," "Lonesome Fugitive" and "Working Man Blues," which would've been enough for me to pack up and go home. At 75, Merle's stage presence maybe isn't what it once was, but he more than proved his skill on both guitar and fiddle, and his delivery, which he cribbed somewhat from Wynn Stewart but over time has made distinctly his own, served at the best times to transport you back to his prime in 1970. He covered Johnny Cash and Bob Wills and even quipped during one of his new songs, "Working in Tennessee," that this was real country music. And you couldn't fight him on it (not that I'd want to get on the fightin' side of Merle). It was a sensational treat to see a real country band, with pedal steel, fiddles, mandolin, rhythm guitar, bass - hell, there were two sets of keys on that stage.
Other notable songs from the day include "Kern River," "Big City" and "Rainbow Stew," which irreverently chastises John Lennon's Imagineers. The set closed with "Okie from Muskogee," and if you hung around the park a bit longer, you'd have seen Merle's Strangers wandering SeaWorld, but not the Hag himself. My guess is he hit the swingin' doors back to his bus to wait out the sunset. Wherever he disappeared to, I hope he reappears one last time before he quits touring like his esteemed colleague George Jones, who recently came through town to say goodbye. My advice to anyone reading: catch the legends while you can, because we don't seem to be making them anymore.
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