It was a quiet show, but the lyrics of the award-winning tunes written in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s still resonated Saturday night.
Country music legends Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson took the stage at Pechanga Resort & Casino’s theater to perform a 90-minute show together, taking turns at their mics to crackle out their own or to harmonize on the other’s iconic songs.
No opener was necessary. Kristofferson, 75, ambled on stage strapped with a guitar and harmonica to perform a somber “Shipwrecked in the Eighties.” Sung against a purple light, the tune was dedicated to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Kristofferson, dressed all in black, then announced Haggard and his band the Strangers to the stage.
Merle — also dressed in black with a pinstripe suit, fedora and sunglasses – immediately received a standing ovation.
“You’re the man, Merle,” shouted an audience member amid the clapping and cheering.
Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson
When: 7 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 9
Where: Pechanga Resort & Casino’s indoor theater, 45000 Pechanga Parkway, Temecula
More info: 877-711-2946, pechanga.com
Haggard launched into “Pancho and Lefty,” with Kristofferson harmonizing, followed by fan favorite “Mama Tried.”
Kristofferson then followed Haggard’s selections with possibly his most memorable tune, “Me and Bobby McGee.” The singer-songwriter forgot to switch to a different harmonica and had to start the song over again, but not before making a joke about being unable to remember “your best song.”
During its performance, Kristofferson nodded to one of the song’s famous singers, Janis Joplin, singing: “Good enough for me and Janis.”
While both Kristofferson and Haggard sometimes played second fiddle to each other’s tunes, it was during the songs where the other harmonized or performed an important guitar bridge that were most memorable, such as on Kristofferson’s “Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again).”
Throughout the song, Haggard, sitting on a stool, would look up and smile at Kristofferson. While still sitting on the stool, he picked the guitar solo for the tune. The authenticity with which the tune was played and sung by both resonated, and the crowd awarded the songwriters with a standing ovation.
Haggard’s collaboration with Kristofferson on his famous “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” originally recorded by Johnny Cash, also drew a standing ovation.
Haggard complimented Kristofferson on the tune, noting that there are a lot of songwriters out there, “but to write a song like that and get Johnny Cash to record it … ,” he said, waving his hand and allowing the crowd’s clapping to fill in the rest.
Both men seemed to show a genuine respect for each other’s music on stage, with Kristofferson often mouthing the words to Haggard’s popular tunes like “Okie From Muskogee,” “Workin’ Man Blues” and “Are the Good Times Really Over.”
A cover of Cash’s “Folsom Prison” was a nice up-tempo break from the majority of contemplative tunes.
The stripped-down show, featuring the quiet strains of the six-piece Strangers, worked even despite Haggard’s case of pneumonia. Haggard was clearly struggling through the concert, especially the last quarter, as he sipped water and, at one point, had to spit on stage.
Even with an increased weakness in his voice toward the end, Haggard’s illness wasn’t a big problem.
Unfortunately, the only thing really hampering the quality of the concert — besides the lack of an encore — were some overzealous fans, whose loud and poorly timed cheers often drowned out the stars of the concert. Haggard often had to repeat himself to accommodate one loud fan, in particular, in order for the audience to hear his all-too-few stories and thoughts.
Hopefully members of the crowd in Sunday’s show will remember that everyone in the room paid for a ticket, and their enthusiasm for the music doesn’t outdo their neighbors’ — especially the artists’ on stage.