"Even if your politics were left of center, chances are you sang 'Okie from Muskogee' at some point in your life," says Chip Robinson of the Merle Haggard hit. "It's just a great song from a man who wrote a lot of great songs." Robinson, who has written some great numbers himself with The Backsliders, will cover his Haggard favorites while headlining a tribute to the career of the singer he calls "the working man's poet laureate."
The lineup also features the new rootsy combo Wayleaves (featuring veteran Triangle rockers from acts like Polvo and The Cherry Valence) and classic country supergroup TONK, which will tap Haggard's more obscure material, according to drummer Ben Barwick. "With Merle, there are so many amazingly great masterpieces," Barwick says, "you could probably throw a dart to pick them."
"I really admired how, like Johnny Cash, Haggard was never afraid to grow and evolve as a human, yet he stayed true to himself up until he died," says David Burney, frontman of the impeccable Cash tribute act Johnny Folsom 4. For this show, they'll take on Haggard, too. "He never conformed, and he never lost that sense of who he was."
Though this is hardly the only tribute to the Hag we'll see in the Triangle, Merle's influence on this lineup is apparent, both in how TONK's originals owe him a clear stylistic debt and through the rebellious spirit that Robinson often channels. "Haggard was synonymous with the Bakersfield sound—music that was more honest and swinging than the pap that was coming out of Nashville at the time," says Robinson. "Merle lived what he sang about, and you could tell it from his delivery."