On Saturday night, the spotlight rested comfortably on the shoulders of country music legend Merle Haggard as he closed out the Southern Folklife Collection’s 25th anniversary weekend. Haggard and his backing band The Strangers had nearly reached the end of their 90-minute set when their leader stepped out on his own to deliver one of country music’s most introspective numbers, “Footlights.” Haggard stunned a sold-out crowd with his rendition of a song and its weary lyrics that perfectly suited the 77-year-old troubadour's voice.
And that wasn't the first time this happened on Saturday. “Sing Me Back Home,” “The Fugitive,” “Misery and Gin,” all timeless numbers in the Haggard catalog had a special feel to them. The Strangers played a large part in this evening as well: the lead guitar work of Haggard's son Ben was clean and precise, a fitting tribute to the pickers who made the original recordings unforgettable. An added bonus was the great Floyd Domino on stage playing the grand piano provided for opener Tift Merritt’s set. The Strangers provided perfect dynamic accompaniment for Haggard and a set of songs that have evolved musically while still packing the same punch lyrically. It was a memorable performance as the mostly quiet and attentive crowd bore witness to.
Merle Haggard, "Footlights"