The band came out first, dressed in dark suits. They warmed up the crowd with a couple songs before Merle Haggard came on stage. He also wore a suit. Underneath his jacket, instead of white shirt and tie, he sported a red hoodie sweatshirt, white drawstrings hanging down. The hood flopped in the back; a cowboy hat was pulled down over his gray mane.
The Sunset Center in Carmel-by-the Sea is a long way from Bakersfield by most any measure. This show attracted more cowboy boots than had ever been inside the venue. Haggard prefaced the song “Workin’ Man Blues” by saying people in Carmel might not understand it, but then “You probably did all your working before you got to Carmel.”
He closed the show with the provocative “Okie From Muskogee.” Haggard’s parents came from Oklahoma to Oildale, California, where Merle was born. He introduced the song by saying he had written it for his father. He instructed the audience to sing the first line, “We don’t smoke marijuana in Muskogee.” He said that wasn’t loud enough and to do it again. We did, with more enthusiasm. Haggard finished the song by stating he doesn’t smoke marijuana much any more.
Click here for a later version of “Okie” with Marty Stuart and Willie Nelson.