Merle Haggard at the City National Bank Grove of Anaheim, Feb. 29, 2012

Merle Haggard at the City National Bank Grove of Anaheim, Feb. 29, 2012
Daniel Kohn

Merle Haggard
City National Bank Grove of Anaheim
29, 2012

Throughout his 74 years, Merle Haggard has seen it all. From his stint in prison as a teen to hard living to dealing with bankruptcy in the early '90s to his recent comeback, Haggard has dealt with every obstacle and seen everything that life has to throw at him. That's why it shouldn't surprise anyone that after an undisclosed temporarily postponed his January dates; the country icon was back with a vengeance on the second night of his tour.

It may seem hard to believe, but Haggard is touring with the same energy that he had while as a youngster. Maybe it's because he's reinvigorated by preserving his legacy, which includes 38 number one hits or being honored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for his contributions to culture, but either way, the singer is one of the few remaining true country music artists still around. There's something that should be said about the authenticity about the Bakersfield music scene where Haggard began. Instead of the schlock that's out there now, today's sterilized country pop stars should look to "Okie From Muskogee" singer to what it means to be a real country outlaw. It's this authenticity that drew a packed crowd at the City National Bank Grove of Anaheim.

Merle Haggard at the City National Bank Grove of Anaheim, Feb. 29, 2012
Daniel Kohn

Haggard, along with his long-time backing band, the terrific 8-piece The Strangers, played a crowd-pleasing set with songs from across his deep catalog, while sprinkling in covers like Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues." After blazing the first songs, Haggard loosened up and showed the charm that's made him one of country's favorite performers. Sporting a badass guitar strap that had his first name etched in it, a cowboy hat and a black shirt, the singer appeared more like a maestro than virtuoso. He had complete control of both his band and the audience, both following his every move, albeit in different ways.

Merle Haggard at the City National Bank Grove of Anaheim, Feb. 29, 2012
Daniel Kohn

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As he's aged, the singer hasn't lost his trademark charm. Throughout the night, he thanked the crowd for their support and told them that if they like what they heard, they could make a donation and purchase one of the items in the lobby. Only a veteran like Haggard could get away with encouraging his fans to hawk his merch in such a smooth manner.

For a man who's influenced rock icons like Bob Dylan and Keith Richards, and recorded with luminaries like George Jones and Willie Nelson, you would think at this point in his career that Merle Haggard would be ready to hang up his cowboy boots once and for all. His late-career renaissance has enabled a new generation of fans to hear Haggard and connect with one of country music's legends. Taking the easy way out and retiring to his northern California ranch would be ideal, but that isn't the Haggard way. Fortunately for fans, they're going to be seeing a lot of him before he retires for good, health be damned.

Critical Bias: No matter how you cut it, Merle Haggard is a badass.

The Crowd: The average age was around 62. People like to get in the spirit by dressing like cowboys. It was kind of funny.

Random Notebook Dump: I've seen high prices for merch before, but it was shocking to see CDs that sell from anywhere from $5-$10 being sold for $20-$25. I pity the fool who pays full price.

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