For the most part, I don't really enjoy nostalgia acts, but when the songbooks and careers being remembered and celebrated belong to Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson, I can forgive a lot - a whole lot.
With just a handful of more recent songs sprinkled in, Kristofferson and Haggard, backed by Merle's ace backing band The Strangers, the two country music icons shared the stage Tuesday at Kingsbury Hall with Haggard handling the majority of songs in what made for a memorable show.
Kristofferson seemed perfectly content to hang back and tried to harmonize and play rhythm parts where he could. What had been billed as an "acoustic evening" was nothing of the sort. Save for Kristofferson's acoustic and Norm Hamlin's acoustic lap steel, everyone else was plugged in.
Haggard, 74, traded leads with his son Ben, who even though he's just 19, seems to have been born with an inherent knowledge of every classic country lick, tone and fill that's out there. This is the third time I've seen Ben on leads with his legendary dad and every time he effortlessly handles the role manned for decades by the late Roy Nichols.
Kristofferson generally stuck to his biggest hits, with "Me and Bobby McGee," and "Help Me Make It Through The Night," coming early and generating an annoying low-key sing-a-long with the audience. And I'll never know why certain familiar songs inspire certain audience members to think anyone paid to hear them sing, but that's what happens, and it happened a lot Tuesday. And Kristofferson, 75, didn't seem to mind and appeared in high spirits for much of the night.
Haggard played the majority of the songs and relied on his regular set for the most part - stalwarts such as "Big City," "Mama Tried," "Silver Wings," but with two notable exceptions. Watching Haggard and Kristofferson cover Townes Van Zandt's "Pancho and Lefty," early and Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," later on were relatively rare treats and provided goosebump moments for many in the crowd.
A few other blasts of over-the-top great country were Haggard's "Okie From Muskogee," which the Hag self-deprecatingly introduced after Kristofferson's magnificent "Sunday Morning Coming Down" had received a deservedly thundering ovation.
My lone criticism of this show is that it ended at 90 minutes on the nose and the lights went up even as Haggard's band was still playing the outro music. Eesh. And although tickets started at $45, many paid $60 to sit in Kingsbury's lonely balcony area and ended up dropping .75 cents a minute for the show. And while you could do worse with your entertainment dollar, that seems a tad pricey.
But legends are legends and even if it was a nostalgia filled show, it was easily one of the most fun, and well-received country shows in Salt Lake in some time.