When country legend Merle Haggard performed at the Municipal Auditorium on Monday, February 5, he had something else to sell besides Tee-shirts and a huge back-catalog of CDs. The “Hag” is now an official biodiesel peddler.
Haggard and his backing band The Strangers were in San Antonio as part of the third annual National Biodiesel Conference and Expo.
After an opening remark from Davide Geanacopoulos of Volkswagen, the show’s sponsor, The Strangers started the show with George Jones’ “A Picture of Me (Without You)” and got feet stomping to the backbeat of Waylon Jennings’ “I’ve Always Been Crazy.”
But before Haggard took over the stage, biodiesel advocate and Kill Bill star Daryl Hannah introduced the country singer, calling him “one of the most beautiful creatures alive on the planet.”
Dressed in black from head to toe, Haggard joined his band, grinning behind his sunglasses and nodding to the audience. Jumping right into what would be an hour of classic, blue-collar anthems, Merle ran through “Big City,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Lucky Star,” and an extended version of “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” with solos from almost every member of the 10-piece ensemble.
Noting that he recently switched his tour bus to biodiesel, a biodegradable nontoxic fuel made from various vegetable oils, Haggard paused to make a brief sales pitch.
“Biodiesel. How about it?” he said. “I ought to write a song about it, but I ain’t got time.”
Unlike past shows at Cowboys Dancehall and Floore’s Country Store, Haggard seemed relaxed and playful with a crowd comprised more of business-casual wear than cowboy hats. After a cover of his idol Jimmie Rodgers’ “California Blues,” Haggard made light of a recent stint in rehab.
“When your family sends you away in a yellow cab and pays the tab, you know you’re not a funny drunk.”
Haggard exchanged his signature Telecaster for a fiddle to perform a short medley of Bob Wills songs, including a tip of his hat to the Alamo City with “San Antonio Rose.”
One of the funniest moments of the night came when Haggard stopped his band to answer a woman in the crowd wanting to know why the Municipal didn’t recycle. Clearly amused, Haggard chuckled back that he would be sure to get to the bottom of things after the show.
While touching on topics of growing older, his mother, and marijuana, Haggard also showed his political tenacity with the patriotic “The Fightin’ Side of Me.” He even changed the lyrics to Lefty Frizzell’s “That’s The Way Love Goes” from “don’t worry baby,” to “don’t worry what George Bush does.”
A performer not known for encores, Haggard left the stage after a version of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and the show was abruptly over.
As another speaker grabbed the mike to push biodiesel, fans in the back and up in the balcony audibly rebelled. With shouts for Haggard growing louder and more insistent, the frustrated speaker quieted the crowd by saying “Merle’s not coming back folks.”
And he was right.