Merle Haggard is dead (and he wears women’s underpants, too)
Rumors began circulating about Merle Haggard’s concert at the Crawford County Fair almost as soon as the announcement was made that he was coming to town.
First, there was talk on the street of how many people would be there to see it. Initially, I heard expectations of 10,000 people at the fairgrounds. That quickly became 15,000, then 20,000, then 25,000 tickets already presold. By Friday, I was actually told the Fair Board expected to have 50,000 fans pouring through the front gates of Hood Park for The Hag that night.
Call me pessimistic, but I would have a hard time believing you could get 50,000 people to come to Cuba, Missouri on a Friday night in July to see Jesus in the flesh, much less a 76-year-old Merle Haggard sporting a recent kidney transplant. But this was the story I kept hearing, first at the coffee shop and then later at the gas station and the grocery store. The closer the fair got, the bigger the anticipated crowd. No one on the Fair Board reported these numbers of course, but then again nobody asked any of them either.
It’s hard guessing how many people actually stayed away from the fair—and how much gate money was lost—just because of the rumored crowd size. I’d lay odds there were quite a few folks around here that said forget it, why fight a crowd that big, and stayed home. Turns out, Friday’s crowd at the main stage wasn’t anywhere near what had been suggested by some fanciful believers. True, it was big—but in no way unmanageable.
Then there was the talk of two rival biker gangs—both of them Haggard-loving clubs—who planned to meet up and rumble at the Cuba show. The police had to account for that rumor with added patrolmen, even though the story proved again to be untrue. I was praying for the fight to take place. It would have made a great fair story for this week’s paper and some great photos. Unfortunately, we had to settle instead for the real story—that Merle put on a great show, nobody fought or got hurt and, oh yeah, they crowned Hillary Temple the new fair queen. Good stuff—but not nearly as sensational as a bloody biker brawl.
Did I mention that Merle sounded great? Yeah, there was that rumor, too: that Haggard was old and sick and would play only four songs at the fair before calling it a night and provoking his fans. Trouble is, it didn’t happen that way: He played a full set and his voice held up the entire time. Merle even did his own lead guitar picking, which surprised me.
Around noon on Friday, I got a call from a friend on the fairgrounds that heard rumors Merle had called off his show and wasn’t coming at all. The story even included a supposed source—KZNN radio. I made a quick call to the Fair Board president only to find that yes, there would be a Merle Haggard concert that night and no, there had not been any public radio announcement. Again, rumors gone amuck.
It’s funny how such stories take on a life of their own when people repeat what they hear without questioning it or even thinking much about it. Something that sounds ridiculous more often than not really is.
So next time you’re sitting around the table, having coffee with your buddies, you can be the first to tell them old Merle is dead now. I heard Cuba was his final show and they found him later that night lying still inside his tour bus, wearing nothing but a silk pair of panties and his white tube socks. What a great way for the guy to go out—after playing in front of 50,000 screaming country music fans and the Hell’s Angels at the Crawford County Fair.