Miranda Lambert, who first came to the attention of country music fans as a contestant (and third-place finisher) on Nashville Star, showed her reverence for classic country on the USA Network reality singing competition with a feisty performance of Merle Haggard's "The Fightin' Side of Me" in April 2003. Her pledge of allegiance to the Hag only continued when the official Miranda Lambert Store and Fan Club Headquarters opened in her hometown of Lindale, Texas, in 2006 — it featured "the Haggard bell," rung by store patrons whenever they heard a Merle song playing.
In December 2010, Lambert paid tribute to Haggard when he was awarded the prestigious Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, D.C., but two months prior, she sang for the Hag in Nashville, joining Keith Urban and Vince Gill at Urban's second annual All for the Hall concert at the Bridgestone Arena. The 2010 benefit for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum also featured appearances from Hall of Fame members Dolly Parton and Charley Pride, along with Alan Jackson, Martina McBride and Alison Krauss.
Stepping into the solo spotlight, Lambert told the crowd, "It's no secret that I'm a huge Merle Haggard fan," and then proceeded to back up that claim with a faithful version of the barroom classic "The Bottle Let Me Down," off Haggard's 1966 Swinging Doors LP (watch the video above). Backed by the Urban- and Gill-led band, with an emphasis on the same steel-guitar accompaniment that powered the original, Lambert delivered Haggard's booze-soaked lyrics with her distinctive Texas drawl, and further put her own stamp on the tune with a high note at the end that was accompanied by an excited honky-tonk yelp.
On April 6th, 2014, Lambert was once again at the center of a Haggard tribute as the iconic entertainer celebrated his 77th birthday at the ACM Awards in Las Vegas. Lambert, accompanied by George Strait, sang Haggard's first Number One, "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," and "The Bottle Let Me Down," in recognition of Haggard's 50th anniversary in country music. He was then presented the ACM Crystal Milestone award by Garth Brooks, who led the crowd in singing "Happy Birthday."
Two years to the day of that event, as he turned 79, Merle Haggard passed away. He was laid to rest at a private funeral on Saturday, April 9th, which was officiated by Marty Stuart and included performances from Kris Kristofferson, Connie Smith and Haggard's three sons, Marty, Noel and Ben.
Haggard will no doubt be remembered and celebrated throughout tonight's All for the Hall concert, which is the first in Nashville since 2014 (a New York-based event took place last October). Tonight's show is themed "Mashville: The Music City in 2016" and will feature appearances from Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line and Sam Hunt, along with Jason Isbell, country legend Emmylou Harris and classic-rock guitar guru Peter Frampton. Also taking the stage are Maren Morris and duo Maddie and Tae, along with a group of students from the area who will sing a special song they've written for All for the Hall. As in years past, Vince Gill and Keith Urban will serve as musical directors.