When Merle Haggard died in April 2016, Keith Richards recalled the country music legend to Rolling Stone as a hard-touring singer-songwriter who “was on the road right until the end, because it’s just what you do.” Now, a year later, the Rolling Stones guitarist will honor his kindred spirit onstage, as Richards joins the lineup of “Sing Me Back Home: The Music of Merle Haggard,” a tribute concert set for April 6th – Haggard’s birthday – in Nashville.
Sheryl Crow has also been added to the bill, an already impressive roster that includes Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Kenny Chesney, Miranda Lambert, Dierks Bentley, Loretta Lynn, Toby Keith, Hank Williams Jr. and Kacey Musgraves. Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Anderson, Bobby Bare, the Avett Brothers, Alison Krauss, Jamey Johnson, Ronnie Dunn, Alabama, ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons, Warren Haynes, Lucinda Williams and Connie Smith are also scheduled to perform. Haggard’s guitarist son Ben Haggard is one of the evening’s musical directors.
“When Merle broke through, he was akin to Johnny Cash in the starkness of the sound. But it was more melodic. You felt like this guy knew shit. There was a wisdom in it,” Richards told Rolling Stone last year. “I still sing and play ‘Sing Me Back Home’ on the piano. That’s my party piece, baby. It’s just so real, so touching. There’s a guy on death row. You know when this song finishes, it’s all over. That’s it, pal.”
Richards’ affinity for country music is well documented. He famously palled around with Gram Parsons during the recording of the Stones’ 1972 opus Exile on Main St. and has covered weepers by Hank Williams, George Jones and Haggard. “Robbed Blind,” a standout on Richards’ 2015 solo album Crosseyed Heart, features the croaky-voiced singer channeling “Sing Me Back Home” in his phrasing.
A limited number of tickets to “Sing Me Back Home,” held at the Bridgestone Arena in downtown Music City, are still available. Produced by Keith Wortman, Mark Rothbaum and Haggard’s widow, Theresa Haggard, the concert will be filmed for a future release.