Merle Haggard may never have lived in Louisville, but his presence was and still is felt here in many ways. When the outlaw country songster died on April 6, local musicians quickly set out to memorialize him in music.
On Tuesday, April 12, less than a week after Haggard’s death at age 79, that’s exactly what will happen at Manny & Merle, 122 W. Main St., and a portion of the restaurant’s proceeds that night will benefit the Louisville Leopard Percussionists.
Johnny Berry, Blake Stamper, George Stearman, Colton Kise, Kaleb Cecil, Megan Stout, C.J. Cumberland, John Wright, and many others will perform Haggard favorites starting at 8 p.m. Manny & Merle owner Tony Palombino actually is a huge fan himself, which is one reason the show will be performed there.
“Upon deciding the name for the location in 2012, I wanted to honor Merle, as I am a huge fan of his music,” Palombino says. “Merle represents the musical influence of the location; it will always be a tribute to him.”
Each artist will perform Haggard songs, and many also will tell stories about how the renowned performer, who is often referred to as “the working man’s poet,” influenced them.
“Merle Haggard has been my single greatest influence as a country singer and picker,” Berry says. “I also know that statement holds true for every country singer and picker I have ever met.”
Cumberland, who hosts a weekly open-mic night at Manny & Merle as well as a radio show called “Cumberland Country” on 100.9 WCHQ, says the news of Haggard’s death “hit me right in the gut.
“It was surprising how much it affected me. Almost like losing a distant relative.”
Cumberland says he grew up listening to his parents’ collection of country records, with Haggard being a prominent artist.
“It was almost like he was a part of the family,” says Cumberland. “Whenever I hear his voice, I am immediately transported back to those days in front of the console stereo in the living room.”
Haggard helped shape the legendary Bakersfield sound in the early 1960s, won two Grammy Awards and boasted an astonishing 38 No. 1 hits on the U.S. country music charts in a career that spanned nearly six decades. Among his most beloved hits are “Mama Tried,” “Okie From Muskogee” and the hard-living anthem “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.”
The event is free and is sponsored in part by Crescent Hill Radio.