“Never speak ill of Toby Keith to me; thanks to him, Merle exited the stage with his dignity intact…”
This is the word of actor and musician W. Earl Brown who was at Merle Haggard’s show at the Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas on February 6th, 2016. After officially canceling all of his February tour dates, Merle surprised everyone by showing up to the casino to put on the show, despite his continued battle with a double pneumonia that eventually took his life on April 6th.
W. Earl Brown tells a very touching story about how Toby Keith, who just happened to be in town at the time to watch the Super Bowl, showed up to help Merle perform.
Merle’s Final Show. It was Super Bowl weekend. Merle had already cancelled months of shows, but this particular booking was a big payday. Merle had to pay his band and crew, so there was no calling in sick for this gig.
Toby Keith was in town with his wife to watch some football and have some fun. Toby got word that Merle was in Vegas, so he went to see him”¦ Merle was in bad shape. He needed to be in a hospital – not on a stage; but The Show Must Go On. Merle would not take charity from anyone, but he did turn to Toby and say, “How many songs of mine do you know?”
“All of ’em” answered T.
“All of ’em?”
“Yep. And I won’t need a teleprompter.”
“Well, stay nearby.” After four or five songs, Merle’s infected lungs were spent. He couldn’t draw enough air to sing any longer. “We’ve, uh, we’ve got a special guest here tonight”¦” Toby came out and sang the rest of the show. Merle gave his last concert. The Strangers got paid. And the audience, while not realizing it at the time, saw something special.
Never speak ill of Toby Keith to me; thanks to him, Merle exited the stage with his dignity intact.
The story has now been shared on Facebook nearly 100,000 times, and websites like Taste of Country and others have picked it up. But despite it being a touching tribute to Merle and a great story, the Mandalay Bay concert with Toby Keith was not the final concert Merle Haggard ever played as is being reported.
After cancelling a February 2nd show at the Fox Performing Arts Center in Riverside, CA and announcing the cancellation of all February tour dates, Merle went on to play Mandalay Bay on Feb. 6th with Toby Keith, as well as a series of other shows in California, despite the announcement of the cancellations.
Merle Haggard played a show Thursday, February 11th at the Saban Theatre in Beverly Hills, CA, where he was joined on stage by Kris Kristofferson. Randy Lewis of the LA Times was on site and wrote a review of the show that happened in the aftermath of the loss of another musical great, David Bowie.
But if his voice was not quite 100% a week after he postponed a previously booked L.A. tour stop, his mood was chipper, his guitar playing crisp and his time on a stage shared with one of the few songwriters who can claim to be his equal was an inspiring session of give and take.
Haggard is 78 and Kristofferson is 79, and the vibrancy of their performance felt especially comforting after the numbing series of high-profile musicians’ deaths in recent weeks.
Both men have looked at the big picture throughout their lives, and when Kristofferson served up his latter-day “Feeling Mortal” near the end of the show, he stared down one of the biggest themes of all:
Soon or later I’ll be leaving
I’m a winner either way
For the laughter and the loving
That I’m living with today
Given the losses music fans have experienced of late, those words couldn’t have come at a better time.
Merle then went on to play at the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts on February 10th in Santa Rosa, CA.
Then Merle played his final public show at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, CA on February 13th. Though no reviews or reports from the show exist, Saving Country Music did confirm with the publicist of the Paramount Theatre, Marshall Lamm, Merle Haggard did take the stage, and did perform. Unless there was another private, unannounced show, or a show Merle played that was either not scheduled, or announced as canceled but still played, the Paramount Theatre in Oakland, CA on February 13th would have been the end of the performing road for Merle.
Merle went on to book numerous other shows, hoping he would recover enough to play them, but never did. It’s reported that even though Merle Haggard was not feeling 100%, he wanted to continue to play shows because it made him feel better to perform.
Saving Country Music was unable to find any video from Merle’s final performance in Oakland at the Paramount, but hopefully now that the word spreads this was Merle’s final show, some will surface.
W. Earl Brown has since amended his story to say:
I have been informed that Merle played a couple of shows after Vegas, so this was not the FINAL show. I knew he and Kris were set to play a rescheduled LA on Feb 3, because I was missing it due to my travel schedule. I had no idea it was postponed a second time.
Whether Vegas was the last show, second-to-last, or whatever, the fact remains that when Merle needed a helping hand, he got one, and the audience was not left wanting. Merle was an artist and a showman until the end.
The reason I know about it, is that I phoned T after the Super Bowl to talk football. That’s when he told me what happened. Knowing what a Merle fan I am, he sent me this pic. I asked permission to share the photo before I did so.