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Concertgoers relish Haggard's 'old country' tunes

May 31, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

by Richard T. Meagher / staff photographer

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Merle Haggard

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Merle Haggard's appeal lies in his believable songs, his consistent country style and the quality of his supporting musicians, said the concertgoers who lined up to see the first of two shows Sunday night in Martinsburg's Apollo Civic Theatre.

"I just like his lyrics," said Gilbert Warnick of Kearneysville, W.Va. "What he sings about is real life, what's really going on."

Haggard's fans ranged from John Hubley, 70, who drove more than an hour from Shippensburg, Pa., to catch the crooner, to Amy Cook, 22, of Berkeley Springs, W.Va.

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"I think I like him because my parents listened to him when I was little," Cook said.

"It kind of brings back childhood memories," said Jason Rexrode, 23, who drove three hours from Franklin, W.Va., to see the concert.

Haggard's songwriting and singing cross the generations. Cook and Rexrode say it is Haggard's style - pure country, rather than the pop-influenced country of late - that keeps him among the favorites for country music fans and has made the "Okie from Muskogee" a country music legend.

"Old country is the best," Rexrode said.

"There's no comparison to the new country," said Stella Shackelford of Leesburg, Va. "He's one of the good ol' boys."

Haggard, 61, a Country Music Hall of Famer and 1984 Grammy Award winner, performed two benefit concerts Sunday for Fraternal Order of Police groups in the Eastern Panhandle.

A portion of each $35 ticket will go to the FOP, which buys Christmas gifts for underprivileged children, said Jim Wilburn, president of JDA Productions, which does bookings for the Apollo Civic Theatre.

About 30 minutes before the first show was scheduled to begin, only about 60 of the 560 seats were still available, Wilburn said.

Lorraine Fitzwater of Boonsboro said she wouldn't miss seeing Haggard in concert.

"He sings the good type of country music," Fitzwater said.

For a few Martinsburg concertgoers, this was the only time they would get to see "The Hag" so close to home.

"I love him to death," said David Gray of Martinsburg, a Haggard fan since childhood. "I love everything he's ever put out."

"He's the man," said Donna Beard of Hagerstown. "He's Merle Haggard. What else can I say?"

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