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Merle Haggard Struggling With His Return to the Stage

photo by Myriam Santos

Honoring a previously scheduled Las Vegas concert date, 78-year-old country legend Merle Haggard returned to the stage earlier than expected, bouncing back from a double pneumonia scare in December that forced the icon to cancel a whole month’s worth of shows. But it appears Merle is still feeling the effects of that illness, raising concerns that he may be pushing himself too hard.

After his Feb. 13 show in Oakland, Calif., audience member Gary Bacon told Nash Country Weekly that Merle “could barely walk onto the stage. He didn’t need a hand or a cane, but he needed time, time to get to the mic.” 

The Country Music Hall of Famer was able to perform his whole set, but much of it was “spoken more than sung,” evidence that Merle’s lungs have not yet returned to full strength. During “Big City” (one of Merle’s signature songs and his opening number), he stopped and said “If you think that I sound like I’m out of breath, you’re right!”

There were a few bright spots, and Merle finished the show strong, finding a comfortable groove and telling the crowd “I love this guitar even more than God loves the poor, but I love you even more.”

He ended the night by thanking fans for coming out and then walking carefully offstage under his own power, but did not return for an encore.

His next show is scheduled for March 3 at the ASU Convocation Center in Jonesboro, Ark., with additional dates lined up into August.

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