Toby Keith Honors Merle Haggard With Moving Medley at 2016 ACC Awards [WATCH]
There was no better musician than Toby Keith to honor Merle Haggard at the 2016 American Country Countdown Awards -- after all, Keith was a huge fan of the late country legend, who passed away on April 6, and performed with him at one of his last shows.
Keith's tribute on Sunday night (May 1) didn't mention that final performance, but the stage decor included a photo of the pair laughing together. Still, the country music veteran did his idol justice with a medley of some of Haggard's most beloved songs, including "Mama Tried," "Today I Started Loving You Again," "I Think I'll Just Stay Here and Drink," "Workin' Man Blues," "Silver Wings" and, of course, "Okie From Muskogee." (As the show credits rolled, the band also played "The Fightin' Side of Me.")
Keith was no-nonsense about his vocals -- the ideal approach to take when tackling such emotional subject matter. He was matched in stoicism by Haggard's band, the Strangers, who joined and backed him onstage. The road-worn troupe, which includes the late legend's son, Ben, on guitar, was note-perfect, although pedal steel player Norman Hamlet and tenor saxophonist Renato Caranto were standouts.
Haggard's widow, Theresa, was also in attendance, and although she looked tearful at the start of the tribute, she was clearly moved and uplifted by the performance. In fact, during "Workin' Man Blues," TV cameras caught her out of her seat and dancing.
Another poignant note: Ben Haggard was playing a deep tan-colored guitar etched with his father's signature. The elder Haggard took care to leave his mark on the instrument before he passed.
Matthew McConaughey introduced the performance with a short-but-sweet speech illustrating Haggard's importance.
"As a singer, songwriter and bandleader, Merle forever changed the course of country music," McConaughey said, then pointing out that Haggard and Buck Owens were the architects of the "Bakersfield Sound," which was marked by "strong Telecaster twang and a plain-spoken eloquence all its own."
Haggard, the actor said, was "an outlaw before the outlaws, and a hero to all of country's finest."
2016 American Country Countdown Awards Red Carpet Pictures