Merle Haggard Laid to Rest in Private Ceremony Officiated by Marty Stuart
Outlaw country icon Merle Haggard was laid to rest in a private funeral service on Saturday on the "Silver Wings" singer's Palo Cedro, California, ranch. Haggard, who died April 6 at age 79 after a battle with pneumonia, was remembered in a ceremony that featured a number of friends and family singing songs that Haggard had chosen himself before his death, a spokesperson for the singer confirmed to Billboard.
As first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, the ceremony featured a stage flanked by huge bouquets of flowers, a clover pasture linked with 15 rows of folding chairs and Hag's trusty tour bus, the Super Chief, acting as a windscreen for the mourners. Singer Marty Stuart officiated at the funeral, which began with a recording of Lefty Frizzell's "I Love You a Thousand Ways" and featured a performance of "Precious Memories" by Stuart's wife, Connie Smith, a duet by the couple on "Wings" and a take on "Life's Railway to Heaven" by former band member Ronnie Reno.
"Sometimes when you're crying, you're happy/ Sometimes you're just crying... I'm so glad I was close to you, for a moment of forever," Kristofferson sang in his signature ragged tone. The solemn tone was broken a short time later when, during a performance of "Sing Me Back Home," the wind swept Kristofferson's lyrics away and the singer smiled at nature's joke. The mini-set ended with a run through Haggard's iconic duet with Willie Nelson, "Pancho and Lefty," which Kristofferson performed with Nelson's son, Micah.
Reno was just one of the mourners representing Haggard's legendary band, The Strangers. Manager/bus driver/steel guitar player Fuzzy Owen, trumpet/sax player Don Markham and drummer Biff Adam were also on hand, as was current Strangers steel player Norm Hamlet. The Californian reported that Haggard's three sons, Marty, Noel and Ben, closed out the service with a "playful" version of "Today I Started Loving You Again."