Dos Okies, una noche

And now for something a little bit different: Didn’t hit any shows this past weekend, because I got bedridden by some kind of horrible creeping crud.

To be fair, I did catch an incandescently inebriated acoustic version of the Ancient Sons, along with talented local songwriter Eric Warren, in a freezing cold and drafty upstairs venue that shall not be named. After that, there’s been about three days unaccounted for—matted hair, warm soup, Kleenex and the rest a huge blur. Heard there was a Super Bowl, and it was pretty good. Slept right through that and missed the critically acclaimed halftime debut of Sparkle Motion IIAli Lohan, Nicky Hilton, Jamie Lynn Spears and Noah “Heidi Idaho” Cyrus, choreographed by Paula Abdul—which is kind of a heartbreaker.

Anyway, looking to next Sunday, February 10, Americana fans will be faced with a serious quandary. At the Crest Theatre is Merle Haggard—a performer who’s on a shortlist of truly great country-music songwriters, along with Hank Williams, Willie Nelson and a few select others, like the lesser-known Townes Van Zandt or Nashville tunesmith Harlan Howard. Haggard’s music is deep and multifaceted, while still retaining that essential characteristic of classic country music—a barroom sense of swing, and the ability to address complex human concerns in a straightforward and easy-to-grasp manner.

Haggard’s a master, and he’s one of our own, too. Even though he’s retained that Okie patina, he’s as Californian as you can get: born and raised in Bakersfield at the south end of the Valley; lived outside of Redding at the north end of the Valley since the late 1970s. A lot of rock listeners dismissed Haggard for his tongue-in-cheek anti-hippie tune “Okie From Muskogee,” and the bad-ass Nixon-era anthem “Fightin’ Side of Me,” but his catalog is loaded with gems—100-proof weepers like “Bottle Let Me Down,” sweet folkish numbers like “I Take a Lot of Pride in What I Am,” written from a hobo’s perspective, and rousing calls to freedom like “Big City.” And how can you argue with a paean to motherhood like “Mama Tried”? The show is at 7:30 p.m., tickets are $59.50.

Less than 20 blocks east of the Crest, songwriter Jimmy Webb will play a solo set—7 p.m., $35—kind of a piano-cabaret act with songs interspersed by stories, at Harlow’s. Webb is a completely different animal, even though he’s an Oklahoma native.

You may not recognize the name, but you’ll recognize the songs—Glen Campbell had a run of hits with Webb originals “Wichita Lineman,” “Galveston” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” the latter covered soulfully by Isaac Hayes. Then there’s the song Webb penned for actor Richard Harris, “MacArthur Park,” with its weirdly psychedelic lyrics about a cake getting left out in the rain and a disappearing recipe—which Donna Summer turned into a disco anthem.

Jimmy Webb’s effect on late-’60s, nonrock pop music is remarkable. At a time when rock had accelerated from mindless, blues-based yow-yow to the sophistication of Bob Dylan and the Beatles, Webb provided the repertoire for the Frank Sinatra generation of singers, who were looking for something hipper, greener and less brassy than the Tin Pan Alley songs that they’d been singing for years.