September in Salt Lake City offers concert-goers a rare chance to see three music legends. And yes, "legend" is a way overused term, but it's valid when applied to three gentlemen hitting the Wasatch Front in September. And while none of them are at the height of their powers - they're all past 70 - they're all worth seeing for various reasons. They are Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Merle Haggard. Three men who have helped define, enrich and beautify the country realm for more than half a century.
The parade of legends starts Tuesday night at the Gallivan Center when Nelson and Family come calling. If you've seen Willie at any time in the past 35 years or so, you know the drill, because it doesn't change a lot - nor should it. After opening with "Whiskey River," the group winds its way through a hits-paved tour of Nelson's kajillion-selling catalog. And for fun, he usually throws in a tribute to some of his country music heroes, Hank Williams and Bob Wills and his departed fellow outlaw, Waylon Jennings. Although last year's show at Red Butte was an uneven affair that featured a rocky beginning, it ended with a sterling second half. And with Nelson nearing 80, you take what you can get. And about 5,000 of us will be there to relish in whatever that is Tuesday night.
Shifting toward the end of the month, twin songwriting legends Haggard and Kristofferson are at Kingsbury Hall together for one of several shows pairing the two this fall. They've played a few sporadic gigs together the past few years, but this is the first full-on tour featuring the duo, which starts in the Pacific Northwest a few days before they arrive in SLC.
It's billed as an acoustic evening, and in previous shows the two share the stage and swap songs as two of country music's most revered songbooks spill open. "Working Man's Blues," "Footlights," and "Big City," are just a few of Hag's chart-toppers that remain iconic in the country genre.
Kristofferson? If he had done nothing but write "Me and Bobby McGee," he would still be remembered. Add in, "Sunday Morning Coming Down," "Help Me Make It Through The Night," and The Pilgrim #33," and about two dozen others I could name and you've got well, a guy with almost no equals not named Dylan or Prine.
The acoustic evening promises a stripped down evening focused on songs - and with those two, what more could you want? Also, this fulfills a couple of long-standing concert-going goals of mine. I've never caught Kristofferson, who only plays about 50 shows a year and Hag is finally in a worthy venue here in SLC. I've seen him the past two years in the schmaltzy, but serviceable Peppermill Casino out in Wendover, Nev.
Taken as a trio, you couldn't write the history of country music without Nelson, Kristofferson or Haggard. And as country plods on ahead largely ignoring its past, it's up to the rest of us to enjoy the true kings of country while we can. So take advantage this month - legends aren't to be missed.
Here's a Kristofferson song from '09: "Closer To The Bone."
And here's an old-school Hag fave: "Ramblin' Fever."