Toby Keith Pays Tribute to Merle Haggard at American Country Countdown Awards


 LAUREN LAFFER • Sounds Like Nashville

One of the most memorable moments during last night’s 2016 American Country Countdown Awards was the heartfelt tribute to “The Hag.”

Oscar winner Matthew McConaughey stepped out on stage to present the final performance of the night and honored the legendary performer in a short speech.

“This year, the passing of some of our greatest musical legends has reminded us just how much music means in our lives,” he began. “Each loss has hit us hard, like a death in the family. On April 6th, on his 79th birthday, country music lost a towering figure, the late, great Merle Haggard.”

The actor went on to introduce the Toby Keith-led tribute. Keith was backed by Haggard’s youngest son Ben and Merle’s longtime band, The Strangers.

“As a singer, songwriter, band leader, Merle forever changed the course of country music. Along with Buck Owens, Merle and his consistently excellent band, The Strangers, gave us the Bakersfield sound with a strong Telecaster twang and a plain spoken eloquence all its own. You see, Merle was an outlaw before the outlaws and a hero to all of country’s finest, none more than our final performer of the evening. We are honored tonight to be joined by Merle’s wife Theresa and other members of the Haggard family, including his youngest son Ben, who you’re also about to hear play. Here to salute his friend Merle Haggard, joined by the legendary Strangers, let’s give it up for Toby Keith.”

Keith played a medley of Haggard’s greatest hits, including “Mama Tried,” “Today I Started Loving You Again,” “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” “Workin’ Man Blues,” “Silver Wings” and “Okie From Muskogee.”

His performance evoked tears from several audience members, including members of Haggard’s family. Haggard’s wife, Theresa, passionately sang along to every word.

Re-live the much-buzzed about performance above.

Merle Haggard died on Wednesday, April 6, his 79th birthday. He has been struggling with bouts of pneumonia for months and had been forced to cancel several of his recent concerts.