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Keith Richards and Billy Gibbons Perform at Merle Haggard Tribute

Nashville threw a party for Merle Haggard last night, and Keith Richards and Billy Gibbons were there to take part in the all-star festivities.

The Tennessean reports that the evening — part of Nashville’s first official Merle Haggard Day, and timed for what would have been the country veteran’s 80th birthday — found a host of Haggard’s musical peers and disciples turning out to pay tribute, both solo and in various collaborative configurations.

Richards, who shared a long friendship with Haggard, came out to perform “Reasons to Quit” with Willie Nelson, taking his old friend’s part in a duet Haggard had previously recorded with Nelson. Richards was also joined by the McCrary Sisters for “Sing Me Back Home,” a Haggard song he’s held up as one of his all-time favorites.

“When Merle broke through, he was akin to Johnny Cash in the starkness of the sound. But it was more melodic. You felt like this guy knew s—. There was a wisdom in it,” Richards said after Haggard’s death on April 6, 2016. “I still sing and play ‘Sing Me Back Home’ on the piano. That’s my party piece, baby. It’s just so real, so touching. There’s a guy on death row. You know when this song finishes, it’s all over. That’s it, pal.”

Richards’ performances, which you can watch below, were just a small part of a bill that ran the gamut from country to rock and in between. Lynyrd Skynyrd and John Mellencamp were on hand, as was ZZ Top‘s Gibbons, who joined Warren Haynes for a rendition of “Workin’ Man Blues” that the Tennessean referred to as a “rafter-rattling rocker.” You can check out that performance above.

Haggard’s presence was also felt through his son Ben, who led his father’s band the Strangers through the opening number and stayed with them to back a number of the night’s numbers, and Haggard’s widow Theresa, who referred to the night as a “monumental moment” and told the crowd, “I know Haggard’s here right now.”

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