Toby Keith Will Honor Merle Haggard at 2016 American Country Countdown Awards
Haggard's backing band, the Strangers, will take the stage with Keith, while actor Matthew McConaughey will introduce the performance. Haggard's widow Theresa, as well as additional family members -- including son Ben, who plays with the Strangers -- will be in attendance at the awards show. The 2016 ACCAs are the first country music awards show to take place since Haggard's death on April 6.
Keith and the Strangers join an already announced list of performers that includes Brooks & Dunn (this year's recipients of the Nash Icon Award), Kelsea Ballerini, Cam, Dan + Shay, Sam Hunt, Martina McBride, Cole Swindell, Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Thomas Rhett and Carrie Underwood. The country star performed with Haggard at what would be one of his final shows, at the Mandalay Bay Ballroom in Las Vegas, Nev.
“He looked really frail, and I walked him on the stage and said, ‘I’ll be over here. You call me up whenever you need me,'” Keith recalls. “He made it about eight songs, and he called me up and said, ‘Let’s do something.'”
Shortly after the news of Haggard’s death broke, actor W. Earl Brown shared his own recollections of this concert, and how Keith’s appearance wound up saving the day.
“Merle had already cancelled months of shows, but this particular booking was a big payday. Merle had to pay his band and crew, so there was no calling in sick for this gig,” Brown recalls. “Toby Keith was in town with his wife to watch some football and have some fun. Toby got word that Merle was in Vegas, so he went to see him …”
Brown goes on to explain that, just a few songs into his set, “Merle’s infected lungs were spent. He couldn’t draw enough air to sing any longer … Toby came out and sang the rest of the show. Merle gave his last concert. The Strangers got paid. And the audience, while not realizing it at the time, saw something special."
After being postponed late in 2015, the American Country Countdown Awards are set to return on May 1. The show will air live on Fox from 8PM ET until 10PM ET, from the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. The two-hour awards ceremony will be the first country music awards show to air live from Los Angeles in more than 10 years.
Country Stars Remember Merle Haggard