Merle Haggard was the last performer at Sunday’s UFO Music Festical at Doc Stewart Park. (CNJ correspondent: Andrew Chavez)
By Ryn Gargulinski: CNJ staff writer
Lovebirds Lysa Stone and Buck McKillip had special reason to be dancing in the front row during Merle Haggard’s Third Annual UFO Music Fest Sunday at Doc Stewart Park.
Stone and McKillip were celebrating their anniversary. They met exactly three years ago — in line at a Merle Haggard concert.
“It’s like meeting him all over again,” Stone said of her beau McKillip as they sashayed to “Silver Wings,” the first song they shared together at Haggard’s debut UFO tour in Roswell.
Three years later, Stone left her native Clovis to join McKillip in Amarillo. They have annually attended Haggard’s UFO tour and said they even hope to get married next year during the concert.
Stone and McKillip were not the only lovebirds who flocked to Haggard’s tour. Hundreds of fans from surrounding regions sizzled in the sun through the day-long extravaganza that also headlined Jack Ingram, Robert Earl Keen and Johnny Rodriguez.
Clovis residents Elaine and James Miller, who have been married “about 100 years” according to James Miller, also met over country music. They first spied each other at a country western dance in Los Lunas.
“We’re some of the original fans from the 1950s,” James Miller said. “We’ve been listening to Merle from day one.”
Although Elaine Miller, who uses a portable oxygen tank, was dehydrated enough to merit an hour’s stay in the medical tent in the early stages of the concert, she insisted on sticking around.
“I can’t leave,” she insisted, “Merle’s here.”
As she sat with an ice pack beneath her hat and in the shade, Elaine Miller said she was feeling better, her body temperature was down and she was determined to stay to see Haggard perform.
When Haggard took center stage, the crowd came to life despite the searing heat, although he played for less than one hour. Nobody seemed to mind the briefness of his set, as long as they got an earful of the legend and his band, the Strangers.
Not everyone, however, found Haggard to be the top player in the line up. Matt Boisseau, who drove four and a half hours with his two friends from Alamogordo, came for Haggard but mainly to see one of his favorite performers — Robert Earl Keen.
Boisseau, who was a repeat offender when it came to attending Haggard concerts, said the Clovis venue was more spread out and comfortable, not to mention kinder on the behind than the hot asphalt in Roswell where the UFO tour landed in the past.
“This will be one of the best concerts in the southwest this summer,” he said. “Haggard is definitely a legend. He’s like Michael Jackson of country music,” said Boisseau, referring to Haggard’s long stream of number one hits. “In the 1960s and 70s Merle owned the charts.”
Amplifiers, speakers — loud enough to be heard behind the portable toilets, but not so loud as to leave incessant ringing in the ears one finds after a night of Metallica or the Sex Pistols.
Beer — $2 per glass and purchased by many. Alamogordo resident Matt Boisseau said the $2 price was his favorite part of the concert.
Cowboy hats, cowboy boots — it just wouldn’t be a country music concert without them. In fact, it just wouldn’t be Clovis without them.
Dancing — rampant for the Haggard set; few and far between for Keen, Rodriguez and Ingram, save for 5-year-old Olivia Stone who jammed hardest to Ingram’s song “Barbie Doll” because she “has lots of Barbie dolls at home.”
Extraterrestrial — although the gig headlined as the Third Annual UFO Music Festival, no green men came down in spaceships, no orange gents swooped down in rockets, no shriveled brown creature rode a bicycle past the moon.
Fatigues — worn by base personnel who monitored the concert, assisted anyone who needed assistance and picked up trash before the concert was fully over.
Grass — not the smoking kind — drugs were strictly forbidden and searched for upon entering the venue — but the crunchy brownish stuff one finds in New Mexico. Good for sitting or standing or dancing on.
Heat — Yes, and plenty of it, on-stage and off.
Ingram, Jack — first headliner, he told the audience how he married a Clovis girl and now gets to eat at the local Taco Box during his visits.
Johnny Rodriguez — third headliner, who promised the crowd he’d come out and drink a $2 beer with them.
Keen, Robert Earl — second headliner, known for his folksy brand of country not well-known in Nashville.
Lawn chairs — brought by many who preferred not to sit on the crunchy brown grass.
Merle Haggard — who speaks for himself.
Nobody — the number of people who were not having fun.
Oakie from Muskogee — an infamous Haggard tune, but aren’t they all?
Portable toilets — blue and wobbly, not many lined up to use these contraptions, mainly as all water left the body due to sweat.
Quintessential renegade country music — at least according to a chap that drove nearly five hours to see the jamming line up of Haggard, Ingram, Rodriguez and Keen.
Rod Stewart look-alike — because there is always one at a concert, regardless of the music type.
Sno-cones — icy $3 treats that leave sticky trails of red down the arm to the elbow.
T-shirts — available in black or white for Ingram or Haggard, most at the usual concert price of $25.
Umbrellas — brought by the wise, inverted by the wind and an annoyance to those seated behind them with a view blocked by red, yellow and blue.
Volume — not too loud despite the huge wattage pumping the tunes.
Wind — strong enough to invert umbrellas and rip the cowboy hats off heads. If it flew over the fence, one had to wait until it was retrieved by a cordial guard.
X-ray machine — a newfound necessity at most high schools, ball games, airports and Merle Haggard concerts.
Youngsters, oldsters, in-betweens — those of all ages who attended Sunday’s concert.
Zealots — a word perhaps invented to describe the throngs of avid Haggard fans.
— Compiled by Ryn Gargulinski, CNJ staff writer