Merle Haggard at Mystic Lake Star Tribune photo by Marlin Levison

Merle Haggard at Mystic Lake Star Tribune photo by Marlin Levison

“Usually we do three songs, then he does three songs, then we do three songs but tonight he only did two,” Merle Haggard said Sunday of his buddy Kris Kristofferson, who was fighting through a bad cold.

“It sounds like 12 to you,” Kristofferson said.

Both country giants were in playful spirits at booze-free Mystic Lake Casino, as stated in my review. Kris made fun of his voice but praised his famous sideman. At the end of “Lovin’ Her Was Easier,” he didn’t even finish the line; he merely sang: “Lovin’ her was easier” and then declared, “I got a pretty good guitar player back there.” Indeed.

Countered Hag, after Kris sang “Help Me Make It Through the Night”: “A guy who write songs that good shouldn’t have to sing for a living.”

Best repartee of the night – Hag: “I’m having so much fun that I’m thinking we’ll probably give back the money.” Kris: “Someone give him a drink. Quick.”

Jamey Johnson, the most lauded new Nashville songwriter of the past five years, watched the entire show from the wings. Afterward, Haggard gave him a boxed set of Merle CDs, and Johnson hurried to the sold-out Fine Line for his own gig (arriving minutes before showtime).

Shipwrecked in the Eighties (KK)/ Misery and Gin (Hag)/ I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink (Hag)/ California Blues (Hag)/ The Pilgrim, Chapter 33 (KK)/ Lovin’ Her Was Easier (KK)/ White Line Fever (Hag)/ Mama Tried (Hag)/ Today I Started Loving You Again (Hag)/ Here Comes That Rainbow Again (KK)/ They’re Tearing The Labor Camps Down (Hag)/ Kern River (Hag)/ Help Me Make It Through the Night (KK)/ Pretty When it’s New (Hag)/ Silver Tongued Devil (KK)/ Darby’s Castle (KK)/ The Way I Am (Hag)/The  Running Kind (Hag)/ Me and Bobby McGhee (KK)/ If We Make It Through December (Hag)/ Are the Good Times Really Over (Hag)/ Fightin Side of Me (Hag)/ From Here to Forever (KK)/ Okie from Muskogee (Hag, with verse by KK)/ Sunday Morning Coming Down (KK)/ Why Me Lord (Hag does the KK song by KK’s request)/ I Am What I Am (Hag)

Kris Kristofferson at Mystic Lake