If you’ve been paying attention to the current state of country music in the slightest, you’ll know that the debate about genre purity and hewing close to country roots continues to rage on. Some of us embrace pop country with all of our hearts, and some, well, plain old don’t. Generally I don’t really pander to this latter element, but they do have one thing right: Old outlaw country was and is awesome. That sentiment was on full display last night on Colbert, when two of the new era of country’s biggest stars teamed up to pay their respects to the late, great Merle Haggard.
Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley joined forces for a rendition of Merle’s classic “Ramblin’ Fever.” It’s exactly what old head country lovers and purists would want out of a late night performance, with plenty of honky tonk piano, stately guitar, and absolutely no mention of Spring Break, one of Luke Bryan’s current favorite topics. The guys performed with a couple of brass players and the show’s full full band, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, behind them, they took turns trading verses and joining together to deliver Merle’s road-weary chorus. It was a fitting tribute to one of the genre’s greatest icons, and proof that these new country stars are more than capable of shifting toward the old guard when need be.