Merle Haggard Commands the Room at CMT Artists of the Year Special

Even the Honorees Were Anxious to Spend Time With Him

Want to instantly become the biggest star in the room? That’s easy. Just magically transform yourself into Merle Haggard.

At Tuesday night’s (Dec. 2) CMT Artists of the Year special in Nashville, the artists themselves were vying for the attention of one man attending the show that night. His name is Merle Haggard.

The Hag was presented CMT’s first-ever Artist of a Lifetime award during the live event that also included a performance of his “Workin’ Man Blues” by Eric Church, Ashley Monroe and producer T Bone Burnett.

What you didn’t see during the telecast was the impromptu meet-and-greet line at Haggard’s table as Miranda Lambert, Florida Georgia Line’s Brian Kelley and Tyler Hubbard, Jason Aldean and fiancee Brittany Kerr and a host of others gathered to spend some time with the Country Music Hall of Fame member.

CMT Artists of the Year special celebrated the achievements of Aldean, Luke Bryan, Keith Urban, Lambert and Florida Georgia Line.

But the mainstream country stars weren’t the only ones excited to see Haggard. In presenting the Artist of a Lifetime honor, Billy Bob Thornton offered his unique take on Haggard’s importance.

“I’d just like to add something to what they’ve got here,” Thornton told the audience, “which is that I wouldn’t only include Merle Haggard in the greatest songwriters of all time. But I would put him up there alongside people like Tennessee Williams and William Faulker, Erskine Caldwell and John Steinbeck because he is truly a storyteller. That’s something that has been lost over the years, and I’m glad to see that it is coming back a little bit. And Merle Haggard personifies the storyteller.”

But don’t ask the Hag about all that. He’s seemingly unaware of the profound impact his artist has had on our culture and society.

In accepting his award, he humbly observed, “Anything I would say would be short of the mark.”

God bless Merle Haggard.

Samantha is a country radio insider with a deep love for the music and its stars. She can often be found on a red carpet or at a late-night guitar pull.