Many fans who streamed into the Silverstein Eye Centers Arena for the Willie Nelson and Family concert undoubtedly had wanted to see fellow longtime country music star Merle Haggard, as well.
But last month Haggard backed out as doctors ordered rest for his bout with double pneumonia, which ultimately claimed his life, as Haggard died Wednesday on his 79th birthday.
His absence certainly didn't discourage the attendance of John and Kayla Rimmer from Independence and Easton Criss from Raytown, as John and Ethan sported Haggard T-shirts as they waited shortly after 6:30 p.m. to enter the arena.
“This could be a tribute to him,” John said.
“We got to see him the last time he was here at Uptown Theater,” Criss added.
Todd Mitchell, the arena's general manager, said Monday afternoon the SEC Arena – capacity about 7,000 for concerts – was nearly sold out. Some refund requests came in after Haggard dropped out, but some other willing concertgoers picked up those available tickets, he said.
“It's almost a wash,” he said.
Connie Reed of Pleasant Hill said she passed on a chance to see Haggard at a local bar several years ago and was looking forward to the show when she and Kenny and Charlotte Hall bought tickets. But Haggard's absence didn't make them think twice.
“Oh no!” Reed and Charlotte Hall said possibly getting refunds.
John Carlin said he first attended a Willie Nelson concert in 2012 – with his daughter in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. Staying in the metro area temporarily for his railroad work, Carlin jumped at the chance to see Nelson again.
“It was great,” he said of that show.
After rolling into the parking lot at 4:15 p.m., Carlin was first in line outside with SEC Arena east doors, later joined by Wayne Wynn from Liberty. Behind them, the fans ranged from about 8 years old to near-contemporaries of the 82-year-old Nelson.
“Sure, you're missing Merle, but you never know who might show up,” Carlin said, noting that another country star sometimes drops in for a Nelson show. The possibility of Nelson's son joining him onstage was intriguing.
Said Wynn: “It could be anybody.”