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Merle Haggard performs in St. Petersburg

Merle Haggard is returning to the area, almost exactly a year after his last appearance here.

He'll be at the Mahaffey Theater in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. Last January, he appeared at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota.

In a phone interview before that show, he said that he and his band never decide in advance which songs they're going to play. They have about 300 songs ready to go, and they play whatever the their collective muses, and the audience, urge them to play.

He knows the audience likes to hear a lot of hits, and he has a lot of them he can play. He can go back to the 1960s and '70s with such songs as "Okie from Muskogee," "(My Friends Are Gonna Be) Strangers," "Mama Tried" and "I'm a Lonesome Fugitive," and into his 1987 hit "Twinkle Twinkle Lucky Star."

He hasn't had a big hit single since that one, but his albums continue to be critically praised and popular with fans of country, folk and rock.

Besides his hits, he said, he likes to offer his concert audiences some surprises. At 76, he's still a prolific songwriter and is likely to treat the local audience to new songs that few people have heard before.

"The idea," he said, "is for them to go home with a belly full of what they came for."

Details: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 27, Mahaffey Theater, 401 First St. S., St. Petersburg. Tickets: $39.50, $49.50 $59.50, $69.50. Information: 727-892-5767, themahaffey.com.

-- Marty Clear

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