Photographing a Legend: Rest in Peace, Merle Haggard

 © Nathaniel Knobel

One of my best childhood memories is listening to music with my Dad. In a little nook by the fridge and under the cabinets, he had a black cd-radio combo stereo bought from our local RadioShack. About 6pm he'd pull out a CD from behind the kitchen door and load it in. Smoking cigarettes out the window he'd play song after song as I sat on the counter and listened to whatever artist he wanted to teach me about that night.

One musician I really enjoyed, and would even on occasion ask him to pull out, was the outlaw himself: Merle Haggard. While I wasn't really into anything edging too close to what played on the country music stations, something about his story and music caught my attention. Together my Dad and I played that CD into the night many times.

 © Nathaniel Knobel

Almost a year ago I had the opportunity to photograph my first music festival. It was an amazing opportunity to get photos of great artists, but the one that really stuck out was the Sunday headliner Merle Haggard. Thinking back to my childhood I knew that I had to photograph him. While it was dry all weekend, the rain started to pour just before Haggard was scheduled to go on. All of the photographers, myself included, huddled underneath whatever parts of the VIP tent hung over the fence enough to keep our cameras dry while a few colleagues passed out their extra ponchos to those that couldn't fit. Eventually it passed and we crowded around the pit entrance until it was time to go.

 © Nathaniel Knobel

The pit was small, causing us to stand shoulder to shoulder, but nothing could beat being that close to the stage. I'll never forget when he came on and started playing, bringing me back to sitting on the kitchen counter all those years ago. I had my three songs photographing the legend, then I headed into the crowd to listen like everyone else. It was the perfect end to a great weekend, and a concert I'll never forget.

Rest in peace, Merle Haggard.

 © Nathaniel Knobel
 © Nathaniel Knobel