You have to love a place that offers not one, but two summerlong music festivals within driving distance.

You have to love a place that offers not one, but two summerlong music festivals within driving distance.

I would love it even more if my work schedule allowed me to partake in summer concerts at the Britt Festival or the Les Schwab Amphitheater at the Expo, but that is neither here nor there.

As a swing-shift zombie, I must live vicariously through your live music experiences, dear reader.

I nearly hesitated to critique the Schwab's summer spectacle in the Old Mill District in beautiful Bend.

A few weeks ago I praised most of the 2010 Britt lineup, condemning only one selection in Styx.

And boy, oh boy, did I hear about it. E-mail. Phone calls. People on the street.

Styx fans are loyal, vocal and, at times, vicious.

I love them for it. And I welcome their ire, as I am a hate vampire. I feed on it.

The vitriol directed at me for having the audacity to publicly state that I don't like Styx's music did not change my mind about the band. However, Styx fans, you're tops in my black little book.

On to the Schwab's offering in Bend:

Merle Haggard

June 20

There's not much I can say about Merle Haggard other than of all the country music voices, his is my favorite.

Perhaps I can add that Haggard is a severely underrated country guitar player. His smooth, hesitant picking conjures images of the arid Bakersfield groves that reared him and the dusty jailhouses that held him in his teenage years.

The voice that was his redemption is battered and slips through his fingers during shows these days, but the presence remains.

You owe it to yourself to see "Mama Tried" and "Hungry Eyes" live. The Schwab is the perfect venue for Haggard, wide open and intimate.

Just like the man's best work.

Clint Black

Aug. 29

Screw it. I'm only writing about country music from here on out.

In my young angry years, I laughed at the likes of Clint Black, Randy Travis and Alan Jackson.

Corporate country sellouts, all.

My punk tastes carried me little beyond Hank, Merle and Waylon. Keep it simple and direct, was my war call.

Didn't know what I was missing. Probably was too stupid to care.

Nowadays, I can't help but think a lot of those guys were onto something in the mid-'80s and early '90s. Sure, the country tales of Black, Travis, Jackson, et al. moved from truck stops and seedy honky tonks to the purgatory of the Houston suburbs, but the call of the West and their longings of freedom resonate.

Black's music is laid-back and radio-friendly, but his neo-traditionalist bent hides some depressing observations about said suburban malaise.

In "Killin' Time" Black mourns his uneventful life, just empty spaces between loveless marriages and single moms he's bagged from his local tavern.

"This killin' time is killin' me/ Drinking myself blind thinkin' I won't see/ That if I cross that line and they bury me/Well I just might find I'll be killin' time for eternity," he sings in one of his biggest hits.

After a few albums, though, Black became a casualty of the Nashville scene. The town gave up chronicling the highs and lows of the working class in favor of Garth Brooks pyrotechnics and Billy Ray Cyrus' knuckle-dragger bar anthems.

Hopefully, Black brings with him a heft dose of the former and leaves the later alone.

And finally...

Willie Nelson

Sept. 17

If you don't like Willie, well, partner, you're probably a Styx fan.

Word of warning: I didn't see a large police presence when I attended Schwab shows last year, but this is Willie, and we all know what the man is about these days with his, uh, agricultural pursuits. I'd say leave your stash at home and just get as close to the stage as you can and breathe in real hard. That should do the trick.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.