Days before what would have been Merle Haggard's 80th birthday, a lifelong friend is ensuring that "Hag" isn't forgotten here in Kern County.
"I've seen him in a lot of dreams," says Ray McDonald, who lived with Merle and his family when he was a young man. "He's happy, he's young, he's usually playing guitar and singing, kidding me about something."
McDonald viewed Merle as a father figure, and knew him for most of his life. He remembers April 6, 2016, the day that Merle passed, like it was yesterday.
"Benny called me and he said 'Raymond, dad took the 9 o'clock train...and I told him this is the call I dreaded all my life."
Merle's childhood home, the famed boxcar which now sits in the Kern County Museum, has been renovated and is set to open to the public on Sunday. McDonald is back in town to see the project through.
"He'd say 'my dad would be so astonished that this house is in a museum'...and it's in a museum because of [Merle], the greatest singer ever."
"He was the best ever, and there's his little house he grew up in. It's just amazing to me," McDonald said.
The Haggard Boxcar Festival will take place at the Kern County Museum on Sunday; you can find more information here.