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Country music star Charlie Daniels is still fiddling around

Charlie Daniels performs at a concert in New York in this 2007 photo. Daniels will take the stage tonight for the Corn Palace Festival in Mitchell. (AP photo)

If you go

Charlie Daniels performs at 7 p.m. Saturday with opening act, the Doo-Wah Riders. Tickets are $35, and available at the Corn Palace Box Office. For more information, call (605) 995-8430.

Daniels, who has been playing and recording for half a century, will play the Corn Palace at 7 p.m. Saturday.

The last time he played the Corn Palace Festival was 1987, so miss this one and you'll likely have to catch him playing "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" on his 100th birthday tour. All of which seems entirely possible for the popular bearded fiddler in the big white hat.

Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said as of Thursday, they had sold about 1,200 tickets and expected a crowd of about 1,500 people to attend the concert.

"Sales are very similar to what we've seen for (Friday's concert performers) Thompson Square," Schilling said.

Now 75, Daniels still plays 90 to 100 shows a year -- including appearances on the Grand Ole Opry -- and he dismisses any thoughts of slowing down.

A 2010 mini-stroke he experienced while vacationing in Colorado caused some initial concern, he said, but things are OK now.

"We keep pretty close watch on it, and I visit my doctor once in a while, take blood pressure medicine. We're keepin' it under control," Daniels said in his trademark bass drawl. Daniels' typical 16-person road entourage consists of himself, his wife Hazel, the six members of his band, drivers and a hard-working support crew. How does he do it at 75?

"I love what I do; I travel constantly and they take incredible care of me," Daniels said. Trying to figure out where to park the bus isn't his concern, he said. "I get on the bus, go to town. I get off and do the show. I get back on the bus, and I go again," he said. "Everything is arranged and it fits together like a puzzle. It makes my life so easy."

The rest is up to his crew. "My philosophy is that if you can do the job, do it. I don't have to look over shoulders and micromanage. They call me if they need me, and I call them if I don't like what they're doin'. Other than that, we leave each other alone."

Over the years, Daniels has managed to bridge the gap between redneck and liberal. In "Uneasy Rider," for instance, a quick-thinking long hair manages to pull the wool over some racist good 'ole boys in Mississippi.

In "Still in Saigon," a song Daniels didn't write, he sings about a Vietnam vet whose post-traumatic stress disorder keeps pulling him back to the war.

A non-vet, Daniels said he initially felt he didn't have the credibility to do the song.

"I ran it by some Vietnam veterans and they said, 'Do it.' "

It's a concern of his that the same issues are still facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans more than a quarter century later. It upsets Daniels that soldiers pay the penalty for wars that shouldn't happen or wars that are waged under political constraints.

"If we're going to war, let's go to war; if not, let's stay home."

He believes in a strong military, keeping a watchful eye on Russia and China and supporting Israel, which he calls the sole bastion of democracy in the Middle East.

Daniels isn't hot on labels. "We're all Americans," he said. "I'm very conservative on some issues and very liberal on others."

One of the latter is equal pay for equal work. "Equal pay for women is only sensible -- especially since my life is run by three women," he said. "The girls in the front office run my schedule and my wife runs my life."

Daniels is worried about America. "I'm more concerned than I've ever been in my life," he said. "Our politicians are more out of touch than they've ever been. I don't think we have people in Washington who understand how businesses work in this country work and what made this country great."

Daniels called President Obama a "populist who has been the most divisive president I can remember -- and I can remember them all since Roosevelt." In his song "It's Payback Time," Daniels, a Christian, paints a picture of the post-apocalyptic judgment that awaits political and economic predators.

"Wall Street deserves a rough time," he said. "It's easy to spend someone else's money," he added, critical of derivative junk investments that have destroyed personal and national wealth.

"We need people who are honest and care about people," he said. "They're hard to find, especially in politics and on Wall Street, but it's definitely what we need."

Daniels, who is working on his biography, figures he's covered his life up to 1975 so far. He's amazed not so much about how fast 75 years have gone, but at how much living he's packed into those years.

"When I look at all the places I've been, the things I've done, the things I did as kid, it could have been a hundred and fifty years."

Growing up in a small North Carolina town may not have been growing up in Mayberry, but it was close.

"There were 22 people in my graduating class, my friend's dad was a deputy sheriff," he said. "We lived in a small town where everybody knew each other's business and helped each other out. It was a great time to grow up."

It's what America was all about and what the country still needs, he believes.

"The Devil Went down to Georgia" is, hands-down, the most-requested number Daniels gets at all his concerts. The hit song was a last-minute collaboration between his band and himself to create a song to finish up a 1979 album.

"It's a twist on an old story," Daniels said, noting that his inspiration came from the poem "The Mountain Whippoorwill" by Stephen Vincent Benet. The band worked out the musical parts, Daniels said.

"I went home that night, wrote the lyrics, and the rest is history," he said.