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Country music has been notoriously cruel to its eldersodd for a genre that purports to worship the past. After a certain age, country performers are either put out to pasture or expected to parody themselves to death at tourist traps like Branson and the Grand Ole Mortuary. Merle Haggard, who turned 60 this spring, will abide none of this foolishness. In the last few years, the Kern River hermit has made some of the best records of his career; his brooding 1996 was ignored by radio and most reviewers even as it rivaled anything Nashville offered that year. Haggard’s live shows brief as they often arereveal a cranky, even melancholy artist who refuses to rest on his laurels. With the Strangers at 7 & 9:30 p.m. at the Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria. $29.50. (703) 549-7500. (Eddie Dean)