Beginning in the late ’90’s I started playing music with a young lady named Jane. She was a heck of a singer, a pretty solid strummer, and she wrote ridiculously good, catchy pop songs. And she was just a kid, I’m talking like ten years old or so when we first started gigging together.
I think a lot of people thought that she was a front and that the songs were mine, but nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from coming up with riffs that followed her chord progressions and helping with the arrangements I think I only made significant suggestions on one song; it was all her, it was really good, and before we knew it we were playing all over town. I really thought she had serious potential – she was certainly writing better songs than people like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift did – and I really liked working with her, though it was admittedly an unusual situation playing late-night sets in bars with someone so young. Unfortunately her teenage years brought with them a rebellion that included railing against being a child-pop star and the whole thing fell apart.
By March 23rd, 2002 we had grow from a duo to a full band and we got the call to play a gig in Wakefield, Quebec at the Black Sheep Inn opening for some guy I had never heard of named Todd Snider. I was pretty busy managing nero at the time but I was happy to squeeze in gigs where I could, and fortunately this was one I could squeeze in.
As it was my first time seeing Todd S. I didn’t expect much, though Paul Symes (the owner and proprietor of the Black Sheep) was pretty good at booking great music so I shouldn’t have been surprised that Snider tore my musical soul to shreds that night.
I don’t remember a thing about our opening set – though it must have gone great because all of our gigs went great – but I can picture Todd Snider’s set like a video is playing back in my mind.
He stepped onto the small stage strumming his acoustic guitar and immediately started stalking the boards like a caged tiger, pacing back and forth and making a point of staring each and every member of the sparse audience directly in the eye before stepping to the mic to sing his first lyric. This was a big deal to me, because at the time I was scared to death to look at anyone from the stage, forever looking over people’s heads or staring down at my shoes. If I did happen to catch someone’s eye I would look away immediately, as if the biggest crime on the planet was to notice someone noticing me on stage.
Todd Snider’s approach, on the other hand, was a revelation. This guy took the exact opposite tack, carefully examining the audience that faced him and making a personal connection with all of them before he even started. It made a big difference in my performance attitude and is something that stays with me to this day.
And man, when this Todd Snider guy finally did open his mouth I was instantly and forever locked in. He sang funny, insightful song-stories that were as gripping as a Vonnegut novel and as entertaining as, well, any singer/songwriter I had ever heard. No surprise that he was on John Prine’s label, as Prine is the only guy I can think of that could engage me as strongly.
Take four minutes right now and check out youtube for a song of Snider’s called Beer Run. When you finish I’m sure you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
And rest assured my friends, Todd Snider is no one-hit wonder. Why his name isn’t widely known and revered is beyond my comprehension and further proves what I’ve long suspected: that I know nothing about music. I mean, if I like this guy that much and the musical world spurns him, something is clearly amiss, and it just might be me. And, by extension, Todd Snider.
Anyways, I’ve gone on to see him a few more times and loved each show just as much as the first, and I’ll still go every chance I get.
Which isn’t often. The guy lives in Texas, and with the tiny crowds he pulls up north in the land of the weak dollar I can’t see why he would ever travel this far afield.
That said, if Todd Snider does come to a town near you, go see him.