Todd Snider spent much of his life idolizing singer songwriters such as John Prine, Kris Kristofferson and Billy Joe Shaver, whose material illuminated the human experience. Aiming to reach their level of artistic expression is one thing but falling into the same self-destructive patterns of those artists, going in and out of rehab, attempting to refocus through therapy and, as when he was busted for smoking marijuana, doing time in jail last year, Snider’s aspirations of equaling their significance brought with it a lot of unhealthy baggage. He attributes his songs as a result of these negative moments. To some degree they may be a lifeline that keeps him dancing on the edge rather than jumping over it. In the case of his incarceration, the track “Greencastle Blues” surfaced. It’s one of a dozen engrossing songs of self-assessment and storytelling on his latest release, The Excitement Plan.
With that album out, Snider aims to move in another direction. As he put it, “I think it’d be fun to be sane someday, and I don’t think that’s gonna happen if I write songs.”
Influenced by his immersion in the jamband scene as an opening act for Yonder Mountain String Band and summer festival appearances at Bonnaroo, All Good and 10,000 Lakes, he discovered the seamless musical give-and-take among the scene’s musicians and the living life to its fullest atmosphere by its fans. He’s hoping to go a step further and embrace it on an artistic level. For now that’s the Plan that’s got him excited.
JPG: The last time we talked was almost seven years ago.
TS: Oh…no shit. 2002. That would have been…
JPG: The New Connection album.
TS: Yeah, yeah.
JPG: There’s a publicity of you with your clean cut hair and all styled up.
TS: Oh yeah, that wasn’t such a clean cut period though, I’ll tell you that. That record was probably as bad as I ever got. (slight laugh) Those were good times though.
JPG: You survived it and moved on. I had the good fortune of catching you at the Bonnaroo and All Good festivals.
TS: Right on. Those were both a lot of fun. All Good, Bob Weir, I didn’t get to meet him or anything but he was standing around backstage and I just was excited by all that.
JPG: Were you apprehensive to talk to him?
TS: Yeah, I didn’t want to bug him, you know. But it was nice to watch him eat lunch.
JPG: Well speaking of All Good and Bonnaroo… I haven’t hit every festival in the past five years or so but I pay some degree of attention of who’s playing what. Have you played other festivals in the past? I know you’re doing around half a dozen this summer.
TS: This is the first summer I’ve done that outside of Telluride and Colorado Folk Festival and RockyGrass. I think that’s the same guy that does that – all three of those – and I’ve always gotten to play his festivals for the last five years or so. Also, Hardly Strictly [Bluegrass Festival], I’ve done that a couple times. But then the rest of ‘em, this is the first time I’ve gotten to do any of ‘em.
JPG: With those they are folk, rootsy, Americana type of crowds…
TS: Yeah. This is the first time I’ve gotten to be part of a jamband thing which is what I actually prefer. If I’m going to play a festival I’d like Widespread Panic to be going on later rather than Steve Earle…As much as I like him, it’s just not what I want to take my shoes off and be in the sun to.