Todd Snider would like to teach the world to sing.
That’s a tall order, so he started with the 395 people who packed Stuart’s Opera House in Nelsonville June 22 and led them through a version of the song best known to many as an ad for soda that comes in a red can. As Snider began this encore, the audience started spontaneously singing and clapping along. So, while the star of the show didn’t technically teach his fans to sing, he certainly made them want to learn – or at least try.
Thus capped an 80-minute, solo-acoustic performance that was both musically and comedically pleasing, as Snider combined his insightful numbers – and a few choice covers – with split-your-sides-open stories that often appeared mid-song but somehow didn’t interrupt the flow. Playing on a wide-open stage adorned with only a table, a bouquet of flowers and a backdrop that is likely a wagon wheel or perhaps an impressionistic flower, Snider stuck exclusively to guitar – no banjo, harmonica or piano on this night – and after playing a one-note lick during “Tension,” joked he’d taught Derek Trucks everything he knew.
Snider knows a thing or two about Trucks and his brother, Duane, who is the drummer in Snider’s band, Hard Working Americans, which shares the occasional bill with Derek’s Tedeschi Trucks Band. Snider recommends taking acid before going to see HWA, something he occasionally does himself, which led to a hilarious story about dosing before a show and winding up on the streets of Hollywood with a couple of vagrants before two fans happened upon the singer and escorted him to the venue, where he promptly told his bandmates he was tripping too hard to perform.
“When in doubt, give the fuck up,” Snider declared.
The show went on when keyboardist Chad Staehly got Snider a banana – the potassium is supposed to help counteract the LSD. Snider just held the fruit in his hand (too high to eat?). But he said it helped him make it through the show, which was easy because HWA are a jamband, so Snider only has to sing for about 11 minutes in each two-hour show.
Snider probably spent 65 minutes singing in Nelsonville, as he worked his way through fan favorites and shouted requests including “The Ballad of the Devil’s Backbone Tavern,” “Play a Train Song,” “Tension,” “D.B. Cooper,” “Carla,” “Conservative, Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males,” “Doublewide Blues,“ “Vinyl Records” and “Beer Run” among others. A dog lay at Snider’s bare feet as he sang “Mr. Bojangles,” and the singer told his companion not to listen to Jerry Jeff Walker’s line about he dog that “up and died.”
Full of smiles and in fine voice, Snider was loose with his guitar playing, occasionally straying from songs’ original melodies to make them fit in the stripped-down presentation. Early in the show, before starting “Backbone Tavern,” about a Texas bar where a young Snider used to do open-mic nights, he relayed a bit of songwriting advice he’d received that admonished him to live in such a way that he could be packed up and gone from wherever he was living within 15 minutes. This would ensure a “fucked-up” lifestyle that provides plenty of fodder for material.
As he closed the main set, Snider stopped in the middle of “All Right Guy” to talk about an old girlfriend who got mad at him for spending the day getting high in a park with his friends. While Paige prattled on, the budding musician thought to himself: “Todd Snider, you could be out of here within 15 minutes.”
The audience busted up. Snider took off his guitar. He walked off stage. The audience stood and applauded for more.
Snider returned; finished “All Right Guy.” And then he taught the Nelsonville faithful how to sing – in imperfect harmony, but harmony nonetheless.