Walter Tunis: Todd Snider plays Lexington solo but has new band project on the horizon

Contributing Music WriterNovember 27, 2013 

Singer-songwriter Todd Snider will do a solo acoustic show on Friday at Buster's Billiards & Backroom.


Todd Snider

9 p.m. Nov. 29. Buster's Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St. $20.(859) 368-8871.

What defines a man? His intellectual pursuits? His stamina? His grooming?

In the case of Todd Snider, it might well be a level of honesty — or, what that honesty reveals.

In describing a new band project that will come into public view in 2014, Snider's conversational pace simulated a rush-hour traffic jam. Sentences and thoughts ran at a feverish clip, often bumping into one another while seeking their destinations. There was laughter. There was blunt seriousness. There was focus. There was scattered frenzy. Then Snider paused, grabbed hold of some honesty and made a confession.

"Man, I'm just babbling."

It wasn't an apology. It didn't need to be. It was a reflection of how the gears work for Snider, the famed East Nashville songwriter who has developed a strong Lexington following during the past two decades. The bond with local audiences remains strong enough, in fact, that Snider is sharing some of his holiday weekend with us.

He will perform a solo acoustic concert at Buster's on Friday. This will be his first performance since sharing the stage with Drive-By Truckers' Patterson Hood for a June 2012 concert at Lexington Opera House, a show Snider remembers well for all the wrong reasons.

"Boy, I was really sick that night," Snider, 47, recalled. "I couldn't play, and there I was with Patterson. He's one of my all-time favorites, man. Especially that last record he did, the folk one (Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance). Sometimes people make records that are so good I send them hate mail.

"I ended up going through all these tests and found out I had this really terrible ulcer. I wound up falling down onstage and going to the emergency room. I remember I called Patterson a couple of days later and said, 'Man, the next time we do a gig, I'm going to it. I swear.'

The performance followed the near simultaneous release of two recordings: a folk-rock driven platter of social, political and personal venting called Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables and a tribute album devoted to the songs of Texas Hill Country troubadour Jerry Jeff Walker titled Time as We Know It.

But Snider was a few light-years removed from those projects during our conversation. Foremost among the ideas racing through his mind was a band he has formed with Widespread Panic's Dave Schools; Neal Casal of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood; Duane Trucks, bandmate of Col. Bruce Hampton; and longtime pal Chad Steahly of Great American Taxi.

Snider serves as vocalist for the troupe, whose repertoire consists of beloved rock, folk and Americana tunes by Gillian Welch, Randy Newman, the Bottle Rockets, Elizabeth Cook and others, rewired with a "heavy hippie rock" sound. The band will issue an album early next year and undertake a 20-show tour around the members' other performance commitments.

"It happened how I liked things to have things happen," Snider said. "I usually will go with something if it's really easy. I picture it as a leaf falling off a tree and landing in a creek. It just sort of keeps rolling on. That's about as much effort I want to put in.

"David Schools and I started talking about songwriting and how I felt the Americana world and jam world make up a party that is just waiting to collide in a big way. You've got a whole nation of kids working on their poems and a whole other nation of kids working on how to put music underneath them. I said, 'Someday, that's going to collide.' Then he said, 'Well, why not today?'

"We all knew each other a bit before we really came together underneath this band name and the ironic thing we thought it meant. I mean, here we were, all these total burnouts, and we're calling ourselves the Hard Working Americans."


■ Folk hero John Prine announced on his website last week that he has been diagnosed with non-small-cell lung cancer and will undergo surgery in the coming weeks. The prognosis looks favorable, but his Dec. 13 and 14 shows at the Brown Theatre in Louisville have been moved to Feb. 28 and March 1.

WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour has a late lineup addition for its taping Monday at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third Street. The bill now boasts New York folk songstress Lucy Wainwright Roche, sister of Rufus Wainwright and daughter of Loudon Wainwright III, and bluegrass guitarist/ songwriter Rebecca Frazier. (6:45 p.m. $10. (859) 252-8888 for reservations.

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