It's been a while since Todd Snider brought the joy to Raleigh's Lincoln Theatre, 896 days to be exact, since that last show in March 2019, back when things were a bit less complicated. Of course he had planned to play here in May of last year, but you know, stuff happens, and we were instead blessed to have had Todd in our homes many Sundays during that period with his What It Is and The Get Together(s) live-streamed from The Purple Building in East Nashville.
Arriving at the Lincoln, we were greeted by the venue's burly, bearded vaccine card checker along with a notice that Aaron Lee Tasjan, tonight's planned opener, would not be performing due to exposure to our collective nightmare. A bummer indeed, as I was looking forward to a set of ALT's refreshing authenticity to warm me and the rest of the crowd up for our much-anticipated headliner. One would have thought that the realization that one of the artists that we all came to see had been sidelined by the airborne virus, that more folks in the crowd would have attempted to adhere to the mask policy to allow the music and associated livelihoods to continue, but some folks are more thoughtful than others. Such is life these days.
One thing a Todd Snider show never fails to do is melt away the struggle and stress of the day by taking you on a ride through his life and tonight's show delivered on that promise. The energy and eagerness of the crowd greeted their singer with a standing ovation that set the tone just right. The Yodeling Stoner broke us in with I Can't Complain, and on into his tribute to his fellow musical bright-light, Jeff Austin, with Sail On, My Friend, a track off Snider's new critically acclaimed album, The First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder.
As any Todd Snider fan knows, along with his extensive catalogue of original music and close-to-the-heart covers, the audience is also treated to stories of events and characters from throughout his life. For those that have fallen down the Todd Snider rabbit hole, the stories are as beloved as the songs. One of the things that I personally look forward to is hearing the familiar stories painted with new colors and details that give a greater context and richness to the Americana legend before us. From Loretta Lynn midnight-barefoot-dancing outside at Johnny Cash's cabin; to Todd staking out the Man in Black's studio to get his foot in the music biz door; to reflections on his Dad's struggles to make it in this world; man, he can sure paint a picture with words!
After Looking For a Job informed us who really has the power at the boomtown jobsite, Todd took us to That Great Pacific Garbage Patch off his new album, in the hopes of bringing awareness of our "sea of indifference" that we're junking up our home. In this respect, Todd was Ole Miss Vergie, telling us little shits something that we needed to hear. I hope more of us do.
Another hallmark of a Todd Snider show is his expression of his deep appreciation and love for his influences. His way of celebrating the giants' shoulders he's stood on is as humble as it is mesmerizing. We heard about how Todd came to be introduced to the music of the late Jerry Jeff Walker, who provided a blueprint for the troubadour life that Todd has surrendered to. He continued on in a wonderful extended JJW story of how he met his idol the first and second times; then on to touring and having adventures together. We heard of a raucous night after a show the two had involving a tackle box with special gear and Todd's rude awakening and close call with JJW's special gear! Then as a lead-in to Todd's rendering of Mr. Bojangles, we heard of the touching moment the pair shared on the late-night empty streets, stumbling upon a busker also covering the legend's hit, that had a teary-eyed Mr. Walker emptying his pockets, hotel key and all, to tip the musician. Todd closed the set with Alright Guy, which no doubt holds a special place in the artist's heart since Jerry Jeff had covered and recorded his protege's early hit.
Another standing O accompanied Todd off stage and then back on for the encore portion of the show that proved to be a tribute to the late John Prine, another beloved influence of the Storyteller. After sharing his joy in a story of watching John dance off stage at one of his last shows, Todd segued into Handsome John from the new album. And because "there was nobody better than Handsome John," Todd covered Illegal Smile and finished with the Prine classic, Paradise, to the final standing ovation of the night.
Thank you, Mr. Snider, for helping us wake up tomorrow with more memories than dreams. We look forward to your return to the Lincoln Theatre and wish you a great big break-a-leg on the rest of your tour!
By Jay Ramsey
Photos by Willa Stein