Todd Snider’s story begins with blowing off Jimmy Buffett. Well, his book does, at least. Snider’s story really begins at an open mic night in San Marcos, Texas, 10 years earlier. But like all good storytellers Snider’s no stickler for chronology.
You know that if you’ve seen him perform. The folk singer’s concerts are a ramblin’, amblin’ mix of song and story, with long and seemingly random lead-ins to tunes with names like “Looking for a Job” and “Talkin’ Seattle Grunge Rock Blues,” his big radio hit from the mid-’90s.
And his new book, I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like: Mostly True Tall Tales, is about as similar to his shows as a book possibly could be. It’s a mish-mash of funny stories that Snider has been telling on stage for years.
While some might be tempted to think that Snider’s shtick is a gimmick, it’s anything but. He started talking and telling stories during his sets the very first time he performed, at the Cheatham Street Warehouse in San Marcos. “My first gigs were at an open mic night where you only had to play three songs, and I did that about five times,” Snider says. “I only had eight or nine songs. Then I got a show to do three sets and I knew, like, two other songs. So I would go up there and just talk to cover time. It was also this thing I did, like this nervous tic that I have. To this day if I get nervous, I start getting chatty.”
I Never Met a Story I Didn’t Like maintains Snider’s chatty, rambling speaking style and includes fan favorites like the K.K. Rider story (about a band that Todd was briefly the lead singer for when the actual lead singer got knocked out on stage) and about the aforementioned Jimmy Buffett story (Buffett tried to give Snider some really great advice and Snider blew him off because he was in what he calls his “Sunglasses at Night” phase). There’s the one about his friendship with songwriting icon Jerry Jeff Walker, who’s Snider’s hero, and another about the time he met Hunter S. Thompson.
But one of the best is “Songs from the Daily Planet,” which could be called Snider’s origin story. (It’s also the title of his debut album, which was released in 1994 — the Daily Planet is a bar in Memphis where Snider used to play gigs several times a week.) In it, he describes one of the most fateful choices of his life: when he, a high school football player, took a handful of psychedelic mushrooms from a burnout and took the first step on his path to hippiedom. “I realized that there was no way I was going to go to football practice that afternoon,” he writes. “It just didn’t seem like a good idea anymore. Instead, I decided to go stand in that other field with those other kids. And when I was standing in that other field with those other kids, I saw the life that had been planned out for me from a distance for the first time.”
When Snider performs, that story goes along with the song “Conservative, Christian, Right-Wing Republican Straight White American Male.” As you’ve probably guessed, the only labels in that song that apply to him are the ones he can’t do anything about.
As for what a singer/songwriter like Snider was doing with a ridiculously iconic commercial success like Buffett, that’s got something to do with a record deal Buffett gave him. Snider was opening for him on tour, playing to stadiums full of margarita-loving fans, a break if there ever was one. Snider was in his mid-20s and awash in that strange mix of over-confidence and self-doubt that afflicts performers who’ve just hit it big. “Buffett tried to tell me — I don’t think it’s in the book — but he told me look, your life is never going to be the same again and it’s not gonna be because of adulation. It’s gonna be because you’ll feel like you’re going to get picked apart and criticized more than your friends,” Snider says. “I thought, ‘Oh, fuck no, he’s wrong, what could this guy know?’ — 25 years in the business playing stadiums, how could he know more than me? Have you seen my sunglasses?”
Although Snider’s certainly compelled to talk, he wasn’t exactly compelled to write. “I really didn’t have a reason to write a book,” he says. “Someone just asked me to. They offered me money. And all I do is talk, so it’s easy for me to say 90,000 words. Someone else typed it.”
Since he’s been on the road almost nonstop since 1994, working on the book gave him a chance to stop and look back at some of his experiences, digging in a little deeper. “It ended up being a nice opportunity to reach out to some people whose lives I’ve been through. I got to say ‘Hey, this was my perception of this,'” Snider says, adding that the book is just a strange blur of memories. “It’s like being a sock in the dryer for 20 years.”
While the book doesn’t come out until May, Snider’s hitting Awendaw Green this month for his What the Folk Fest, a two-day, camping-optional, musical shindig featuring a lineup of mostly local folkies and Americana acts. There’s Megan Jean and the KFB, Danielle Howle, Swamp Candy, and Pierce Edens and the Dirty Work, among many others. Snider plays the final set both Friday and Saturday nights, starting at 9:15 p.m.
What the Folk Fests happen around the country, and although Snider started the festival, anyone can put one on if Snider’s on the bill. “Basically they call it What the Folk if I come to town, and I play for more than one day or have more than one opener,” Snider says.
After the What the Folk Fest, it’s back on the road for Snider. He’s booked through September with solo shows, his book tour, and a few performances with his new rock supergroup Hard Working Americans.
And even though he’s been doing it for 20 years, the touring doesn’t get old. “It’s just a way of life. I read a lot about the gypsies because they live like that — there’s not a plan. There’s not an end point. It’s like there are people that are traveling somewhere, and then there are people that are just traveling,” he says. “And that’s what we are.”
Love Best of Charleston?
Help the Charleston City Paper keep Best of Charleston going every year with a donation. Or sign up to become a member of the Charleston City Paper club.