LIVE: Todd Snider / Lilly Winwood @ The Egg (Swyer Theatre), 09/13/2022
It was the kind of September day where you felt your eyelids sweating from the humidity that hung in the air, stale and leftover from summer but not yet ready to let go into fall when Jim and I entered The Egg Tuesday night. We had heard Todd Snider there before, and both of us were anticipating some relief from the heaviness of the air as well as our moods Tuesday night. I was newly grieving the loss of my father and walked with stooped shoulders. Jim squeezed my hand, hoping Snider’s magic would once again lift my spirits.
Snider is a traveling troubadour, a storyteller whose haphazard appearing lyrics are paradoxically well-planned jokes that reflect on basic human nature. Dressed in vagabond clothes and selling the image of a pot-smoking, beer-drinking hippie, Snider is hard not to like as he laughs at himself and embraces all forms of human nature.
Lilly Winwood, daughter of famed Steve Winwood, opened for Snider. While initially a bit bland, Winwood’s confidence grew through her setlist. She peaked with “Laundry Day,” a song about staying connected to a lover through the use of the laundry machine, and finished with a beautiful rendition of her song “California.” Winwood’s vocals are sweet and on pitch; despite some technical problems, her playing was also satisfactory. But her performance reflected some nerves perhaps, and a sense she isn’t totally ready to expose herself and be vulnerably honest with a crowd.
Unlike Todd Snider.
Snider came on stage under a deeply dipped fedora singing his song “An Alright Guy.” He earned his laughs through self-deprecating lyrics somehow lacking insight into how others managed to miss that he was an alright guy while slyly pointing out that despite his faults, he’s still a good human. In the story, female friends disliked him for looking at porn, others judged his use of pot, and even drunk driving; throughout it all, he maintained “I know I ain’t perfect, but God knows, I try.”
That was really the tone of most of the night’s songs, and Snider’s wit and honesty reflected years of philosophical examination of self and (other) human nature. He shared story after story of trying to be a great musician and songwriter, and how he finally learned from another songwriter the trick: stay flexible enough to pack up and move along without more than 15 minutes’ notice. His “15-minute rule” resurfaced in jokes later in the night, revealing his clever comedic timing to be perfected.
Snider talked about how a girlfriend wanted him to stop songwriting and “get a job,” prompting him to pack up “within 15 minutes.” And how after a tornado destroyed his home, he didn’t need to replace much as he had it all with him. But the best part of the 15-minute rule was that it created so many of his wonderful songs. “You don’t know how disciplined I had to be to stay this fucked up,” he laughed.
Snider’s stories were a hit, but so were his beautifully crafted songs. He performed “I Spoke Like a Child” to an awed crowd, and reflected on how much older he is now than when he wrote these words about lost innocence. That sense of time passing, and changing meaning for him, was left unspoken but hung in the air with the wisdom only aging can bring.
Snider’s “The Ghost of Johnny Cash” was equally spellbinding, weaving the magic of past musicians with the realities of legacies extended through art. He played it upon request from the crowd, weaving it into stories about trying to play for Johnny Cash.
Snider wove song and story to a poignant place, relieving intensity with laughter through songs like “Conservative Christian, Right Wing Republican.” Another favorite of the night, “Doublewide Blues,” offered a keen awareness of human behavior as well as humble forgiveness for human smallness through love. Even the ridiculous KKK flags could be understood, and while not tolerable, Snider grew a sense that all beings, even those with ugliness, still deserve our love.
Snider’s stories seemed to portray him as a partier, and I believed him. But I also realized (once again, as I noted in a review last year) that he was more philosopher and spiritualist than party kid, betraying his gentle spirit through soulful lyrics and bluesy chord patterns. Ending on a second version of “An Alright Guy,” Snider earned a standing ovation from his audience who called him back for two encore songs.
When we left Swyer Theatre at The Egg, the humidity had lifted and fall seemed to have magically settled over the capital. I felt a chill in the air and reached for Jim’s hand as we walked quietly to the car. “You know what, I do think that Snider is truly an alright guy,” I told Jim.
And just like the air around me, my heart was lighter for a few moments. Snider helped me forget my grief and celebrate instead all the messiness that being a loving, aging hippie entails.
If Nippertown is blessed to host Snider again, go catch his show. Always unique, yet consistently on message, it is a breath of fresh air.