Acclaimed songwriter Todd Snider coming to Healdsburg
Before he emerged as one of the most talented and deeply original songwriters of his generation, Todd Snider was an above-average high school linebacker from Beaverton, Oregon.
Snider, who will appear at the Raven Theater in Healdsburg on Wednesday, Oct. 20, with Lilly Winwood, aimed to further his football career at Santa Rosa Junior College in the fall of 1985. But the head coach failed to fully appreciate the freshman’s strong independent streak. Snider lasted only a few weeks on the squad.
But his brief stay in Sonoma County was not without its rewards.
“There were a bunch of Samoan kids on the team. They had parties, where they’d cook for everyone,” he recalled last week. “Some of ’em played guitars, and a few could play harmonica.”
One of his new friends taught Snider how to “poke out melodies” on the harmonica. “After that, I just carried it around and kept on playing it and playing it.”
For three and a half decades, he has kept on playing, evolving and experimenting and growing as a musician. Since the 1994 album that put him on the map, “Songs for the Daily Planet,” Snider has been described as an alternative country artist. These days, he said, he’s returned to his roots as a troubadour.
In Healdsburg, he’ll play songs from his latest album, “First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder,” a compendium infused with the loss, during the pandemic, of three dear friends — John Prine, Billy Joe Shaver and Jerry Jeff Walker — who had deeply influenced his music.
The album is described by Rolling Stone as “freewheeling, even by Snider’s standards, with nary a traditional chorus, and a mix of eulogies, sociopolitical observations and typical Snider yarns on human-caused destruction.”
It comes two years after his release of “Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3,” a collection of folk songs which marked, for Snider, a kind of homecoming. After spending the previous six years making rock albums, he suspected he’d “maybe drifted too far from shore.”
That return to his roots, he recalled, was propelled by the time Snider had spent re-immersing himself in Woody Guthrie’s Library of Congress Recordings. Guthrie, he has said, “sometimes gets me reset on why you do a song, rather than how.”
Since 2016, Snider had been gathering material to respond, through his art, to the election of a certain polarizing chief executive. Among “Cash Cabin’s” sociopolitical broadsides is “A Timeless Response to Current Events,” in which he “calls b_______,” according to one reviewer, “on faux patriotism, crooked capitalism and lying politicians.”
“That was fun,” Snider recalled. “It felt very Woody, very Ramblin’ Jack Elliott — a reminder that we’re supposed to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
In middle age — Snider turned 55 on Monday — he’s gained a measure of hard-earned wisdom and self-awareness. Recalling his third album, 1998’s “Viva Satellite,” he allowed that “me and my band just wanted to be rock stars that summer, and I look back on it and think, ‘That just wasn’t us.’”
There have been other moments, down through the decades, “a couple of records,” he admitted, “where I’m like, ‘What were you thinking?’”
How does it feel, having tacked closer to shore, to the folk music from which he sprung?
It’s revived and defibrillated him, Snider replied. “Usually when I make a record, I finish it and think, ‘OK, that’s it, don’t have to do that anymore.’”
Working on “First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder” made him “feel like I could do this a bunch more. With this one, I got less precious about language and words and just had fun. And I thought, ‘I could do that for a long time.’
“It made me feel like I’ll make a lot of folk records now. I have to get that out of my system.”
You can reach Staff Writer Austin Murphy at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ausmurph88