Music

Todd Snider Takes Us To Church

Todd Snider will perform at The Heights Theater on Saturday, May 7 with Tommy Womack.
Todd Snider will perform at The Heights Theater on Saturday, May 7 with Tommy Womack. Photo by Stacie Huckeba
Almost everyone can relate to being forced to go to church as a kid and singer songwriter and traveling man extraordinaire Todd Snider is no different. “I was an altar boy, can you believe that,” Sinder says laughing.

Snider will be returning to Houston on Saturday, May 7 for a performance at The Heights Theater with guest Tommy Womack in support of his latest release First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder, named after his wel- attended Sunday live streams during the pandemic.

“That was a lot of fun,” he says of the weekly series that he hopes to return to at some point when he gets off the road. “That ended up being kind of a new gig or art form. I don’t know what you call it but it was a new thing and I really got the hang of it and liked it.”

Snider’s Sunday services were a joy for attendees across the globe. It was the perfect way to wake and bake every Sunday morning during a time filled with uncertainty, fear and anxiety. It was clear during the live streams that Snider and his crew enjoyed the process as much as the audience.

During the months of live streams, Snider dedicated one show to each studio album performing them in their entirety and giving the wonderful back story behind tracks. He plans on releasing a box set with these performances next year.

“I have a feeling it'll be my favorite versions of the songs because they probably are best just alone,” he says of his laid back busking style which on studio albums gets accompanied by additional sounds that later cannot always be translated into the live performances.

Snider has always told a good story but on First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder he takes listeners to church and gets downright funky, something not easily done in the folk world. The album is filled with Vonnegutesque reflections on the hilarity of life and absurd aspects of some organized religions.

“I didn't think I’d go right off into this other crazy thing. I thought I’d stay folk but then that pandemic hit. I got the studio and I got this list of studio things I wanted to do that I always thought I shouldn't do and I just piled it onto one record and kind of got away with it. Nobody really complained. I don't think anybody really did backflips either but it was fun,” he says of the new sounds he was chasing.
Snider also uses the album to reflect on the passing of many of his friends whom he lost during the pandemic; some to illnesses and others to suicide. In “Sail On My Friend” Snider wishes his friends well on the other side and uses the track to bid them a beautiful farewell while ultimately having to accept their right to want to leave this world behind.

Snider said goodbye to John Prine (COVID complications), Jerry Jeff Walker (throat cancer), Jeff Austin from Yonder Mountain String Band (unspecified medical emergency)  and his Hard Working Americans bandmate Neal Casal (suicide). “That’s a tough one,” he says of friends who committed suicide. “I still find myself thinking about them right when I wake up. I still think about it a lot, more the suicides than the deaths.

“Jerry Jeff, that really hurt. I was talking to him right till the end. He was such a sweet man and such an inventive, free and brave person. His daring and courage inspired that whole Austin thing,” says Snider of the cosmic cowboy movement of the ‘70’s.

When asked if all of the uncertainty and loss he experienced during the pandemic pushed him to be braver in exploring this new direction on the album, Snider agrees that it did.

“This live album box set coming out in the fall I think is a better reflection of the pandemic and in the record, we were cheering ourselves through it. We were not reflecting on it at all. I wanted to do the sort of chanty ‘we are going to make’ it type stuff.”

“I’d never done it and because everyone was calling it a church, I felt like I could be preachy which I kind of had tried to avoid. I still tried to do it like funny or benignly,” he says.

"Because everyone was calling it a church, I felt like I could be preachy which I kind of had tried to avoid. I still tried to do it like funny or benignly."

tweet this
For a man who has been on the road for most of his life, staying put was something new. “It was the longest I had ever been in one city since ‘93,” he says. “There's some people that live like this, like Ramblin’ Jack. I haven't really gotten the hang of home and I never got into sitting still or unpacking or any of that.”

“I think the best way to do this is completely exhausted for me,” he says of his live shows. “If I can't even think straight, I don't know where I am and I've had the same thing on for three days, that's when I do my best shows.”

Traveling isn't something new for him.  “I left home when I was a sophomore and just made peace with that and then got better at it because it was like freeloading. Then I was a free spirit when I got a guitar. It had become a way of life already and once I added a guitar it was just a way of life I couldn't let go of.”

He recalls a tour from a few years back that he did with his mentor Ramblin’ Jack Elliot where Elliot would blow him out of the water every night on stage and in his late 80s was able to outdo Snider when exploring all the towns across the country.

“That guy has it down. He knows his wine and his weed. He knows every town and met everybody and did everything,” he says of Elliot’s seemingly never ending joie de vivre.

“I remember on that tour thinking, okay this just keeps going if you want it to,” says Snider adding that Elliot really educated him on not only how to get around efficiently but also advising him not to do it for money, something neither artist is really after.

“I think he's right,” says Snider. “If you want to love it the whole time, there's gotta be a ton of reasons to do it and money can’t be a big one. Everybody will take you everywhere and feed ya. You hardly need money, it's playing a gig with people at it that counts.”

“This whole world that we are talking about with the music and everything, something in me thinks there’s something electric and cosmic about it that we don’t totally understand yet. It’s fucking beyond fascinating.”

Todd Snider will perform with Tommy Womack on Saturday, April 7 at The Heights Theater, 339 W. 19th. Doors at 7 p.m. $26-$528.
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gladys Fuentes is a first generation Houstonian whose obsession with music began with being glued to KLDE oldies on the radio as a young girl. She is a freelance music writer for the Houston Press, contributing articles since early 2017.
Contact: Gladys Fuentes