In some ways, closing night MeadowGrass festival headliner Todd Snider is the living embodiment of Richard Linklater's film, Slacker. While a football player at his Beaverton, Ore., high school, Snider literally turned on, tuned in, and dropped out after sampling some psychedelic mushrooms. It's a story he recounts on 2011's Live: The Storyteller, and is emblematic of his self-deprecating Merry Pranksters ethos.
"I feel my whole journey, I never had any goals and I always liked the chaos of it all," says Snider from a California hotel, where the previous evening he'd tripped in the lobby and "watched the shapes shift."
Snider's anti-commercial style hasn't stood in the way of success. The toast of NPR nation, he gives voice to the thoughts of a generation too self-conscious to call itself great. It's hard to resist satirical broadsides like the Bush-slamming "You Got Away With It (A Tale of Two Fraternity Brothers)," and "Conservative Christian, Right Wing Republican, Straight, White American Male." Nor is he above a little inspired lunacy like the shout-along "B-Double E-Double R-U-N," aka "Beer Run."
Snider is also the subject of a documentary of sorts which he describes as "Our Gang on Drugs." The film follows an acid-addled Todd Snider and his friends' escapades around their East Nashville neighborhood. The local chamber of commerce, he says, is trying to prevent its release because of the rampant drug use. The project started when some filmmaker friends began following Snider around. At one point, the musician and his friends ditched them, and were subsequently found rolling down a park hill laughing their asses off.
"We're having a fucking hoot about it, and along comes [country singer] Elizabeth Cook with her dog," Snider explains. "She comes and sits with us and we're like, 'We're on acid, do you want some?' It's 9 in the morning and we've been up all night. She has her coffee with her and she took some with us.
"As we're talking she starts to trip and tell us about this deal she has with David Letterman where she's supposed to produce a talk show, and she's been given a certain amount of money to do it. She's run out of that money and she doesn't know what to do," he continues. "So I decide in my two days-of-being-awake haze that I'm going to do this for her ... and they just follow us around as we ask people to help us put on a show. It's sort of: What do these drunken idiots do when they don't have gigs?"
Of course, they can always make records. In the last seven years, Snider's released four studio albums, two live discs, and an album-length tribute to Jerry Jeff Walker. He's also working on an album of "pretty normal — for me — boy-girl type country songs."
In the end, it's all a labor of love, although he sometimes wishes that weren't the case. "If I could pull this job off without opening my heart and being vulnerable all the goddamn time," says Snider, "I would."