The Amazing Adventures of Todd Snider and The Magnificent Seven (or River On A Bender Without A Paddle)
Ok, so there we were down in the States on Friday night for a concert at a bar in Bellingham, just over the border in Washington State, when suddenly a gushing River swept right through the place. Somehow we avoided getting all wet. Unless you count the spilled wine, that is.
But this isn't a story of a flood, it's the story of an amazing show, an incredibly fun road trip and one man's awesome attempt to release ALL of his stress in one short evening.
It all started way back in January when I heard that Todd Snider was coming to Bellingham on his latest tour and immediately bought seven tickets. As you all well know from my previous raves about the guy, he's definitely one of my favorite artists. In fact, I'd say that, along with The White Stripes and The Red Hot Chili Peppers, he's one of the three acts I most wanted to see right now. I'd of course be pretty pumped to see all sorts of other people as well, but those are three acts who are clearly at the very top of their game at the moment.
So, this past Friday (March 2nd) me and six others headed south. But this wasn't just any ol' night out to see some live music; no way, what this was, without a doubt, was a Hollywood-style road trip, complete with all sorts of adventures, including thievery, sickness and an epic quest. And there's even, like I said, a River running through it. Our whole story, that is.
But first, The Players: THE GROUP OF SEVEN, A.K.A. THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN:
DR. PROFESSOR HIP - Old friend from my days at the University of Victoria. You read about him previously in "The Billy Bragg Rave", where he made an underwhelming appearance as one of The Two Old Guys. Neuropsych researcher and prof AND infamous fan of both Styx and Ozzy. Somehow also a big fan of Todd Snider as well.
NEIL - Like Dr. Hip, an old friend from U-Vic. Was actually a roommate of mine for a year in the late-80s. Lived in the basement and usually only emerged at around 2 or 3 AM to hassle me when I was busy trying to finish some important paper on Nietzsche or some such thing. Flew in from the Kootenays just for the show. Had never heard a single Todd Snider song before, but, knowing I wouldn't steer him wrong, bought a plane ticket out to the Coast when he heard I was giving him a ticket to the show as a 40th birthday present. Formerly a hippy, now living in redneck country and feeling very torn, as in "Torn between two lovers/feeling like a fool..."
MY DAD AND HIS GIRLFRIEND SUSAN - Both big fans of Todd, ever since I turned them on to his music two years ago. Dad delayed his trip to Australia for a few days in order to join us for this show. Susan took a day off from her government job of telling people "No!" in order to come.
Finally there were THE ROCK WORKERS (RIVER AND JER) who took the day off as well and who, tired of working their asses off smashing rock all day, were ready to let loose with some VERY hard drinking... and stress-releasing merrymaking.
Oh, and then there was ME - Huge fan of Todd Snider. Turned all the others on to his music. Organizer, driver, loudest sing-a-long singer.
At 9:30 AM Friday morning I left home, together with The Rock Workers, which was a bit hard to do since this was the first time I was ever going to be away from Kaishan overnight since he was born almost 2 years ago. But leave I did and after taking the ferry into Vancouver we picked up our seven-seater rental van, then Dr. Hip at his place and, finally, Neil The Half Hippy/Half Redneck at the airport. We then headed... back into Vancouver for all-you-can-eat sushi. But not just sushi. For $11 per person this place, which had come pretty close to banning Son for eating too much when we were there last time, serves all kinds of Japanese food. It's an amazing deal and we all completely pigged out for the next hour and a half or so. Susan and my dad met us there. Once seated, it should be noted, The Rock Workers immediately started pounding the large $9 beers.
Next, on the way to the border, we (my dad, Susan and I) stopped by to quickly say hi to my almost-95-year-old Nana out in Surrey. We dropped The Rock Workers and the others at the pub next door, where they promptly pounded a lot more beer.
Then we were off to the border and, once across, on our way down to Bellingham, just 30 kms or so into Washington State. All the way there we were blasting the Todd Snider tunes from the van's more-than-adequate sound system. And whenever Todd's brilliant tune "Conservative Christian Right-Wing Republican Straight White American Males" came on, Neil felt fully conflicted between the competing hippy and redneck verses. Mostly he just remained quiet hoping no one would ask him which side he was on. It never worked.
We arrived at the bar in downtown Bellingham right as the doors were opening at 7:00 and, aside from this one group in front of us, we were the first ones there. Oh and what a bar it was: Huge, open space; lots of wood and rock walls; great atmosphere; pool tables; and a fantastic selection of micro-brewery beers. We got seats right at the front, only about 10 feet from Todd when he came on. The Rock Workers, it must be noted again, immediately commenced with pounding more beers.
The opening act, Kristen Allen Zito, was really great; but it was Todd, who walked on stage barefoot, alone with just his harmonica and acoustic guitar, who completely blew us away. Now I've been to many many live shows over the years, but few have ever been anywhere near as entertaining as this. And no one I've seen, save Billy Bragg, has come close to being as funny as Todd is both on stage and in song. I mean, he told some great stories and, by changing a few words and some of the phrasing around here and there, had the whole place not only howling with laughter, but also jumping up and screaming with joy - literally. That's certainly what we were doing all show long. Normally you watch and listen and then clap and cheer once a song is finished. Not at this show.
And, man, I've really gotta tell you that it just doesn't get much better than looking down the aisle - as you jump up from your seat with your fist in the air while simultaneously laughing and screaming for joy - to see your 67-year-old dad looking back at you as he does exactly the same thing a few feet away, albeit with one of his feet way up in the air in front of him.
What a show! He played one and a half hours, but it felt WAY too short. There were simply far too many other great songs that he never got to. But I'm telling you, basically ever single song was better live than on record... and I love the album versions! Every song felt fresh and new, even though I'd heard most of them literally hundreds of times before.
After Todd, sadly, failed to return for a second encore River made a valiant attempt to get backstage, but was repulsed by the big burly bouncer guy. So, as he then made his way outside to pound some more beer while pounding on Todd's tour bus door, the rest of us started to dance. River eventually returned to joyfully bond with just about everyone in the bar. He was clearly full of nothing but cheerful positive energy as he systematically attempted to release every last ounce of built up accumulated stress from his three-kids-and-full-time-work life back home. The guy was on a natural high... though the beer probably helped a bit as well.
Anyhow, after some more dancing, drinking and shooting pool it was midnight and we were all ready to go somewhere else to eat a late-night meal. But just as we were about to leave River disappeared. It took a good 15 minutes of searching before we finally relocated him standing outside the bar, his arms full of all sorts of goodies. It seems he had somehow made it past the big burly bouncer guy into Todd's dressing room, but Todd, already having left for the long drive to Boise, Idaho, was nowhere to be found. So River decided to steal, or, rather, I should say appropriate, all of Todd's unwanted stuff. And that's how we found him standing alone outside with a big smile on his face, a bottle of Todd's wine in one hand, Todd's veggie platter with ranch dressing in the other, Todd's flowers under both arms, and many other snacks and drinks of Todd's stuffed in his pockets. Fearing the wrath of the big burly bouncer guy, we quickly got out of there. But, luckily, just as we were leaving, and soon after taking a couple of swills, River dropped the bottle of wine onto the sidewalk. If he hadn't, well, we probably would have spent the end of our night in the hospital while the E.R. doctors tried to resuscitate him.
Next, as both Rock Workers took a much needed 3-hour sleep, interrupted only for a quick puke by the side of the road just before the border, we went on a holy quest for an IHOP, but somehow ended up eating big huge greasy - and rather disgusting - breakfasts an hour and a half later at a Denny's back in Vancouver instead. Well, some of us anyways. The Rock Workers, of course, remained passed out in the van, shivering in the cold. By 3:30 we were all in bed: My dad and Susan at Susan's place, Dr. Hip in his bed upstairs and the other four of us down in his basement.
What a great trip! What a great show! What a great weekend! There's just one negative thing to report, however, and, no, it's not that The Rock Workers have both been diagnosed with liver cancer. No, they'll be fine, but I'm not so sure about Neil. When he left our place Sunday he still hadn't decided which side he was on. However, I'm quite optimistic that deep down inside he's still a "Tree-hugging, peace-loving/Pot-smoking, bare-footing/Folk singing hippy like me..." and Todd Snider, Dr. Hip, Jer, Susan, my dad and, especially, River.
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Tuesday, March 6th, 2007
And to read about another great concert by Todd click here: Oh What A Night: Todd Snider Live (and John Rogers Fully Exposed)