Todd Snider, Bruce Robison and Robert Earl Keen Kickoff Barstool Tour in Alexandria
Hall & Oates may have been at the 9:30 Club on Wednesday night to perform Jimmy Wayne’s smash “Sara Smile,” but the best show in town featured co-headliners Robert Earl Keen, Todd Snider, and Bruce Robison. The three men sold out Alexandria’s Birchmere on the inaugural stop of their Barstool Tour, something that seems to have come about so that they could all hang out together and get paid for it. It was clearly a formal occasion, as evidenced by Todd Snider actually wearing shoes—the equivalent of any other artist sporting black tie, I imagine.
Each singer performed a 20 minute solo set to start the evening, interspersing their songs with dry humor and witty asides that were nearly as interesting as the music itself. Robert Earl Keen tested out some new material from The Rose Hotel, starting his set with “10,000 Chinese Walk Into A Bar,” but the song that got the biggest crowd response in the form of slurred singalong was “Merry Christmas From The Family,” a song that Keen states he performs from Labor Day to Easter, unless, of course, he forgets to pick up a new Day-Timer.
He was followed by Bruce Robison, who introduced “Travelin’ Soldier,” a song he wrote around the time of the Persian Gulf War, by referring to it as the “fastest descending Number One” in the history of the Billboard charts (the Dixie Chicks’ version was #1 when Natalie Maines made her infamous comments about then-President Bush in 2003). For Robison, his set was a family affair; after discussing that hit from his “sister-in-law’s band,” he segued into “My Brother and Me.” Robert Earl Keen may have been the initial draw, but after Bruce’s set, everyone in the room was a fan, even if, as I heard some concertgoers profess in the parking lot, they’d never heard of “those other guys.”
After Robison’s four songs, Todd Snider took the stage with his trademark sense of humor, identifying “Money, Compliments, Publicity (Song Number Ten)” a song he began writing only to round out The Excitement Plan, but realized halfway through, “shit, you’ve sunk to the bottom, brother: that’s how they make country music.” But Snider’s nothing if not a country singer and master songwriter as the rest of his material, including “Sideshow Blues,” “D.B. Cooper,” and “Beer Run” proved.
After a brief intermission, the three returned and spent the next hour trading songs and cracking each other—and the audience—up. The music was great, but the real treat was watching Keen, Robison, and Snider interact. They obviously have the utmost respect for each other’s music, but they genuinely seem to be fans of one another, as Todd Snider sang along to “Angry All the Time,” bursting into applause after the first verse and Bruce Robison laughed right along with the audience at Keen’s “Village Inn,” a song whose lyrics were allegedly stolen from a hotel’s marquis: “The Village Inn Hotel is so affordable…free WiFi…HBO.” I got the feeling that they’d probably be doing the same things (drinking beer, swapping songs, telling stories) even if they weren’t on tour.
One of the evening’s highlights was Robert and Todd collaborating on Keen’s “Corpus Christi Bay” (which Snider covered on The Excitement Plan, but the biggest crowd pleaser of the night was “The Road Goes on Forever,” a perfect song with which to end the set. However, I must admit that I wish they played it earlier, if only to shut up the loaded frat boy who shouted “‘Road Goes on Forever,’ man!” after every single Keen song. They encored with a trio of songs, officially ending with Keen’s version of the Townes Van Zandt song “Snowin’ on Raton,” which he covered back in 2001 on Gravitational Forces.
At $50, tickets may be a little pricey, but it sure felt like everyone got their money’s worth. Come to think of it, it might be worth $50 just to hear Bruce Robison describe his methods of courtship, which involve a mixture of “stalking and sexual harassment.” As for the story about George Strait’s manager and his Big Gulp cup filled with scotch…well, you had to be there.
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