Todd Snider, Bruce Robison and Robert Earl Keen Kickoff Barstool Tour in Alexandria

Juli Thanki | October 22nd, 2009

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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  1. [...] Robison is currently on tour with Robert Earl Keen and Todd Snider (read a review of the tour’s Alexandria stop) and has been keeping a tour diary on [...]
  2. [...] Robison is currently on tour with Robert Earl Keen and Todd Snider (read a review of the tour’s Alexandria stop) and has been keeping a tour diary on [...]
  1. Leeann Ward
    October 22, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Man, I wish I’d been there.

  2. Steve M.
    October 22, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I’ve seen REK many times, but I would have killed to be there for this one.

  3. Truersound
    October 22, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    would have loved to have seen this!

  4. Rick
    October 22, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    Sounds like a great show, Juli, but not for $ 50! These types of shows belong in dive bars with peanut shells and sawdust on the floor (where I could afford to go…)

  5. Leeann Ward
    October 22, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    Considering what I had to pay for Patty Loveless and Kathy Mattea, $50 sounds like a bargain for this show.

  6. Clemson Brad
    October 22, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    $50 bucks does sound steep…I will say this, if you ever get the chance to see Bruce Robison live…TAKE IT!! TAKE IT TAKE!! What a show!!

  7. Leeann Ward
    October 22, 2009 at 5:49 pm

    And I’m talking separately.

  8. Rick
    October 22, 2009 at 5:56 pm

    Well on the 30th I’m gonna see Chip Taylor (with his brother actor Jon Voight) and Kendel Carson at a nice venue for $ 16 and the parking is free! That’s more in my budget range these days….

  9. Steve M.
    October 22, 2009 at 6:14 pm

    The last time I saw REK I think it cost me about $20, but that was in a dive in Tuscaloosa, AL. I can imagine in the DC area, $50 would be about right.

  10. Ron
    October 22, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    I’ll second the review as I was there as well. Great show. The highlight to me was Todd Snider’s take on REK’s Corpus Christi Bay. He gave the song a whole different feel.

  11. Rick
    October 22, 2009 at 8:47 pm

    I know REK wrote it and Todd Snider recently covered it, but I say the definitive recording of Corpus Christi Bay is from Johnny Rodriguez. Johnny’s version is almost transcendental its so good. Its one of those cuts that every time you hear it you just gotta say “wow”!

  12. Leeann Ward
    October 22, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    I keep trying, but I just can’t get into Robert Earl Keen though.

  13. Dan Milliken
    October 23, 2009 at 8:54 am

    Conclusive evidence that I am never in D.C. when the cool things happen. Great read!

  14. Rick
    October 23, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Leeann, the only REK album I own is “Farm Fresh Onions” and its a definite keeper. REK’s music seems to stay within certain boundaries and I think “Onions” covers all those bases fairly well. I’ve seen REK live and he puts on a fine show, if you’re a druck Texas frat boy that is…(just kidding)!

  15. Dan Milliken
    October 23, 2009 at 6:56 pm

    I’ve seen REK live and he puts on a fine show, if you’re a drunk Texas frat boy that is…(just kidding)!

    No, you pretty much nailed it. (Although I’m a Keen fan myself, but I’m an exception.)

  16. Mojo Bone
    October 25, 2009 at 1:02 am

    Sad to have missed it. I totally get the Labor Day thru Easter thing; for rural folks like me, Merry Christmas From The Family’s maybe a little too on the nose, and “Travelin’ Soldier” is an all-time favorite.

  17. MMK
    October 29, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    REK wrote the ‘Village Inn’ song about a motel he stayed at in Challis, Idaho when he played the Braun Brothers Reunion a few years ago, I was there when he debuted it but had no idea it still made it onto the set list!! cool

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