“The difference between a freeloader and a free spirit is three chords on a guitar,” so says Todd Snider. The folkie-meets-hippie bard showed just how far three chords could take him on Wednesday at The Orange Peel in Asheville, NC.

Sauntering out onstage, Snider informed the crowd, “I ain’t f*cking around tonight.” Part warning and part promise, the singer-songwriter delivered over a dozen cherished originals from his career that spans three decades. Between songs, Snider peeled open his back pages to share the inspiration behind the compositions, with the stories just as integral a part of the show as the songs themselves.

The show started, ironically, with the “Big Finish”, a bluesy crawl wherein Todd begins, “Should I stay or should I go?” The next measure, however, hears him begin “Should I stay,” only to switch it up with, “I bet you thought you knew what I was about to say.” That kind of lyrical blind corner epitomizes the live Todd Snider experience, where the bridge of a song can easily veer off into a story about the inventor of Crocs heckling Todd at a show to play “Free Bird”.

Fan favorites “D.B. Cooper” and “Beer Run” brought a familiar air to the beginning of the show. Snider touched on his jam band days with a story about Hard Working Americans that featured Dave Schools, the Cash Cabin Studio in Nashville, and a bottle of magic water with the Widespread Panic bassist’s sock draped over it. Despite Snider’s attempts to pull back the curtain, his songwriting process remains a mystery to the layperson. Though, just as Snider thought the first time he saw his idol Jerry Jeff Walker perform, one must resist the temptation to think, “Sh*t, I can do that.”

Related: Todd Snider: The Hippie Preacher At The Holy Pulpit Of The ‘First Agnostic Church’ [Interview]

In addition to Jerry Jeff, Snider honored one of his other mentors, John Prine. It’s difficult to say how many people knew John Prine on a personal level when they walked into The Orange Peel on Wednesday, but thanks to Todd Snider we all got to know the singing mailman from Maywood, IL just a little bit better through his stories.

Between cuts from his latest album First Agnostic Church of Hope and Wonder, Snider sprinkled in crowd favorites like “Can’t Complain” and “Statistician’s Blues”. The tour is called the Pickin’…Grinnin’…Tellin’ Stories…Takin’ Requests Tour, so it was only right for Todd to open up the floor to shouted demands from the audience. My dear friend, who drove down from Ohio to see Todd for the third time in a month, loudly requested “Turn Me Loose (I’ll Never Be The Same)”, a tribute to Jerry Jeff from last April’s LP. While not the deepest cut, Snider made sure to thank him for the request.

A run through Snider’s would-be hit from his 1994 debut Songs From The Daily Planet, “Alright Guy”, took a detour through the aforementioned Crocs/”Free Bird” story, a cautionary tale that only inspired more people to request the Lynyrd Skynyrd terrestrial radio anthem. Finally, to close out the set, Snider transported The Orange Peel to his adopted hometown of East Nashville with a tribute to the late neighborhood legend Skip. Besides being a pot dealer and general ambassador for the burg affectionately referred to as Little Hollywood, Skip was known for yelling “Play a f*cking train song” at all the local music bars. Skip passed away some years back, but his memory lives on in Todd Snider’s “Play A Train Song”, and in all those people that echo Skip’s call at concerts across the country.

Returning to the stage once more, Snider—whose shirt had become a completely different shade of blue as it was soaked clear through with sweat—took us back to where it all began with “The Ballad Of The Devil’s Backbone Tavern”. With time for one more story, Snider offered the clearest window into his songwriting of the night.

This wasn’t the sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll Hard Working Americans story where Todd walked into the woods with a head full of acid and came back with a song. No, instead this epitomized the arduous and elusive nature of the craft. Todd has been working on a song centered around the line “Where will I go, now that I’m gone” for around 20 years. He still hasn’t finished it, but writing that song made him think of another song about writing that song, appropriately titled “Working On A Song”, which closed the show—but not without tacking on a “Free Bird” coda to get those lighters in the air. Maybe someday we’ll find out where Todd will go now that he’s gone, but for the time being, he’s just free as a bird now.

Todd Snider’s Pickin’…Grinnin’…Tellin’ Stories…Takin’ Requests Tour continues tonight, April 7th, at the Haw River Ballroom in Saxapahaw, NC. For tickets and a full list of tour dates visit his website.

Setlist: Todd Snider | The Orange Peel | Asheville, NC | 4/6/22

Set: Big Finish, D.B. Cooper, Beer Run, [Sock Water Story], Just Like Overnight, [John Prine Stories], Handsome John, [Jack Ingram Story], Can’t Complain, Easy Money, Statistician’s Blues, The Devil You Know, Turn Me Loose (I’ll Never Be The Same), Long Year, Alright Guy > [Free Bird Story] > Alright Guy, [East Nashville Story], Play A Train Song

Encore: The Ballad Of The Devil’s Backbone Tavern, [Where Will I Go Story], Working On A Song, Free Bird (Lynyrd Skynyrd)