Songs and Their Stories

Andy Sneed would love to sing you one of his songs.  He would also love to tell you the story behind that song.  Because just like each one of us, every song has a unique story.  Just hang on a second while he gets his guitar.  While you're waiting, feel free to look around the place: hit the music player at the bottom of the page for some tunes, read some lyrics on the Words page, check out his Bio, find out about upcoming Shows, and more!

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There's this website I love,, where fans post the set lists from shows they've seen.  What I'm talking about is the list and ordering of songs an artist plays in a particular show.  Especially when a band I love is touring, I'll go to and check out the postings from recent shows to see which songs they're playing what they're opening with, what they're playing off the new album, how deep into their back catalog they're digging, what they're playing as encores, whether they're changing things up much from night to night - that sort of ubernerdy music-fan stuff.

I don't know how they go about putting their set lists together, but as a non-professional musician, I try not to take it too seriously.  At most of my shows, most of my songs will be unfamiliar to most of the people there, so it's really not the same as for professional touring bands.  I usually make it up shortly before the show, sitting at a table with a list of the songs I play, writing the evening's set list out on a piece of paper torn from my journal.  Susan has all these photos of me doing this at various coffeehouses, pubs, and cafes - like this one:

About my only "rules" in creating the set list are (1) to start with a song that I'm not likely to mess up (yes, really, and it doesn't always work), and (2) I usually end with my song "Good Things Are Gonna Happen for You," which is sort of my parting word of hope and blessing.  In between, I just feel my way along, ordering the songs in such a way that, hopefully, both I and the people listening are able to have a good time and stay engaged.  That means, roughly speaking, alternating among my "catchier" tunes - those that tend to grab people the quickest - and songs that require closer listening, or that maybe have a darker or more intense feel.  The majority of my songs are in major keys, but there are several that are minor-key, and I also try to pepper those throughout the show so that the major and minor tunes can act as "counterpoints" to each other.  And I try not to "bunch up" songs that are thematically similar.

One time I very deliberately ordered the songs so as to create a sort of single narrative - which actually worked pretty well but isn't the kind of thing you can do all the time.  Or I guess I could, but I just find it more fun to approach it anew every show.  And here's the thing: if someone who comes to a show can really connect with just one song, I'm happy.  So I hope to see you at one of my upcoming gigs - if you come early, you'll probably see me sitting at a table scribbling song titles on a piece of journal paper...

PS: Susan says that what I do is come up with the set list days ahead of time, and then change it all around on the night of the show - which may be partly true. 

You Say You Want a Resolution 

I went to the gym this sub-freezing morning, did some fast walking on the treadmill and some weights. Last night I ordered the salmon instead of the cheeseburger that was beckoning. My cholesterol was a little high at this year's checkup and I really don't want to take a pill for it, so I've made these New Year's resolutions - as we often do - to exercise more and eat better. Over the holidays I had some time to reflect on life a bit, and I realized I'd been kind of neglecting my music. Maybe it was some depression at first, but then I just got out of the habit. I was picking up my guitar only occasionally and, as a result, wasn't really working on any new songs. So in addition to those usual resolutions, this year I've also made some MUSICAL RESOLUTIONS:

  1. To pick up my guitar every day, both to practice my usual material and also to develop new skills - and hell, just for the pure joy of playing;
  2. To open myself to new musical and lyrical ideas, grab them when they come along and work on them;
  3. To explore new music and new artists to add to my own musical stew;
  4. To get back to some songwriter events this year like the Richard Leigh Songwriters Festival in Abingdon, VA, and the Smoky Mountain Songwriters Festival in Gatlinburg; and
  5. To schedule shows in some new places and venues - so let me know if there's a cool coffee house, brewery, or club near you that I should contact!

The truth is, music is a discipline and a habit, as much as getting regular exercise and eating right. If I get out of the habit, my musical muscles atrophy. By the same token, if I cultivate habits of giving myself to music, I'll be there ready when the joy and the new, unexpected ideas come. 

"Thankfuls" from the NC Shows 

My wife, Susan, has this exercise she does most mornings in which she writes down "thankfuls" - things she's thankful for, whether really simple or more significant - as a way of both clearing and refocusing her mind.  I've experienced a lot of thankfuls in the last month at the shows in Sylva and Marshall, NC, so I thought I'd share some of them with you.
In Sylva...
- thankful for City Lights Cafe and the way they serve their community
- thankful for the kids' toys strewn around the stage
- thankful that I was in a good head-space that evening
- thankful for the good tone I had from my amp
- thankful that I got to play my newest song - always a good feeling
- thankful for the folks at the show who had just moved from Alaska, and getting to play "Northern Lights" for them
- thankful for the little note they left for me, pictured here, recommending a song to me (I listened to it - it's good!)
- thankful for the spectacular view across the mountains on the drive over and back
In Marshall...
- thankful for our host, Emily, at the place where we stayed in Asheville, and her amazing homemade cookies
- thankful for the drive over to Marshall, which is this awesome little well-off-the-beaten-path railroad-and-river town
- thankful for the atmosphere of Good Stuff, which is housed in this old former appliance warehouse
- thankful for the way Good Stuff reminded me of the stock rooms of the sporting goods store where I worked as a teenager in Oxford
- thankful for the excellent burgers we had there
- thankful for the easy-to-use and good-sounding, crusty ancient PA system, marked with these really helpful labels for "House" and "Monitor"
- thankful for the excellent acoustics of the all-wood converted space
- thankful for Leonard, who stuck around and talked a bit after the show
- and mostly thankful that, when I played "Good Things Are Gonna Happen for You" and reached the chorus and the words "I don't know how I know it but I do/ For me it is a hard-wired truth" I realized that was the one most needed to hear that song just then, having been overly anxious lately and somehow lost sight of the experience of positivity that is elemental for me.

A Moment of Clarity in Johnson City 

I played at the Acoustic Coffeehouse in Johnson City this past weekend and received some unexpected gifts. It's a laid-back club, the kind of place where there seem to be a lot of regulars – people greeting each other, giving high-fives and hugs, or shaking hands. 
First, when I arrived, there were a couple of guys up front playing impromptu, one with an acoustic guitar and the other with a vintage Oahu electric slide guitar. They were jamming on some classic tunes like Neil Young's "Like a Hurricane" and Dylan's "Knockin' on Heavens Door." So, instead of standing around getting nervous about things that could possibly go wrong, I just got a beer, sat down and worked on my set list while listening to that soulful, singing slide guitar. It really helped put me in the mood to play, and it was completely unexpected. 

The second gift came while I was playing, kind of late in the set. When I'm playing, a lot of thoughts go through my head. "What chord am I playing?... Am I going to mess up the solo?... Am I singing the right words?... What are those people talking about?"  And all of a sudden this thought hit me, that "I am so fortunate to be in this place right now, playing this song for these people, and this is just good." it was a moment of real clarity that snapped me back to the present and somehow altered my whole perspective.

Feeling thankful and looking forward to the next show!

Athens Show, 1/13/17 

Had a great time Friday in Athens.  We reconnected with friends from Chattanooga whom we hadn't seen in too long, and discovered a welcoming venue and very kind music fans at the Beanery Uncorked.  I appreciate the response to my tunes and the opportunity to play there, and would love to come back!  Here are some shots from the evening.

Songs and the Stories Behind Them 

In my live performances, I have started doing a lot more storytelling. Folks seem to enjoy it. And while I do believe the songs stand on their own, it also seems that some narrative background enhances the experience of hearing them. I know telling the stories behind the songs at least enhances my experience of playing them. Frankly, it also has the practical benefit of calming me me down a bit between songs and focusing me for the next song - so I don't play it too fast, for example.  

In my songwriting, I tend to go for more particular images and references over more general ones, because I think life is experienced in the particular rather than in general. One of my songs about a long-distance relationship makes reference to Knoxville and Pittsburgh. Someone recommended that I change it to "the South" and "the North," and that just felt all wrong to me because people in relationships live in particular places, not just somewhere down South or up North. But I suspect that in a live performance, all these very particular images and references can get a bit overwhelming; so the storytelling helps to give a little context.

This is something that's been cooking for a while.  But it really started to gel this past spring when I attended a several-day retreat with David Wilcox.  David is masterful at weaving stories and songs together, and it struck me that it added this whole other dimension to the performance.  Todd Snider also does this in his solo performances.  Last time I played at the Open Chord's Songwriter Night, on Oct. 4, I had such a good time sharing my songs and their stories that I decided to expand the storytelling in my full-length shows.  I used this format in Friday's (Nov. 18) Vienna Coffee House gig, and it felt right and (I think) went over well.  I'm excited about doing more of this in upcoming shows, so get in touch if you'd like to book something!

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Previous events

Andy Sneed Live at the Daily Grind & Wine

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The Daily Grind & Wine, 46 Valley River Ave., Murphy, NC

Andy will be coming to western NC again, bringing his original songs to the Daily Grind & Wine in historic downtown Murphy. Looks like a happening place, with all kinds of coffee, wine AND regional craft beers.

Andy Sneed Live at City Lights Cafe

City Lights Cafe, 3 East Jackson Street, Sylva, NC 28779

Andy is really looking forward to sharing his songs and stories again in this amazing community gathering space. Incredible food, regional craft beers, an intimate stage, and a bookstore upstairs (complete with cats). WNC folks, come on out!

Public House First Anniversary Celebration

Public House on High, 321 High Street, Maryville, TN 37804

This has become one of Andy's favorite hangout spots over the last year: meeting friends, playing Thursday night trivia, reading, playing a board game. Twelve regularly rotating taps, great pub food, and an excellent mix of music on the sound system. He's psyched to play their First Anniversary Celebration!

Legal Aid of East TN Fall Fundraiser

Out of Eden, 2928 US 411 South, Maryville, TN

Andy will be performing during the "Fall in the Garden" fundraising event, proceeds to help Legal Aid provide civil legal assistance at no charge to those in Blount County who can't afford an attorney. Craft beer, wine and hors d'oeuvres too!

Andy Sneed: Songs and Their Stories

The Beanery Uncorked, 2 N. White Street, Athens, TN 37303

After a great time in January, Andy is looking forward to bringing his original songs and stories back to the Beanery Uncorked! This venue bills itself as a "living room for the community" and that's sure what it felt like - coffee, craft beer, wine and good food in historic downtown Athens.

Andy Sneed: Songs and Their Stories

Good Stuff, 38 Baileys Branch Rd., Marshall, NC 28753

NC friends and fans take note! Andy's bringing his songs and stories to Good Stuff in the heart of Madison County, and the name says it all. Good Stuff is a super-cool "performance venue with tasty food and libations." Come for a great event.

Andy Sneed: Songs and Their Stories

City Lights Cafe, 3 East Jackson Street, Sylva, NC 28779

What a cool venue: excellent food and drink, a bookstore upstairs, and a big tie-dyed banner behind the stage that says "COMMUNITY." Andy is excited to be back there playing his songs and telling the stories behind their creation.

Andy Sneed @ Open Chord Songwriters Night

Open Chord / All Things Music, 8502 Kingston Pike, Knoxville, TN

Andy will be one of the featured songwriters at October's Songwriters Night at Open Chord - "all original music performed by the songwriters themselves and presented in the round." There's no cover charge, and there's a great selection of craft beers, locally roasted coffees, regional wines, and full bar service. Hosted by Writers Block host (and accomplished singer-songwriter) Karen E. Reynolds.

Legal Aid of East TN Fall Fundraiser

Out of Eden Garden Center, 2928 Us Highway 411 S, Maryville, TN 37801

Andy is excited to be playing again this year for Legal Aid's fall fundraising event. Their mission is "to ensure equal justice for elderly, abused, and low-income people by providing a broad scope of civil legal assistance and advocacy." Come out and support a really important organization in our community.

Andy Sneed @ Vienna

Vienna Coffee House, 212 College Street, Maryville, TN 37804

Andy's bringing his acoustic original songs (including some new stuff!) back to Vienna Coffee House in Maryville. He'll also throw in some fun covers for you. Come get a cup of their excellent coffee and enjoy the music with a lot of good people in a great community space.


Private Event

Knoxville, TN