For a guy from Pittsburgh who started out in the catering business, All GoodCafé owner Mike Snider knows a lot about Texas music. Sitting in a barbeque joint, Snider reminisces over his two decades of booking shows in Dallas.
"It all started on January 14, 1994," he says between bites. "It was a gal named Marian Price who was part of Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks."
Snider pauses. He wants to get the facts right.
"The guy playing guitar for Price was Slim Richey," says Snider. "He is in his mid 70's now. I met him at the Kerrville folk festival. He's one of the best guitar players I've ever seen. So I went down to see the folks at the Sons of Hermann Hall and talk to them about what it took to do a show there. And now, twenty years later, Snider is bringing Richey back to Sons with his new band, The Jitterbug Vipers, for a show this Saturday night.
Snider gathered whatever finances he could get his hands on and began a booking enterprise that he never dreamed would as long as it has. "We had a good turnout and it was a successful show. That was fun, so I started thinking about doing a second show. I had received a modest inheritance from my mother and it was something I could play with.
"I was spending the day making phone calls and making posters, going to record stores to put those posters up. The weekend would come around and I would have a show. I was working hard. It got to the point that I was doing shows every Friday and Saturday."
Since then, Snider has booked hundreds of shows at some of the area's most iconic venues. Many of these performances rank among the best shows the city has ever seen.
"Booking shows always felt like more of a hobby," says Snider. "I always considered myself different from other concert promoters. I am not really a money guy. I am not doing it to make a lot of money. I book acts that I want to see and that I want other people to see. Perhaps I am naïve in that. I want to turn people onto this stuff. I just want to make the show happen."
Among several renowned shows that Snider made happen were Wilco's first stop in Dallas and the debut performance from a band that would become a local legend. "The [second] show I booked at Sons was the Bad Livers," says Snider, "and the opening band was this brand spanking new outfit called the Old 97's."
Snider has always taken pride in supporting local talent. When he books a national act, he is always on the lookout for one or two quality local bands. Once he opened the AllGood Café in Deep Ellum, he made it a point to showcase bands and singer/songwriters from around the area.
"I book bands because I like them and because I want other people to see them," says Snider, "not because I think my restaurant is going to be full. We have incredible talent in there sometimes with a handful of people watching it."
Snider had liked Americana music since his college days. To him, it was a natural fit to turn to that style of music when he became involved with booking shows.
"While I was at Penn State, I was already a fan of rural music," says Snider. "People like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Jerry Jeff Walker and Asleep at the Wheel. I probably had eight Bob Wills' albums. The first country artist I ever saw in concert was Merle Haggard. He was touring on his album made in tribute to Bob Wills. When I heard Haggard do 'Faded Love,' I just knew that I had found what I was looking for. This kind of music spoke to me; it touched me."
After the shows at Sons started to become more frequent, Snider began booking shows at other area venues.
"I got involved with the Gypsy Tearoom and they hired me as a talent buyer," says Snider. "I was the one who suggested the name."
Despite having success booking the Gypsy Tearoom, Snider could see that all was not right. The partners he was working with didn't share Snider's vision. The investors also had a stake in another Deep Ellum hot spot, Trees. In its original incarnation, struggles there led to one of Snider's darkest days in Dallas.
"When we first opened the Tearoom, it was really nice," says Snider. "It was clean and sleek. I was always trying to convince the owners that they should differentiate between Trees and the Tearoom. They should have made them totally different entities. Trees had a reputation of being a little rough around the edges. It was a bunch of guys dressed in black with tattoos.
"The downfall of the Gypsy Tearoom was when the guy got assaulted," says Snider. "It was an Old 97s concert. It was one of my shows and I was very embarrassed that it happened there. Trees was the place where the skinheads hung out. The worst one of them all was at the show that night. The club went under because of that."
Yet both Snider and Deep Ellum recovered. Trees opened under new management in 2009 and has flourished. And the shows Snider booked at Sons of Hermann and other venues never completely went away. Indeed, some of the shows during and after the slowdown in Deep Ellum are some of Snider's favorite memories.
"The shows that were the highlights were those featuring Doug Sahm," says Snider. "Many people don't know how great that guy was. I loved him. Obviously, the Ray Price show we did at Sons of Hermann in 1996. In order to pay him his guarantee, we had him do two shows on the same night, one at 7 and one at 10. He had five fiddlers in that band. His voice was so soft. It was so much different than any show we ever had."
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Snider claims that his time booking shows is just about over. Looking back over his body of work, Snider is both proud and pragmatic.
"Before getting into the music business, I was a music fan," he says. "You want to like all the people that you think are cool. You want them to be really nice and you find that some of them are and some of them aren't."