Drag the River Make the Gypsy Lounge a Valentine's Day Tradition

Lake Forest Is for Lovers
Drag the River make the Gypsy Lounge a Feb. 14 tradition

Having only been incorporated in 1991, Lake Forest doesn’t have too many annual traditions. But this Valentine’s Day marks the eighth consecutive time Fort Collins, Colorado, band Drag the River will play the city’s Gypsy Lounge. What’s behind this annual 1,000-mile trek?

“I think it’s a funny thing to do,” says singer/guitarist Jon Snodgrass. It started when Drag the River were booked to play the venue on the holiday back in 2001. “It was a Saturday night. It was just a great show. I said, ‘We’ll come here every Valentine’s Day!’ We’re finally on a Saturday again this year.”

Drag the River: An annual Valentine's Day treat without the frills
Drag the River: An annual Valentine's Day treat without the frills

Snodgrass formed Drag the River in 1996 with fellow singer/guitarist Chad Price. While the band have often swelled to a five-piece, as long as the core duo are in the same room with acoustic guitars, it’s a Drag the River show. Their country/rock split personality and frequent steel guitars have them painted with the “alt/country” brush. But Snodgrass sees things a bit differently. “It’s just Midwestern music,” he says.

Snodgrass’ upbringing lends credibility to that idea. “I grew up in Missouri. My grandparents had a farm out in the country, and I spent a lot of time out there,” he says. “It was a good life. It was nice out there. If everything goes to shit and I have to learn how to plant my own food, I’ll get it wired.”

So what is Midwestern music, anyway?

“In Maryville, Missouri, there was a college radio station. I heard this music I’d never heard before,” Snodgrass says. “That was ’85. Then I heard Hüsker Dü and the Replacements. That’s Midwestern music.”

From there, Snodgrass moved to Colorado where previous project Armchair Martian and Drag the River were both born. More recently, Snodgrass finished his first solo album, Visitor’s Band, which he put together when Drag the River briefly “broke up” while on tour in 2007.

“It was the worst time of my life,” he says. “We needed a little break. We were playing 200 shows a year.”

The dissolution turned into merely a hiatus, and Snodgrass and Price continued to play music together, albeit at a less frantic pace. Appropriately enough, a collection of previously vinyl-only songs is being released as Drag the River’s Bad at Breaking Up.

“We still record, and we still play,” said Snodgrass. “Drag the River will never end, but neither of us wants to play as much as we used to. It starts to really feel like a job when you play more.”

The downtime led to Snodgrass recording the songs that became his first solo album. “It was weird,” Snodgrass says. “I didn’t want to put my name on it. I was embarrassed. I just wanted to call it The Visitor’s Band. The record label was not into that. They wanted my name on it.”

Snodgrass struggled with the transition. “It’s easier to promote a band because that’s a team,” he said. “It’s kind of embarrassing talking about yourself and trying to make a deal out of it. I definitely sabotage my career. I don’t try that hard. But I try really hard for other people.” In fact, many of Snodgrass’ songs, such as “A Song for Robin Reichhardt,” tend to be written for or about specific friends.

“I like doing that, writing songs for people,” Snodgrass says. “People ask me to write a song for them. My phone is full of me at the end of the night at a bar calling myself with stupid songs. I’ve got about 25 on my phone. I should walk around with a tape recorder, but I just don’t have one. So I call myself. I didn’t realize how many I had until I was calling myself to leave another one, and my mailbox was full.”

Sung in a voice weathered by smoke and booze, Snodgrass’ songs are often earnest and chilling. That voice, singing songs about heartache, loss and redemption, makes Snodgrass and Drag the River a tonic for the evils of the world, although Snodgrass himself might disagree.

“I think my songs are actually really selfish,” Snodgrass says. “They’re really vague. I put a lot out there, but I’m really vague so I can say it. It’s not hateful ... but it’s honest.”

Drag the River with Joey Cape of Lagwagon, Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters, and Pretty in Stereo at the Gypsy Lounge, 23600 Rockfield, Lake Forest, (949) 206-9990; www.thegypsylounge.com. Sat., 9 p.m. $10. 21+.
Jon Snodgrass with Joey Cape of Lagwagon, Chris Shiflett of Foo Fighters, and Limbeck at Alex’s Bar, 2913 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8292; www.alexsbar.com. Wed. Call for time. $10. 21+.

 
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