Every Tuesday night, Rob Snyder invites Nashville musicians to bare their souls at the Tin Roof.
The casual pub is located on Historic Lower Broadway in the city’s downtown, just about a 20-minute walk from the Bridgestone Arena, Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Nashville Music City Center.
Snyder’s adamant that all are welcome at the weekly gathering. But there is one rule: Whatever song you play, it’s got to have some soul.
One night in 2014, a new attendee introduced himself to Snyder.
“He cracked me up,” says Snyder, whose mother is a Lancaster native. “He just showed up in khaki shorts and you know, he kind of had this scraggly, kind of Amish-looking beard. He wasn’t like the rock-hard abs guy that most guys are, that have their frosted tips and they’re all like, ‘Oh, I'm here to sing country music.’ ”
That guy? Luke Combs, who has since won new artist of the year at the Country Music Association Awards, and is nominated for a best new artist Grammy.
Snyder co-wrote “She’s Got the Best Of Me” with Combs and Channing Wilson. The song was the only track to spend four weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart in 2018. “She’s Got the Best of Me” wasn’t even included on the original version of Combs’ album “This One’s For You.” It appeared as a bonus track on the album’s re-release, “This One’s For You Too.”
While Snyder grew up in West Chester, Chester County, he has a lot of ties to Lancaster County.
Snyder’s mother, Mimi Cooper, grew up in Lancaster and attended Linden Hall School for Girls in 1973-76. She married Snyder’s Father, Rob Snyder Sr., at Lititz Moravian Church in 1980.
Cooper is the only member of her family who moved from Lancaster. Her older sister, Teddy Flory, lives in Lancaster with her husband, Greg. Cooper’s other sister, Missy Anderson, lives in Neffsville with husband Kevin Anderson, executive chef at the Hamilton Club. Her brother, dentist John Cooper, lives in Lancaster with his wife, Rosa. Their mother, also named Mimi Cooper, lives in Lancaster, too.
After getting married, Cooper and the senior Snyder lived in Broomall, Delaware County, before moving to Roswell, Georgia, shortly after their son was born. After a few years, they returned north and moved to the West Chester area.
Snyder was an excitable kid whose love for music sometimes conflicted with more pressing responsibilities.
“Instead of doing what he was supposed to be doing, he was standing up, entertaining the class, pretending like he was playing the air guitar,” Cooper says.
Music was everywhere for Snyder. As a first-grader, his knowledge of Guns ‘N’ Roses lyrics earned him a spot at the back of the bus with the older kids. After seeing the movie “La Bamba,” he set out to research the music of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson. He made time pass more quickly while doing work in his family’s backyard by listening to music by the Allman Brothers Band and the Marshall Tucker Band. By 14, he was playing the guitar.
Songs with depth
Snyder fostered an appreciation for songs with deeper meaning while he was a young man. By the time he was 21, he had lost three friends — two to drugs, one to a car accident. At the time, he hadn’t been playing music much.
“You start to realize, this is real and we’re not going to be here forever,” Snyder says. “That really affected me.”
Not long after the death of his third friend, Snyder heard the Randy Travis song “Three Wooden Crosses” on the radio.
“It’s just one of those songs that made all the hairs on your body stand up,” Snyder says. “It made me fall back in love with the guitar and pick it up.”
He started writing songs again and had dreams of moving to Nashville. But he was taking longer than usual (seven years) to finish his bachelor’s degree at Villanova University. And he admits he was a bit of a wayward soul.
Then, inexplicably, tragedy struck yet again. Snyder was hanging out with friends Ryan Dunn and Zach Hartwell of “Jackass” fame in June of 2011. Dunn and Hartwell encouraged Snyder to finally make the move to Nashville. That night, Snyder promised them he would.
Dunn and Hartwell drove away in Dunn’s Porsche. They never made it to their destination as both were killed when the Porsche slammed into a tree in Chester County. Their deaths made Snyder’s promise even more potent.
“Finally I just said, by the time I’m 30 years old I’ll be there (in Nashville), and I made it just about three days after,” Snyder says. He moved to Nashville about a year after the deaths of Dunn and Hartwell.
Snyder moved to Nashville with little more than that promise to his late friends.
At first, he was determined to make it on his own as a performer. He went on a few short tours in a 2000 Honda minivan, losing about $1,000 to travel expenses each time.
“We kept saying to him, ‘What’s Plan B?’ ” Cooper says. “And he was always saying, ‘There is no Plan B. I’m just giving this all I have, and this is my dream, and somehow, I’m going to make this happen, and this is all I want to do.’ ”
He found a hint of stability in a gig playing for tips downtown, but he was still trying to feel the town out. One night, at a bar called Losers, a fight broke out near Snyder. Standing tall at 6-foot-6-inches, he used his large stature to break up the fight. He was hired as a bouncer on the spot.
After he expanded his network in Nashville, Snyder decided to start Revival, the open mic he hosts at the Tin Roof, in hopes of meeting other musicians and creating a space for people to connect. From the start, it’s had a reputation of being a place where songs with depth are valued.
“It was definitely a thing where people know if you’re going to play Revival, you’ve got to bring some meat on the bones,” Snyder says. “It can’t just be about Friday nights and tailgates. It’s got to be about the Sunday mornings and that kind of stuff.”
After attending Revival, Combs asked Snyder if he’d be interested in co-writing with him.
Combs came over to Snyder’s house, where Wilson was making coffee and trying to recover from a late night. Wilson was hesitant to join the songwriting session at first, but Snyder says once he heard Luke sing, he was in.
“Luke had this idea: ‘They got the best of me,’ ” Snyder says. “And Channing said ‘No, SHE got the best of me.’ We were off to the races.”
They wrote the song in just 45 minutes. Snyder says he drew on his experience in a past relationship for inspiration.
Snyder felt good about the session, and they considered shopping the song around to more established artists, considering Combs was unknown at the time. Combs wanted to keep the track, but Snyder and Wilson were disappointed when it wasn't on his debut album.
“You can imagine what that feels like,” Snyder says. “It’s like heartbreak.”
The delay proved to be worth it. The traction Combs gained with early hits like “Hurricane,” “When It Rains It Pours” and “One Number Away” helped give him a bigger audience for the release of “She’s Got the Best of Me.”
“I really can't picture it happening a better way than it did,” Snyder says.
Since the song’s success, Snyder and Wilson have performed the song with Combs several times, including at the Grand Ol' Opry in August. Snyder’s parents went to Nashville for the event.
“Here I am coming through the back door where the artists come and seeing all these famous people that had performed there, and then sitting along the stage looking out into the audience where my son’s performing,” Cooper says. “It was unbelievable.”
Snyder has continued to write with Combs, and hopes to have some songs on the star’s next album. There’s also some new artists whom he has met through Revival that he’s excited about working with.
His goals have shifted since he first moved to Nashville. These days, he’s quite happy working as a songwriter rather than as a performer.
The songwriter is careful to always be kind to everyone he meets in Nashville — something that proved to be worthwhile by his experience with that red-bearded guy wearing khaki shorts at Revival.
“Always be a good person because you never know what’s going to happen,” Snyder says. “And in Nashville especially. The guy flipping burgers could be the next big thing.”