“Artists, poets, writers, witches, priests/At the Grand Union buy groceries” sings Tom Pacheco in “The Hills of Woodstock,” a bardic bit of local color from his 1997 Jim Weider-produced album Woodstock Winter. Pacheco may be the epitome of the journeyman folkie, as restless in his impossibly prolific writing as he has been in a life that has taken him from his Massachusetts childhood to Austin, Nashville, Dublin and – on several different occasions – Woodstock.
Timeless, political, comic or mythological: No subject is off-limits in Pacheco’s enormous catalogue of songs. The only constants are the lucidity of his observations and his clean, metrically precise lines. So much new folk plays by an unwritten commandment: Thou shalt not recognize or mention anything that happened after 1960. The abdication of the present has its aesthetic uses, of course, and Dylan and the Band often played by their own version of the same code. But while Pacheco can evoke that weird old America with the best of them, he also recognizes that a newsy topicality has always been part of the folk inheritance, and folk music cannot fulfill its purpose without that critical eye on the present. His recent song “YouTube” is a lavishly detailed catalogue of Internet Age absurdities, outrages and indignities in a 12-bar saloon blues: “Nothing’s sacred anymore, dude; put it on YouTube.”
Pacheco’s life story is worth reading. It is full of far-flung travels, near-misses, major label signings and dumpings, sustained success abroad and a lot of time repairing in the Catskills. Speaking of which: Tom Pacheco plays at the Rosendale Café on Saturday, December 21 at 8 p.m. He’ll be joined for part of his set by Woodstock man of letters and Dobro-player Brian Hollander, who makes noise locally in the Saturday Night Bluegrass Band, a collective of heavy-hitting pickers and grinners. Admission costs $15.