In November, 1971, a man calling himself D.B. Cooper boarded a jetliner in Oregon, which he would exit at 10,000 feet in the air with a parachute, a bag stuffed with cash and a leap into history, legend and the lyrics of a Tom Pacheco song. Much later, in July, 2016, the FBI would announce that it was closing its D.B. Cooper skyjacking case file after 45 years without a solution.
Tom, something of a legend himself, who had solved the case with the tools of a whimsically unfettered imagination, noted the news with a smile. “I remember thinking, when I wrote that song, that if they ever find the real D.B. Cooper, it’ll lose some of its mystery and punch,” he said, having placed his bet on the lasting mystique of Cooper’s disappearance. “But it seems to be safe now.”
With 27 album releases of original songs to his credit, it’s not a sure thing that the song will be on the playlist for his now traditional set of two Labor Day weekend concerts at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, September 3 and Sunday, September 4 at the Empire State Railway Museum, 70 Lower High Street in Phoenicia, but it is a certainty that playlist will captivate those in attendance and — in the event it is missing — although written in 2013,”The Lost Diary of D.B. Cooper” is included on his most recent CD Boomtown.
While Tom’s loyal local following have often had to travel to Beacon, Hyde Park or even Narrowsburg to absorb a fresh live performance in recent years, the Railway Museum’s Flying Cat Music series at the edge of Phoenicia offers an all too rare opportunity right here in Ulster County to savor Pacheco’s songs in person. For a Massachusetts-born musician whose home base has shifted from Greenwich Village to Texas, Tennessee, California and Ireland throughout his career, it’s a treat for Pacheco and fans to commune so close to his permanent home base in Woodstock, which he returned to in 1997 after a decade in Dublin, particularly with the embellishments of guitarist Brian Hollander at the concerts. “I’m always comfortable having Brian alongside me on stage,” Pacheco noted. “And the room (at the Railway Museum) is fine for attentive listening.”
Tom’s scene-shifting has caused some puzzlement abroad in devotees of ‘Americana’ music; “Although he has had success in Europe, songwriter Tom Pacheco is virtually unknown in America, which is somewhat of a mystery, since his songs are frequently brilliant and have been covered by countless folk and country artists,” writes a reviewer in Europe. A clue may be found in the fact that Pacheco’s themes, while deep in nvolvements with love, dreams and other vital ingredients, range further into narrative areas which are far from typical for commercial radio fare.
“Pacheco picks through the fabric of a society being torn apart…” notes a reviewer at an Australian website, “… a master storyteller, (Tom) is the voice of a generation fighting globalisation, greed, pollution, war and sharp spokes of rampant prejudice.” These are not themes favored by corporate programmers but, rather, topics that reach into the contemporary human spirit in daily struggles of perception before sanity was trampled by technology. Often, you can hear mention in cafe conversation of what is being lost from our musical culture by radio airwave limitations but, thankfully, Tom Pacheco’s muse is not bound by the same restrictions. When setting the universe to music, imagination is not a boundary but a vehicle with clear-vision verity on highbeam along darker sections of road.
Currently polishing lyrics for a forthcoming blues-flavored album by Monika Nordli, (a friend in Oslo, Norway, where Tom has also recorded several times), Pacheco has penned a few new tunes he plans on debuting at the Labor Day Weekend concerts, including a card game challenge with “The Prince of Death” which suggests we can draw on hidden resources even when facing the most imposing of adversaries. Rising poverty and hunger inhabits another new tune set against disputed claims of economic ‘recovery’ and employment figures now being questioned in political debates.
Having explored this territory in songs like “Cheaper In China,” “Full Time Job” or with the work-seeking drifter of “Norfolk, Little Rock, Memphis,” Tom can sketch out this theme among so many others in life he has treated with pathos, irony, humor, joy and concern. No topic is out of the reach of melody and rhythm for those of us with music in our hearts and Tom Pacheco has expertly and lovingly wandered this terrain for decades.
A corporate grip on popular musical airwaves, reducing cultural reinforcement to a diminished series of standard formulas, renders it not uncommon to hear the current music scene described impolitely in casual conversation or sometimes seem omnipresent on radio dials but there is still true artistry circling in nearby nightspots we can visit to enjoy an evening out and this weekend offers a prime example at the Railway Museum.
Excepting his annual Christmas week show at the Rosendale Cafe, Pacheco’s appearance schedule is blank until planned tours of the British Isles and Scandinavia in the Spring, which elevates this weekend higher in the realm of live entertainment opportunity in an historic location that came of age in the same 1880s that gave us this holiday.
Besides Hollander and guitar, Tom takes the stage Saturday and Sunday with a memorable assemblage of heroes and outlaws; lovers and haters; strangers and neighbors; drifters and pioneers; angels and aliens and a brim-filled container of dreams. Welcome him.
If D.B. Cooper shows up, he’ll be the old guy in the corner with a grin.
Seats for this engagement tend to disappear quickly, so advance reservations are strongly urged. The doors open at 7 p.m. and music begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $18 or $15 with reservations. For information or reservations email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 845-688-9453.