On the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend, Tom Pacheco gave one of his occasional performances in Woodstock, his home town. The Colony Café, as usual for his shows, was jammed. And we got more than our money’s worth.

I’ve known Tom slightly since my days in Phoencia, almost four decades ago, when I used to hear him sing at the White Water Depot in Mt. Tremper (to the left, Tom backstage at the WWD with Tiny Tim) and played pinball with him. (I was a pretty good player on the pinball machines of that era, although Tom usually beat me.) He was away living in Europe (where he still does most of his performances) for a decade. Since he returned to Woodstock, I’ve done my best to catch every show he does.

Tom is a powerful performer and a powerful songwriter. He covers the usual songwriters’ topics–love, lost love, friends, mortality–but adds a strong dose of social commitment unusual in contemporary music. When I hear contemporary “anthems,” songs about our people and the world we live in, they tend to be maudlin and embarrassing. Not Tom’s! He can write a song like “There Was a Time” without sentimentality or haranguing, but it still carries a great deal of power.

When you sign onto his website, you get him singing “Big Muddy River,” a song reminiscent of Pete Seeger’s “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” except that it really is about flooding and also about politics. (Seeger played banjo on two tracks of Tom’s album “There Was a Time.”) You can hear right away how powerfully Tom performs, and how urgent his communication is. (I once complimented him on his diction, and he told me he works at it a lot.) His guitar playing is strongly rhythmic and compelling. And he even manages to play occasional harmonica without sounding klutzy.

Reading a profile of Tom in last week’s Woodstock Times, I was unsurprised to see that he is a very prolific songwriter. There are always a few old favorites in his shows–“Blue Montana Sky,” “There Was a Time,” “The Hills of Woodstock,” “Solidarity”–but most of the material is new or recent. Sometimes the songs have some rough edges, a line or two that doesn’t work quite right, an image that doesn’t quite fit. He must have gone on to the next song. It doesn’t matter. They still work.

One of the newer songs in Tom’s performance was a tribute to Woody Guthrie. It was completely appropriate. Tom is, in my opinion, the closest thing to Woody Guthrie I know on the current music scene, except that he plays guitar a lot better than Woody did.

Being so prolific, Tom has recorded many albums. The two “Secret Hits” compilations are good places to start getting acquainted with his songs, and of the two I’d try Vol. 2 first. But in any Tom Pacheco recording, as in any performance, the guy’s passion and commitment always come through vividly. He’s one of my favorites, and maybe even one of my heroes.