Alastair Moock has built himself a beloved piece of real estate in the hearts of New England music fans. The Boston Globe referred to Moock as “one of Boston’s best and most adventurous songwriters.” He’s played from coast to coast but has spent most of his time in the greater Boston area where he has made a musical community of special players and he’s managed to bring players young and old together for “hip hootenannies.” These nights are pickin’ parties dubbed “Pastures of Plenty” after one of Woody Guthrie’s songs. How perfect is that? Alastair and his players sing and play familiar songs and tease new noodlings from each other – surprising themselves and their audiences.
To learn more about Alastair Moock, check out his website which includes information about many of his projects!
Here’s a version of the Pastures band from a gig at legendary Club Passim in Cambridge.
Please tell us about the genesis of your Pastures of Plenty shows.
I started the series in 2000. It was my way of creating community — between musicians (and all the different sub-stratas of the Boston Americana scene) and between musicians and audiences. What can I say, I’m an apostle of Pete and Woody. I still believe in the power of the hoot.
I originally intended to call the series “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Scott Alarik said, “That’s stupid. Call it Pastures of Plenty.” He was right.
What can you tell us about the other musicians who will part of your Pastures of Plenty show at the me&thee on March 25?
One of the hallmarks of Pastures is that it always involves different people (there’s a pretty complete list on my website but there have been a number of semi-regulars over the years. Sean Staples, Eric Royer, and Paul Kochanski (all formerly of The Resophonics) have probably been on more shows than anyone over the years and they’ve all been a huge part of the history of the series. It’s been quite a while since we’ve all played together, though, so this will be a bit of a reunion… Regulars at the Me and Thee will already know this but, for everyone else: these are three of the very best Americana/bluegrass musicians we’re lucky to have here in Boston. We’ll also be joined on part of the show by a phenomenal young — and I mean young (10 years old!) — fiddler named Fiddlin’ Quinn and by my daughter. Yep. It’s gonna be fun.
When did you first discover the music of Woody Guthrie and what is it about his music has inspired you the most?
I grew up in a house that was full of folk records that contained songs written by Woody, but I didn’t really ‘discover’ him as an entity until late in high school. I think I was about 17 or 18 when I first read Bound for Glory. That was it. I was on board from that point on. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like he reached out from those pages and grabbed me by the neck. He was funny and wild, somehow both ancient and modern. He felt like a friend.
You regularly do workshops with school children and sometimes they are about Woody and social change. Have you had any interesting insights from the mouths of babes? Most kids are familiar with “This Land is Your Land” — what other Guthrie songs are important ones to share with children?
When my daughter was spending a lot of time in the hospital (she was diagnosed with cancer in 2012 but is now done with treatment and doing great), we started singing songs together in her room. She had a list of requests that included ‘The Union Maid” and “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh.” The nurses must’ve wondered why we were singing so much about dust… A good song’s a good song.
You recently were artist-in-residence at the Glover School in Marblehead. What can you tell us about the song that you and the students composed together?
Last year I added a ‘school songwriting residency’ to the list of programs I do in schools. It’s more hands on than the assembly programs I offer and I really love getting into the nitty-gritty of writing with the kids. The Glover School Song is one of my favorite of all the ones I’ve now written with kids. The PTO asked that the song focus on the school’s outlined core values but also included some of the unique and storied history of the town. It was a challenging assignment. The kids and I ended up using town landmarks as metaphors for some of the key values: “Bonded by community, we gather in this school / Our friendships are as solid as the walls of old Fort Sewall / Like that lighthouse on the coast we stand tall here and we shine / And we love our Glover School because it’s yours and mine.” That’s some pretty ennobled writing for elementary school!
We’re planning to find some way for a group of kids from the Glover to come perform the song at the show on the 25th…
You’ve recorded several family music albums since becoming a parent. What’s different about music intended for all ages as opposed to “adult” specific music?
I find there’s actually a lot more that’s similar than different. It’s about tweaking one’s perspective which, when you have two young kids running around your house, isn’t all that hard to do. I had also spent a lot of time working with kids on the side throughout the early part of my career – in afterschool programs and summer camps, giving guitar lessons — so I guess I felt fairly well equipped. And also a lot of my musical heroes — not just Woody and Pete, but Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, Taj Mahal, even Dylan — had all written songs for kids. I think there used to be less of a divide between styles and audiences. It was always something I had planned and hoped to do. I guess I was waiting for the right moment.
What was it like to be nominated for a Grammy and attending the ceremony? Was it surreal?
What musical plans do you have up your sleeve?
I plan to start work on a new album in the fall. I’m not quite ready to go into detail about it, but it has something to do with bridging that perceived and somewhat artificial gap between “kids’” and “adults’” music. That’s where my heads at right now.