NJ bred folk singer/songwriter – John Gorka performed at the Ringwood
Public Library in NJ last Sunday as part of the New Legacy Concert
Series to a crowd about 150+ strong! It’s always fun driving to
the shows in Ringwood because the library is nestled up in the
mountains which provides a beautiful backdrop for the performances!
And of course listening to the Gorka live is always a treat because
of his clear & soulful baritone voice, his funny intros to his
songs, his storytelling, and catchy hooks. Sometimes I wonder
if John twilights as a comedian because he is just that hilarious!
He has a great knack of knowing how to connect with his audience
by poking fun at himself to break the ice. He started his matinee
set by stating that he knew the audience was curious as to what
a “Gorka” looked like. And that the picture of himself on the
programming bill looked like his son. He thought about coming
out saying that he was John Gorka’s dad and that he couldn’t make
it to the show so he would be filling in for the afternoon! That
got a few chuckles out of the salt & peppered haired crowd! Another
fun story was at the Newport Folk Festival when the late Earl
Scruggs, a legendary bluesgrass banjo player was playing on stage
and John Gorka seized an opportunity to talk to Pete Seeger about
finger picking on the banjo. Gorka proceeded to tell Seeger that
the brain releases oxytosin (not oxycontin) when playing and Seeger
just looked at him with a blank stare!
John Gorka’s lyrics range from the funny to the witty then back
to the somber with love and hope in these ever changing troubled
times. John is a true documenter of life – observing, writing,
and singing about the everyday. Some sad & heart wrenching but
beautiful tunes that he played on his set that afternoon included
‘I saw a stranger with your hair’ & ‘Love is our cross to bear’
as well as a song of unearned advantage – ‘Ignorance and privilege’.
Gorka also played some tunes that he re-recorded with his Red
Horse band on Red House Records like ‘Blue Chalk’, ‘Wayfaring
Stranger‘, & ‘If these walls could talk’. Some of my favorites
from the set included some blues tunes that he created on his
miniature G-sharp guitar like ‘Baby Blue’ & ‘Where the bottles
break’ as well as ‘Houses in the fields’ & ‘Down in Milltown’
on the piano. Some of the more funnier songs that he sang at the
Ringwood Library were ‘I’m from New Jersey’ & ‘People my age’
which he jokingly said he wasn’t looking forward to playing. People
my age was the antithesis of Dar Williams’ song ‘Aging well’.
I really dig how Gorka uses his emotion, facial expression, and
clever play on words to tell us a colorful story with his voice
and guitar play. It was such a wonderful performance as witnessed
by the unanimous standing ovation after the show. He ended his
set with a ‘Coda for Bill’ (tribute to Bill Morrisey). My favorite
contemporary folk acts to watch live are Lucy Kaplansky, Dar Williams,
& of course – John Gorka! If you get a chance to see any of these
3 play live – do it!