Twenty-four years ago, singer/songwriter John Gorka gave a performance in Reading Area Community College's cafeteria. At that time, he was an up-and-coming young artist from New Jersey who had just released his first album, "I Know," on Red House Records, and becoming known beyond the Bethlehem area where he went to college and performed at Godfrey Daniels.
This Saturday, as part of the college's Downtown Performing Arts Series, Gorka will return to RACC in a concert by Red Horse, a trio featuring him and fellow singer/songwriters Eliza Gilkyson and Lucy Kaplansky.
The differences are striking: This time he performs in the Miller Center for the Arts, one of the area's best venues; and this time he is an internationally known and respected folk artist with numerous CDs under his belt, the latest of which is "So Dark You See."
The performance is part of the series' annual folk music weekend, which will also feature singer/songwriter John McCutcheon on Friday evening. Both performances will begin at 7:30 p.m.
In a telephone interview from his home in Minnesota, where he has lived since 1996 with his wife and two children, Gorka said he feels fortunate to have entered the music business "on the tail end of the old music world, with record companies and record stores; that pre-iPod world is gone."
A history and philosophy major at Moravian College during the 1970s, Gorka was a self-taught guitarist and songwriter who was able to reach a lot of people through his early performances and recordings; these have given him a base that has lasted through the years.
At Godfrey Daniels, where he will return in May for a performance, he met a long parade of top folk artists who championed his work. His songs have been performed by singers such as Mary Chapin Carpenter and Maura O'Connell, and he has performed with many other artists on recordings, at festivals and on the coffeehouse circuit.
Gorka said Red Horse performs together intermittently, when the three artists' concert and recording schedules and personal lives allow it. The name derives from Red House Records, the label for all three, and Gorka's whimsical wordsmithing: "A house is a nice thing, but it tends to stay in one place; a horse can run and a red horse may fly," he said.
He said the three have known each other for quite some time. Kaplansky has sung on almost all of his albums, and Gilkyson sang on "So Dark You See."
They will sing each other's songs for Saturday's concert, including one that Gorka wrote specifically for their program. Kaplansky started singing in Chicago bars as a teenager, then joined the folk scene in New York, often singing as a duo with Shawn Colvin.
She stopped her musical career abruptly to complete a doctorate in psychology, after which she worked as a psychiatrist in a New York hospital. Her musical friends urged her to continue singing, and she sang on albums by Gorka, Colvin and Nanci Griffith.
She returned to the music business, releasing her first solo album, "The Tide," in 1994. She has toured extensively since then, and recorded several more CDs, the latest of which is "Over the Hills."
Gilkyson, who lives in Austin, Texas, is the daughter of the late songwriter Terry Gilkyson ("Green Fields," "Bare Necessities" from Disney's "Jungle Book"). She is a Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter who has appeared on National Public Radio, "Austin City Limits" and in venues throughout the country.
Her songs are known for their political relevance, and she is involved in water conservation issues and the Worker's Defense Project, which advocates rights for undocumented works in the United States, in Austin.
Gorka said he's looking forward to getting together with Kaplansky and Gilkyson in Reading, where he hasn't performed since the late 1980s, when he appeared here as part of Scenic River Days.
"It's a fun show; it's fun to do," he said. "It's informal; we sit and we're all onstage the whole time. Harmonies are a big part of the music. It's not flashy - it's mainly about the songs." .
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