ARLINGTON - A wise woman once told me that John Gorka songs are guaranteed to produce two emotions. They make you laugh, or they make you cry.

Since winning a New Folk award at the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1984, Gorka has been a master at both. And both were richly in evidence Saturday night at the Open Door Coffee House, where Gorka performed one of his typically stirring concerts.

If you were the least bit uptight going in, you were the opposite when you left. The peace and tranquility of the venue helped. The Open Door remains a mid-city treasure.

Including the encore, Gorka sang 22 songs, all of which were keepers. But these were our favorites:

1) "True in Time." This is the title track of Gorka's terrific new album. When Carrie Fisher died, and her mother Debbie Reynolds passed away the next day, he posted on Facebook a lyric written by Fisher's former husband Paul Simon, who wrote the song "Mother and Child Reunion." Gorka heard from Pete Kennedy, who with his wife forms the husband-wife duo, the Kennedys. Kennedy used the phrase, "true in time." And a song was born. Who says good things don't come from Facebook?

2) "I Saw a Stranger with Your Hair." It doesn't matter who the artist is. Every concert carries with it a mixture of the old and new. There's a great scene in an episode of The Simpsons in which Jackson Browne is asked to play at Marge's birthday party. Sitting at the piano, he announces to a yard full of guests: "I'm here to serenade you with a song" - a loud cheer pierces the night air - "from my latest album." That, of course, brings a collective groan. "Just kidding," he assures them. "Here's one of my many classics."

"I Saw a Stranger with Your Hair" is such a classic, about seeing a stranger who reminds you of a former lover. Gorka once told me that years ago a woman approached him after a show and told him she loved the song because it reminded her of her son, who had died. It's one of those ballads that motivate people all over the country to keep coming back to Gorka's shows - and to keep yelling out the songs of his they want to hear.

3) "Let Them In." Gorka has sung this one for years. It was inspired by a poem written in 1942, during World War II, by a woman named Elma Dean, who agonized over so many young men dying in war. It's a moving elegy, and yes, while he sang it, more than a few sniffles mingled with the music.

 

Photos:Bob Strickland/Open Door Coffee House

 

4) "I'm Just a Country Boy." For me, this was the highlight of the evening. "I'm Just a Country Boy" was written by Fred Hellerman and Marshall Baker and recorded in 1954 by Harry Belafonte. The print on the original recording says the song was co-written by Fred Brooks, a pseudonym for Hellerman, who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Gorka covered it perfectly, and this one he played on the piano, making it all the more memorable.

5) "Particle and Wave." Gorka says he was inspired to write the song after watching the March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington earlier this year. The event followed the February mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 high school students were gunned down. The song is a cry for hope and renewal and faith, as expressed in the lyric: "Never stop believing there is goodness in the world."

And yes, there were sniffles during this one, just as there were well-deserved laughs during "People My Age" and "I'm from New Jersey," two other old favorites that keep us returning, again and again, to the music of John Gorka.

Give this show an "S" for sublime.

This was one of the 22 songs Gorka sang on Saturday night in Arlington:

 

 

 

Click here for a 2013 review by Michael Granberry

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