Concert review from Folkwax
John Gorka
live At The Berkshire Museum
Pittsfield, Massachusetts

March 2, 2005

By Eric Sutter




John Gorka The power of love became a reality during a performance of new school Folk music by singer-songwriter John Gorka (www.JohnGorka.com) on February 19 at the Berkshire Museum (www.berkshiremuseum.org) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Zenas Crane founded the Berkshire Museum in 1903 with a vision that it would be a "window to the world" for Berkshire County residents. The area's only museum dedicated to art, science, and natural history it serves 90,000 visitors each year and 15,000 school children. Programming for families includes theater, camps, clubs, outings, crafts, and educational activities. Programming for adults includes concerts, lectures, films, and an incredible wine auction.

John Gorka appeared in the "Originals in Song" concert series. He has been singing his songs of quiet reflection on humanity since the '80s Folk boom and has become a popular player in Folk music circles since. He got his start performing while he was at college at the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania Folk club, Godfrey Daniels. He sang at open mic nights and later led the band Razzy Dazzy Spasm. Upon suggestion from Nanci Griffith, Gorka entered a contest to play at the 1984 Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas in which he won the New Folk Award and was his first big break. The award gave a boost to his visibility and confidence. Gorka's singing and songwriting abilities reached new ears and attracted increased critical attention.

Gorka began the evening's performance with the tender "When She Kisses Me," the video of which was voted Best Independent video by CMT (Country Music Television) cable channel in the '80s. His winning songwriting formula explores themes of human interdependence with a gifted knowledge of human relations. "I'm From New Jersey," with its simplistic statement "we don't expect much," set the tone for a revelation of who he really is ... a rather shy individual who makes music that does make a difference. Gorka touches people with his songs that gain a foothold in their collective consciousness that can cut across many barriers. His music has become his vehicle by which he communicates to our grieving world. His gentle Folk-Pop grooves and warm resonant baritone vocal combined to make for an easy listening experience close to heaven's gate. The sensitivity of the title cut of his second CD from 1990, "Land of the Bottom Line," was stirring. For many years he has been allied with Red House Records, Windham Hill and it's subsidiary Hill St. Records. On the Red House label he shares the roster with contemporaries Greg Brown and Lucy Kaplansky. Kaplansky and he often are guest vocalists on each other's CDs and sing duets together at prestigious Folk gatherings such as Falcon Ridge Folk Festival in rural Hillsdale, New York.

With acoustic guitar and a mellow voice he sings out vivid portrayals of the intertwining lives of common and uncommon people with acute observation. Sometimes, the drama includes his own dilemmas shared in song stories that enlighten the human condition. His moving "Let Them In" on piano was a heartfelt tale of youth cut short by war loss that brought tears. He isn't all about harsh experiences of broken hearts or broken men. He can be as sincere as Jim Croce, feel pain as deep as Tim Hardin, or express hope and humor similar to Arlo Guthrie. His optimism was conveyed in "Good Noise," from his 1994 CD Out of the Valley, which asks "what are doing here, if not to make a good noise?" He performed the title cut to his first CD from 1987, "I Know," to audience acclaim. I Know was awarded the Best Contemporary Folk Album by the Philadelphia Music Foundation in 1989. His humor touched on the relational to the opposite sex with "I Saw A Stranger With Your Hair" and the line, "I wanted to cut it off"; his son on "When He Cries" as "He Looks like Charles Bronson," and to each other on "People My Age," which "are starting to look ugly." His humor became increasingly pervasive.

The second half of Gorka's performance began earnestly with the vibrant flourish of Folk conscience of "Branching Out" with gentle Rock underpinnings. In his unique way, with a catalog of new songs, he is making an impact on carrying out the legacy of those forbearers of Folk ... Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger,and Bob Dylan. "Dogs And Thunder," from his latest CD Old Future's Gone, burned with a special flame of Folk roots and Pop flavor. Even though Gorka was tagged in 1991 by Rolling Stone with the pre-eminent male singer-songwriter of the New Folk movement, he continues the low-key approach of song-driven and touring-based formula of playing small Folk clubs 150 nights a year, which has earned him his 21st century troubadour reputation. With slow, steady growth he has earned himself a loyal fan base.

His insightful mix of serious topical and humorous lyrics are able to unite diverse bodies of people. Curious songs with clever wordplay such as "Oh Abraham," "Night is a Woman," and "St. Caffeine" were performed tokens to such talent. He is a veteran of many live performances and an outspoken songwriter... "On the Road of Good Intentions." Gorka has carefully studied his favorite performers searching for the secret of a good stage presence ... one that entertains with poignancy, humor, and the serious.

His closer for this evening was Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready," which spurred an audience sing-a-long. He encored with his introspective, "Love is Our Cross to Bear." Upcoming concerts at the Berkshire Museum include famous Bluesman John Hammond on March 18 and legendary Folk artist Tom Paxton on April 8.

Eric Sutter is a contributing editor at FolkWax. Eric may be contacted at folkwax@visnat.com.