Folk music has this image problem. That it's just for certain kinds of folks. Old folks.
Singer-songwriter John Gorka understandably rejects that perception, but says he can live with it.
"Older people need music too," says Gorka, 51. "A lot of my audience is older. I'm older, too. A lot of good young people are doing folk, so the future of the music itself will be fine."
Gorka, who plays tonight at Southgate House, acquired his folk passion as a Jersey boy studying history and philosophy at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pa. He began hanging out at Godfrey Daniels, a thriving folk coffeehouse in Bethlehem, where he worked as an emcee and honed his guitar skills while warming up for touring musicians that included Tom Paxton, Stan Rogers and Eric Anderson.
By the 1990s, Gorka was hailed by Rolling Stone as "the pre-eminent male singer/songwriter of the new folk movement."
" 'New folk' is probably a marketing term," Gorka says. "People shy away from the 'folk' word. I think that's why I got the quote in Rolling Stone. At the time there was a revival of acoustic singer-songwriters. I didn't run from the words 'folk singer.' What I'm part of is a continuation of an older story. It's music that finds a useful place in people's lives, something more than entertainment.
"After 9/11, I listened to an old interview with Bob Marley. They asked if he thought his music was entertainment. He said you can't entertain people who are hungry, who are afraid. My audience is a lot better off economically than his (was), but the goal is the same: to make music that helps people, songs for when people find themselves in a rough place."
His appearance at Southgate House is part of his "So Dark You See" tour of some 40 shows.
About the title, Gorka says, "It can mean a number of things. 'It's so dark you can see the stars,' that's one meaning. But it also can mean that you have to hit bottom before you realize who you are.
"Every song I write is an act of hope, even if it's about the darker side."