Gorka covets attentive audiences like those at Anchor Coffee House

By Michael Swanger scenescribe@mchsi.com
for Cityview Magazine Central Iowa Independent weekly

The idea of churches hosting folk music concerts is only two decades old in Des Moines, but it is nothing new to veteran musician John Gorka who performs Saturday, Dec. 11 at the Anchor Coffee House inside Westminster Presbyterian Church in Des Moines.

“It’s the kind of place I started out in, so it seems natural to me. It’s part of my world,” said Gorka, who has been singing with a rich

baritone voice and playing guitar for 37 years with 13 albums to his credit and who Rolling Stone magazine calls “the preeminent male singer-songwriter of the new folk movement.”

Though Gorka often headlines folk music festivals, theaters and halls, he said that he still enjoys playing smaller rooms like Anchor Coffee House because they attract good listening audiences.

“They’re very good places to play. You don’t have to fight for the audience’s attention. They’re the kind of place where if I make that connection early on in the show, then things happen that you can’t really predict, and those are some of the best nights,” he said.

The timing of Gorka’s Des Moines concert is advantageous for the organizers of Anchor Coffee House, now in its ninth year. Not only is Gorka a marquee name in the folk music world, but for several months his new supergroup Red Horse, which includes Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson, has topped the folk charts at Billboard, Amazon and iTunes with the release of its debut, self-titled album for the venerable Red House Records.

“Getting him was a big step up for us. We live and die by ticket sales at the door, and this one has the potential to be a money maker or breaker,” said Joel Kinser, the Des Moines folk musician who helped to create the Anchor Coffee House concert series and continues to lead it.

“It’s fun to have a new thing at age 52,” said Gorka of his collaboration with label mates Kaplansky and Gilkyson, which was inspired by shows they performed during Red House’s 25th anniversary tour. “We laugh a whole lot onstage and off and that’s not hard to take. It’s a good blend of voices and personalities.I think we bring out things in each other that aren’t as evident in our solo shows.”

Red Horse has only performed a handful of shows to date, but Gorka said that the response from audiences and critics has been overwhelmingly positive.

“We’ll do it as much as we can for as long as we’re having fun doing it,” said Gorka, who lives in Stillwater, Minn.

When Gorka performs in Des Moines, fans can expect to hear a variety of songs from his extensive songbook as well as those from the “Red Horse” album. Over the years, his peers like Mary Chapin Carpenter and Maura O’Connell have covered his songs and his video for the single “When She Kisses Me” was in extensive rotation on VH-1’s “Current Country,” as well on CMT and the Nashville Network. He has also played “Austin City Limits” and appeared on several other national music programs.

“I hardly ever just play the latest songs I’ve written,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I don’t have a strict set list, so it can change as the night progresses.”

Though the Anchor Coffee House is a secular concert series, Gorka said that he is mindful of the environments in which he performs, adding that he sometimes alters his set list when playing churches.

“It is a consideration, that you’re in a place that people regard as sacred,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gorka said that he is also working on new material for a forthcoming album. He said the process of working with Red Horse has inspired him as a songwriter.

“It’s fun to work with other songwriters,” he said. “So we’ll see what comes out of that.” CV

caption: John Gorka performs Saturday, Dec. 11 2010 at 7 p.m. at the Anchor Coffee House located at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 4114 Allison Ave. Tickets are $18 in advance or $20 at the door. Call 274-1534.


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