John Gorka happy
to stay out of the mainstream

Review By Bob Karlovits,
Wednesday, February 29, 2012

About the writer Bob Karlovits is a Pittsburgh
Tribune-Review staff writer and can be reached
at 412-320-7852 or via e-mail:

John Gorka
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday March 1, 2012
Admission: Sold out
Where: Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Shadyside
Details: 412-394-3353 or

John Gorka seems comfortable with the belief he "won't ever have it made.

" The singer-songwriter-multi-instumentalist says he realized long ago if he had any commercial success "it would be a fluke," so he has kept focused at creating his own distinctive brand of music.

In the nearly 25 years since his first album, Gorka has maintained a following that might not fill stadium concerts, but will turn out with enough enthusiasm to quickly sell out shows such as Thursday evening's at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts in Shadyside for Calliope, Pittsburgh's Folk Music Society.

"I realized I am not mainstream," he says, "and I figured if I keep doing what I do, the people who get it would react stronger than the people who don't."

That non-mainstream sound seems to have worked well, both in this country and in Europe, where he performed recently in concerts met with a success that surprises and pleases him. He says that kind of reaction convinces him he is correct at "doing what I do."

What he does is create songs that easily fall into a "noveau folk" category. After all, in 1984, three years before his first album, he won the New Folk award at a Texas music festival. Since then, he has put together songs that tell stories of dealing with life, heartache and joy. They are songs that are political not in a red- or blue-state fashion, but in the way they look at what has become of this society.

They are songs that tell their stories in purely American ways. They deal with growing up in New Jersey. Or of watching rolling farmland turn into suburbs. Or of his father's decision to go to the Marines rather than work in Pennsylvania's mines.

But he says those stories seem to translate well in Europe. He believes that comprehension comes from the "sound of the voice" and the music. He says he also has been impressed at the way European audiences seem to pay attention to the lyrics and understand what is happening in the songs.

Of course, globalization seems to have made Europeans aware of "American goings-on quite a bit," so, he thinks it makes sense they would understand his music.

Telling those stories demands the ability to write convincing and compelling lyrics, which would hint at some mastery of poetic skills. Gorka is appreciative of comments about his lyrics but backs away from being considered a poet.

"I've always admired poets who can do everything with words alone," he says. "Or instrumentalists who can do that with music. I help things along by using music to back up the words.