The Red House Records artist plays Muskegon, Lansing and Traverse City this week. After a three-decade-long career, he says he enjoys performing ‘as much if not more’ than ever. See ticket, show details.

Bright side of Down

Internationally renowned Red House Records artist John Gorka insists “the people, the music and the stories were things that made me want be part of this music world” and they still inspire him after a 30-year career.

“Bright Side of Down” But even as a celebrated veteran of the studio and the road, Gorka never stops seeking ways to improve his musicianship, to change the way he attacks another recording.

“I’ve been trying to pay attention more to my guitar-playing,” the singer-songwriter told Local Spins from his home in St. Paul, Minn. “I’ve always played guitar, but I never considered myself a guitar player. I would like to become more proficient and be able to provide a more complete accompaniment to the songs.”

Consequently, his most recent album, 2014’s “Bright Side of Down,” boasts “uncluttered” arrangements that “keep the focus on the vocal and guitar.” And the songs were recorded “a little bit at a time” at his home and in a Minneapolis recording studio, rather than in a single stretch.


“Instead of trying to get it all done at once and getting all of the pressure on a few days, I wanted it to reflect how I sound when I play live, which is mostly solo,” says the singer, who’s released a dozen solo albums since 1987 as well as a collaborative project with Red Horse, featuring label-mates Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson. (Grand Rapids singer-songwriter Drew Nelson is also on the Red House label.)

“I wanted the arrangements to be built around my vocal and guitar performances (and) I wanted to see if the performances held up for me if I could listen to it over time. Sometimes there would be changes and a verse would bother me, and I’d rewrite it or re-sing it or cut it out. I thought if I could listen to these performances probably more times than anybody else would and if I still liked them, then maybe they would hold up for other people as well.”

The approach paid off: praised “Bright Side of Down” for Gorka’s “attention to the details in his craft – rhyme, musical economy, tight melodies” with songs that should resonate with fans “of modern American folk music.


Playing As Much As He Can: John Gorka is “still learning” after a fruitful and illustrious career.

One thing hasn’t changed: Gorka continues to tour the country year-round, frequently going out “for a few shows grouped around a weekend,” then returning home to his family. “I enjoy playing for people so I try to play as much as I can but not become a stranger at home,” says Gorka, who has a 17-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter.


As part of a weekend swing into Michigan with fellow Minnesota singer-songwriter Trina Hamlin, Gorka plays:

8 p.m. Friday at Ten Pound Fiddle (Unitarian Universalist Church), 855 Grove St., East Lansing (Tickets, $18 adults, $5 students, available online here.)
8 p.m. Saturday at InsideOut Gallery, 229 Garland St., Traverse City (Tickets, $20 in advance, $25 day of show. Details online here or
call 231-929-3254.)

2 p.m. Sunday at The Block, 360 W. Western Ave., Muskegon (Tickets, $20, available at the door or online here.)

“I’ve always enjoyed playing Michigan. I always look forward to coming back,” Gorka says. He notes that while the music business has changed dramatically since he began due to the Internet and restructuring of record labels, live shows are still vital. “I’m grateful I’ve gotten to do this for a long time and it doesn’t seem that long at all. I still enjoy playing as much if not more than I ever did.”


Beyond his travels, Gorka also is re-mixing an album he recorded “with some really good musicians” in Nashville back in 1985 but never released. He hopes to finally release that project in November, 30 years after it was recorded.

Gorka’s enthusiasm for his craft is buoyed by the resurgence of folk, Americana and bluegrass music, with younger musicians and audiences embracing acoustic instrumentation and upfront vocals.

“There’s so much talent in the world. It’s really mind-boggling,” he says. “I feel like I’m seeing evolution right before my eyes. I feel like people are getting better, younger. I’m starting to feel like ‘folk’ is less of a negative word than it used to be. … That’s encouraging and I feel like the music I like best will keep on going."

Copyright 2015, Spins on Music LLC



  John Sinkevics
A veteran journalist and former music writer for The Grand Rapids Press, John Sinkevics is editor and publisher of, profiling regional artists and commenting on West Michigan's music scene. He hosts "Local Spins Live" on News Talk 1340 AM in Grand Rapids at 11 a.m. Wednesdays, and the hour-long "Local Spins on WYCE" at 11 a.m. Fridays on WYCE-FM (88.1), both spotlighting regional artists.

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