Concert review

By Spotlight Central

Spotlight Central is in the house at South Orange Performing Arts Center for Peter Paul & Mary's PETER YARROW Live! with Jersey native, JOHN GORKA! Story by Spotlight Central with photos by Love Imagery!

“Don’t Let the Light Go Out” Folk legends Peter Yarrow & John Gorka Live! originally published: 2016-02-28

Photo: Love Imagery

Folk music in the Garden State took center stage at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC) on February 26, 2016, with a live double-bill performance by Peter Paul & Mary’s Peter Yarrow and contemporary folk artist, John Gorka.

Gorka, 58, a world-renowned singer-songwriter, originally from Colonia, New Jersey, opened the show and warmed the crowd with his thoughtful songs, amusing stories, and inviting vocals.

Introducing himself to those in attendance who were unfamiliar with his music with a live rendition of his humorous, “I’m From New Jersey,” Gorka invited the sold out hometown crowd to sing along, true to the tradition of folk music.

Whether eliciting a chuckle with lyrics like “New Jersey people, they will surprise you/’Cause they’re not expected to do too much/They will try harder, they may go further/’Cause they never think that they are good enough,” or singing about falling in love with all of his Italian friend’s girl cousins in “Italian Girls,” Gorka’s music made the audience—to borrow another of his lyrics—“smile out loud.” .

Additionally, Gorka’s introspective lyrics encouraged the audience to see aspects of their own lives reflected in his contemporary folk imagery.

For instance, his brilliant “Outnumbered” encourages the listener to discover the ageless message of ‘til death do us part’ as expressed in the lyric, “I will love one, ’til you outnumber me/You are the one, ‘til you outnumber me.”

Through good times and bad, the life of a folk musician like Gorka is not always easy, but it is the stories of that life’s journey — ever-changing, yet staying on course; sharing one’s soul through the music created by that very soul — that draws an audience in to listen and understand.

Judging by the enthusiastic response of the sold out house at SOPAC this chilly February evening, it was clear the people listened and understood John Gorka.

Photo: Love Imagery

Comfortable in the relaxed, intimate atmosphere of SOPAC, the audience also had the pleasure of listening to legendary folk artist and activist Peter Yarrow, 77, as he shared with them a lifetime’s worth of songs and stories.

And Yarrow did not disappoint, performing such favorite Peter Paul & Mary classics as “Music Speaks Louder Than Words,” “Don’t Laugh At Me,” “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “Stewball,” and “500 Miles."

Throughout the evening, the master folk artist coaxed the audience to come together and make their voices as one, creating, as Yarrow explained, “something that cannot be extinguished by the lunacy around us.” (According to Yarrow, it is this sense of community that folk music creates which keeps him “going” even in this time of “non-reality reality.”) Yarrow believes the secret to singing is listening?—?listening to other people’s voices and then joining in with your own so you can become a part of the whole.

In addition to community singing, the two-hour set by Yarrow was peppered with poignant reflections of yesterday and often-humorous commentary on events of today both via revealing personal stories and through the timeless lyrics of folk songs.

As Yarrow went on to explain, “Folk music wasn’t written for ‘bucks.’” Rather, he revealed, each song is “written with an intended message” - poetry set to a melody “that is singable and which touches the listener”; poetry that can be “timeless and reinterpreted in new ways” as the years go by.

And, yes, the ‘the times,’ they still ‘are a-changin,’ but the songs Yarrow brought to the SOPAC stage, several with Gorka’s help - like Dylan’s “Blowing In the Wind,” Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer,” and Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” - resonated with the crowd to the point where it left them standing on their feet, despite being written a half-century ago.


Furthermore, after the performance, this night of classic songs kept at least some members of the audience thinking about the overarching message of the evening, inspired by both of these intrepid troubadours: Keep the art form of folk music alive! Keep each new generation singing?—?empowering them with timeless folk songs so their voices can be heard, creating a light in the dark, and perhaps finding the answer to the question which each generation finds itself faced with, as voiced by Yarrow: “How are we going to get out of this mess?”

But, perhaps, Mr. Yarrow also provided an answer to this enduring question via his own original contribution to the folk tradition, “Light One Candle,” when, at SOPAC, his familiar tenor intoned, “Don’t let the light go out…let it shine through our love and our tears.”

For more on John Gorka’s music, go to, and for more on Peter Yarrow’s upcoming live concerts, see For additional information on SOPAC



Photo: Love Imagery

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