Rhythm and Roots Concert Series
Welcome to folk singer John Gorka’s quirky world
Contemporary of Mary Chapin Carpenter & Nanci Griffith to play Sat. in Tucson
In a YouTube video of “I’m From New Jersey,” folk singer John Gorka introduces himself to a live audience “who may not know what I do, who may have been dragged here against their will – which I really encourage.”
- I’m from New Jersey. I don’t expect too much.
- If the world ended today, I would adjust.
Welcome to Gorka’s quirky world. It’s a place of dour wit, leavened by beautifully crafted love songs and narratives of interesting people along the way.
On the phone from his home in Minneapolis where he has lived since 1996, raising his family, Gorka says his concerts are very in the moment, sometimes veering off with requests.
“I try to be flexible and not have too rigid a program,” he explains, “because some audience person might have a better idea of what song to do next than I do.”
Defining contemporary folk
A contemporary of Mary Chapin Carpenter, Kathy Mattea, and Nanci Griffith, Gorka has been well-respected on the folk circuit since winning the Kerrville Folk Festival’s New Folk Award in 1984. Before that, he woodshedded through college, eventually living in the basement of an eastern Pennsylvania coffeehouse he managed. He emerged as a unique, highly skilled singer/songwriter whose lyrics held deep truths. His 11 studio albums and DVD, “The Gypsy Life,” supply him with plenty of material for concerts.
His songs, such as “Land of the Bottom Line,” “Can’t Make Up My Mind” or from his most recent album, “So Dark You See,” the timely “Ignorance and Privilege,” look through a small prism of hope at a dark world where life and love are fragile.
“I’m not a hopeless person,” says Gorka. “I’m pretty hopeful, but I’m not surprised when things go wrong.”
He adds cheerily, “The bright side of pessimism is that either things turn out better than you thought they would, or you were right. I don’t think of that as pessimism. I think of it more as pragmatism.”
He’s happy with his family, including his kids, ages 12 and 14, acknowledging, “They’re the IT people,” in his house.
When they were younger, his children also had a unique perspective of his career.
“They dropped me off at the airport so often” Gorka recalls, “that they once said, ‘Let’s go to the airport and see daddy,’ because they knew I played music and they thought that’s where I played.”
Ever the pragmatist, when asked about living in Minneapolis, he replies, “In terms of traveling, I’m located near a hub so most flights in the U.S. are direct flights.”
Beyond that, you sense Gorka could be equally happy/sad almost anywhere. Asked for the silver lining to life in the Snow Belt, he replies, “I’ve learned to appreciate springtime in ways I never did before.”
Getting better at his craft
His songwriting, always well-crafted, has matured over the years,
“I used to think of the future as next week or next month, he says. “But now, having a family, you have to think of the larger picture. My perspective has changed over time. Some things become more important and some things become less important as time goes by. You realize that time is pretty precious, so I try not to waste that.”
He talks about moving the center of gravity outside of one’s self. “It’s more important that other people see themselves in the songs than any idea that my life is all that special,” he explains.
In 2010, Gorka, Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson banded together for a project they titled "Red Horse" on Red House Records.
Recently, he’s begun going into the recording studio one day a week, testing out material for a new album.
“I have a song called ‘When the Other Shoe Drops’ that I just recorded for an upcoming project,” he notes. “It’s like, ‘Okay, there it is’ (and you can hear him smile over the phone) – a little balance has been restored.”