--- Before I go too far, I should point out that tamnonlinear posted quite a comprehensive review, complete with a play list and her personal responses to the individual songs (so it's a locked post, sorry). And now back to the show. ---
So, what did I think of Mr. Gorka? I think he's a shy, quiet man whose muse is so strong that it pushes him in front of the microphone. He has a down-home, aw-shucks presentation ("I'm From New Jersey") that is entirely genuine. In fact, some of his mannerisms are so awkward that I asked tamnonlinear during intermission if he had overcome a bad stutter when he was younger. No, he's just shy. He is a good lyricist and has excellent musical versatility that was demonstrated in his switch from guitar to piano, and in his use of different strumming techniques while playing his guitar.
John Gorka's phrasing and his songs continually touched on the idea that he's a little slow ("Like My Watch"). And he sang about how he would really like to be a tree when he grows up ("Branching Out") in a way that made me flash to Eddie from Ohio's recent song "Fly." He mentioned on stage that he is married, and I can can tell that his life hasn't been all roses. He definitely knows something about love and loss ("If I Could Forget to Breathe" and "Love is Our Cross to Bear"). He also articulated some of the odder parts of growing up and growing old ("People My Age").
Part of John Gorka's skill as a folk artist is his capture of all kinds of different little thoughts that aren't always savored. He sang one [obligatory?*] song about the Iraq fighting ("Writing in the Margins") from the point of view of an overworked logistics officer trying to get a moment to say hello. Gorka also sang an older, whimsical song about the Mobil brand horse symbol picking up and running away ("Flying Red Horse") and eventually choosing to belong with a flock of birds rather than down among the gas pumps. He also sang a thoughtful song about the guy who doesn't go out in a blaze of glory ("Pancho and Lefty"), which left me pondering the different angles of perspective of mercy, kindness, and historical indifference.
A fascinating benefit of last night was watching the two sign interpreters present the physical interpretation of the lyrics. While ASL is based on English, there is not always a 1:1 correlation between words and signs. It is fun to watch someone change a verbal interpretation into a physical one. For the thoughtful person, try acting out the phrase "a wonder that is wise." For the silly person, try something more active like "The sight of a horse crossing highways is frightening/But not with the breed that can fly." The more incredible part is what I learned when I went to talk to the interpreters during intermission: those ladies were doing the entire translation cold. They were hired on Wednesday for Thursday's performance. Ta-Da!
The audience certainly wasn't a sell-out crowd, and was generally overmiddle-aged. But what it lacked in quantity it certainly made up in quality. The audience treated both the opening act -- Amelia Spicer -- and John Gorka like family. No, really. When the performers said something interesting or evocative to the audience, the audience members would shout back their responses. And when Ms. Spicer sang a long chorus and then said "now in a round," some brave souls on the left side of the aisle did just that. So we sang the chorus in a two part round for a couple of refrains. Both Spicer and Gorka paused at times to watch the sign interpreters and comment on their work. Early on, Gorka did was I was told was a very common thing for him: he said he didn't know what to play next, thereby evoking shouted suggestions from the veteran listeners. It was that kind of a performance. It was all so very comfortable.
Being the responsible little acting-PM that I am, I ran for the door as the applause-to-invoke-the-encore started. While I'm sorry I didn't stay to wrap up the evening in a leisurely fashion, I'm not so sorry. Mr. Gorka is obviously shy enough that missing one more "First time listener; I'm now a fan!" person probably won't hurt his ego at all. And I met my last goal of the evening by getting to bed by midnight.
*The one part of the evening that made me slightly uncomfortable was when he started talking about the Iraq soldier who inspired "Writing in the Margins." I started mentally squirming and mentally crossing my fingers that the evening wouldn't turn political/war-focused. I deal with that all day, and I had been hoping for some personalized escapism. I also realize that folk music often is focused on anti-war or anti-industrial efforts. But the song turned out to be mostly personal-focused with a few prickly points. And then the evening wandered on to another topic. whew.