Folkie John Gorka headlines an intimate evening at the Women’s Club
On an April evening that had the feel of summer, John Gorka exhibited a pleasingly balanced combination of wit, sensitivity, guitar playing and lyrics last Saturday night at the Chico Women’s Club.
Gorka sang out with his rich, soulful Gordon Lightfoot-reminiscent voice and accompanied himself with compelling work on piano and acoustic guitar. Often strumming in double-time, Gorka and his insightful songs covered humor, relationships, settling down with a family, and calls for worldwide nonviolence. His views of the world hit home with and delighted the well-mannered, 30- to 60-year-old folkie crowd.
The charismatic minstrel made everyone in the room conformable from the outset, including those not previously privy to his work. Gorka’s between-song banter, which oft-times amused even him to the point of laughter, made the show particularly enjoyable.
Frequently running his hands through his bushy brown hair like a mad scientist, Gorka introduced his anecdotes in a charmingly shy and modest manner. Among his comments, “I can say I never sold out, but that’s a slogan of the poor” and “I got a chance to go for a walk in Chico today. It was my first time in shorts this year. They put out a white-leg alert.”
Gorka began with “Like My Watch,” from his first album, I Know. A delight for old fans and a good icebreaker for Gorka neophytes, the song, with its plays on words, provided a good Gorka snapshot. “Like my watch, I’m a little slow; and I don’t always go when I supposed to; I’ll take my time and still change my mind; and I’ll stop if you drop me.”
Another tune, “I’m from New Jersey,” an outsider’s view of his home state, had the crowd in stitches.
With Alice Peacock joining him on-stage for some excellent harmonies, he let the audience choose the theme for the next song. With the guidelines set, the duet launched into “Branching Out,” a fanciful tale about growing up to become a tree, where Gorka could make his home with the birds, the bees and the squirrels.
He closed his first set with a poke at middle age, “People My Age.” With lyrics like “People my age are showing some wear, there’s holes where their teeth was and their heads have gone bare,” Gorka said, “I have to be careful not to make eye contact with people during this song.”
He sat at the piano for a few numbers, including “Let Them In” and “A Saint’s Complaint,” ballads from his current CD, The Company You Keep. Other Gorka songs included “Cypress Trees,” “The Flying Red Horse” and one that he said was inspired by recent world events, “War Makes War.”
Peacock opened the show with a 30-minute set. Gorka and Peacock later performed several songs as a duet, including the emotional “What Was That?” and “Blue Chalk.”
Gorka often referred to Peacock as “a rising star.” While the accuracy of that tag remains to be seen, she was indeed a standout performer with a voice reminiscent at times of Shawn Colvin or a mature Alanis Morissette.
Offering no pyrotechnics or flashy stage shows, she won the crowd over the old-fashioned way—with well-crafted songs and more than serviceable piano and guitar work. Though the Minnesota native has only one CD under her belt, Real Day, a new album is expected in August.
The evening ended with Gorka and Peacock performing a heartfelt version of Curtis Mayfield’s timeless inspirational, "People Get Ready."