FLEMINGTON, NJ - Flashback to 1987: I went to see legendary folk singer Tom Paxton at the SpeakEasy on MacDougal Street in Greenwich Village. When the MC voice-over welcomed everyone and introduced the ‘opening act’, I winced: After-all, I was there to see Paxton, and my ADD just did not give me the patience to sit through some wannabe folk singer ‘warming up’ the crowd.
And then John Gorka hit the stage.
For 30 minutes I was mesmerized by his melodic voice, his poetic ballads, and snarky sense of humor. I was hooked. And wanted more.
Flash forward to 2020, and to Stangl Stage in Flemington, John Gorka.
A bit older now (61), with two kids in college. And touring more than 100 dates a year. And he’s not missed a step —-same snarky sense of humor, but with a Baby Boomer crowd singing along, calling out their favorites for John to sing. “Love is Our Cross to Bear”. “People My Age”. And, of course, his signature Garden State-themed snarky song, “I’m From New Jersey”:
"I'm from New Jersey
I don't expect too much
If the world ended today
I would adjust."
You were born in New Jersey?
"Yeah, I was born in the Colonia section of Woodbridge, I attended Colonia High School. I started playing the banjo, and began performing in a folk music group in college."
Who are the artists who inspired you to write songs?
"People whose records I bought and people I got to see at Godfrey Daniels coffee house. My main place of inspiration – Steve Goodman, John Prine, all the singers songwriters whose names begin with the letter J. Jackson Browne, Judi Collins, Johnny Mitchell, they go on and on."
You’ve mentioned that you started at Godfrey Daniels in Bethlehem, PA---
"I started out as a volunteer and became the house opening act for people like Stan Rogers, Jack Hardy-- was a very much encouraging person to me when I needed encouragement the most."
Your best songs seem to tell a story--
"My wife likes the story songs. Each one is its own thing. I try to get out of the way sometimes they’re more narrative. Other times impressions or images and less of a story but I try to get the sound of the feeling into the song with whatever that however best I can do that."
Who are some of the artists that you find inspirational to listen to today?
"Anaïs Mitchell. Her show Hadestown won several Tonys last year. She is someone I thought of as the future. My perspective has changed-my early songs were kind of young men’s songs. Becoming a dad --I have two kids and they're both in college now. I am one of the lucky ones--people keep coming to the shows."
Please enjoy this TAPinto Flemington Raritan Podcast - Legendary John Gorka Hits Stage in Flemington: