When John Gorka sings about the challenge of love or wanting to grow up to be a tree, the listener doesn't dare become distracted. To lose attention - even for a moment - could mean missing a cleverly turned phrase or the essence of a poignant or funny story.
During his performance Saturday night under the Snowbird pavilion, Gorka proved he is a masterful storyteller with the added gift of a remarkable baritone voice. His music resonates, like poetry, reaching out to grab the hearts of his fans who listen to Gorka put complex emotions into compelling verses.He is so good at word-sculpting, at the end of his performance, I wished ushers would distribute booklets with Gorka's insightful lyrics printed in them. I'd use this book for those too-frequent times when I can't find the right words to explain things. For instance, in a song that Gorka told the audience he wrote for a friend "going through harder times than he deserved," Gorka sings that love is never easy; it's almost always out of the way - like a stream running up a mountain.
And, I can imagine borrowing his lyrics: "By the way, how is my heart? I haven't seen it since you left."
The mountain setting was perfect backdrop for Gorka's series of hauntingly poetic ballads. Even though it was a capacity crowd, there was an intimate rapport established between Gorka and the hundreds of fans underneath the tent canvas. A shy man who feels most comfortable when singing his music, Gorka comfortably teased the audience that seemed to be putty in his hands. After almost any word he'd mutter, some fan would shout, "All right!"
When he performed solo, the clarity and sheer power of his voice were stirring. And when bassist Michael Manring (who accompanied him on his "Jack's Crows" album) joined him on stage, the sound was riveting.
Gorka especially pleased the audience with several encore songs. He tried out a song he hadn't polished yet - "Gravy Land" - about enjoying a life of unexpected success.
Charmingly self-effacing, Gorka said his life has exceeded his dreams.
"When you expect disappointment and it doesn't come, you have to change your attitude," Gorka explained, with a smile.
The concert was an appealing blend of folk, jazz and New Age music with Windham Hill founder William Ackerman displaying his diversified talents on the acoustic guitar and bassist Manring performing magic by playing two guitars at the same time.
In response to persistent standing ovations by the crowd, the three Windham Hill artists promised to return to Utah next year. (Better get your tickets early.)