Cheryl Wheeler has to be seen to be appreciated. Nothing you read and nothing you hear from her albums prepares you for how entertaining a performer she is. If you’re not already familiar with Cheryl, you have probably heard her music. She is very respected as a songwriter by her peers, which can be seen by how many of them record her songs. Cheryl’s songs have been covered by artists as diverse as Dan Seals, Peter Paul & Mary, Kenny Loggins, Garth Brooks, Suzy Bogguss, Melanie, Bette Midler, Maura O’Connell,
Sylvia, Kathy Mattea, and Holly Near.
From her albums, you can tell that she is a gifted songwriter with a beautiful voice. From other people’s comments about her you learn that she is a natural storyteller with a fantastic sense of humor. But until you see her in person, you never really believe what you’ve been told about her. Interestingly enough, almost half of the songs she performs during her shows have never been recorded!
Cheryl’s first concert was to a captive audience. She found an old toy ukelele in a neighbor’s attic and serenaded her mother who was taking a bath at the time. A year later she got a real ukelele, followed by her first guitar. She learned guitar from a neighbor, who also taught a group of boys. Each week they would get together and play just about any song they could think
of for hours on end. Her first public performance was at a Hootenanny when she was 12. She started writing her own songs when she was 17.
Cheryl has never had a “day job,” and her first professional gigs were at the Steak and Ale Restaurant in her home town of Timonium, Maryland. The place only had one PA system; in the middle of her songs, you would hear: “Jones, party of four … Jones, party of four.” She finally convinced them to get a second PA system.
She performed at venues around Baltimore and Washington DC before moving to New England in 1976, where she now lives. She tours extensively, often performing solo or with Kenny White, who often opens her shows as well. She appeared as part of the On a Winter’s Night tour, and was part of the Philo 25th Anniversary tour.
Her funny stories between songs reveal her talent for diversity. Each time she tells a story, it will be a little bit different, so even if you’ve heard it before, you still find yourself laughing
From New Jersey, John Gorka is a world-renowned singer-songwriter who got his start at a neighborhood coffeehouse in eastern Pennsylvania. Though small, Godfrey Daniels was and is one of the oldest and most venerable music institutions and has long been a hangout for music lovers and aspiring musicians. In the late 1970s, John was one of these aspiring musicians. Although his academic coursework at Moravian College lay in Philosophy and History, music began to offer paramount enticements. Soon he found himself living in the clubs basement and acting as resident MC and sound man, encountering legendary folk troubadours like Canadian singer-songwriter Stan Rogers, Eric Andersen, Tom Paxton and Claudia Schmidt. Their brand of folk-inspired acoustic music inspired him, and before long he was performing his own songs mostly as an opener for visiting acts. Soon he started traveling to New York City, where Jack Hardys legendary Fast Folk circle (a breeding ground for many a major singer-songwriter) became a powerful source of education and encouragement. Folk meccas like Texas Kerrville Folk Festival (where he won the New Folk Award in 1984) and Boston followed, and his stunningly soulful baritone voice and original songwriting began turning heads. Those who had at one time inspired him Suzanne Vega, Bill Morrissey, Nanci Griffith, Christine Lavin, Shawn Colvin had become his peers.
In 1987, the young Minnesota-based Red House Records caught wind of Johns talents and released his first album, I Know, to popular and critical acclaim. With unusual drive and focus, John hit the ground running and, when an offer came from Windham Hills Will Ackerman in 1989, he signed with that labels imprint, High Street Records. He proceeded to record five albums with High Street over the next seven years: Land of the Bottom Line, Jacks Crows, Temporary Road, Out of the Valley and Between Five and Seven. His albums and his touring (over 150 nights a year at times) brought new accolades for his craft. His rich multifaceted songs full of depth, beauty and emotion gained increasing attention from critics and audiences across the country, as well as in Europe where his tours led him through Italy, Belgium, Scotland, Ireland, Holland, Switzerland and Germany. He also started sharing tours with many notable friends Nanci Griffith and Mary Chapin Carpenter among them. All this brought his music to an ever-widening audience. His video for the single When She Kisses Me found a long-term rotation on VH-1s Current Country, as well as on CMT and the Nashville Network.
In 1998, after five successful recordings and seven years at Windham Hill/High Street, John felt the need for a change and decided to return to his musical roots at Red House Records. The choice was driven, in part, by the artistic integrity that the label represents in an industry where the business of music too often takes precedence. The 1998 release After Yesterday marked a decidedly different attitude towards making music for John, and his next release The Company You Keep held fast to his tradition of fine songwriting, yet moved forward down new avenues. Its fourteen songs display Johns creative use of lyrics and attention to detail. Andy Stochansky played drums and shared production credits with John and Rob Genadek. Ani DiFranco, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lucy Kaplansky and Patty Larkin contributed stellar guitar work and vocals to this fan favorite. Old Futures Gone was informed by his life as husband and father of two young children and also contained the colorful experience of many hard years on the road. Writing in the Margins followed in 2006 and was an engaging collection of sweet and serious songs that spanned many musical genre folk, pop, country, and soul and featured guest vocalists Nanci Griffith, Lucy Kaplansky and Alice Peacock. Now with this, his 11th studio album, he returns to his roots with So Dark You See, his most compelling and traditional album to date.
In addition to his 11 critically acclaimed albums, John released a collectors edition box featuring a hi-definition DVD and companion CD called The Gypsy Life. Windham Hill also released a collection of Johns greatest hits from the label called Pure John Gorka. In 2010, he also released an album with his friends and Red House label-mates Lucy Kaplansky and Eliza Gilkyson under the name Red Horse. Getting high praise from critics and fans alike, it landed on the Billboard Folk Charts and was one of the most played albums on folk radio.
Many well-known artists have recorded and/or performed John Gorka songs, including Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nanci Griffith, Mary Black, and Maura OConnell. John has graced the stage of Austin City Limits, Mountain Stage, etown and has appeared on CNN. His new song Where No Monuments Stand is featured in the upcoming documentary Every War Has Two Losers, about activist and Oregon Poet Laureate William Stafford (1914-1993).
John Gorka lives in Minnesota and when not on the road, he enjoys spending time with his wife and children. He continues to tour, playing festivals, theaters, and clubs all over North America and Europe.