DURAND — He’s getting closer to his home.
Mark Farner and his American band will headline the third annual Durand Veterans of Rock ‘n’ Roll benefit concert Aug. 17 at Durand High School’s Roundhouse Stadium.
Proceeds from the concert will be split between two beneficiaries: Durand VFW Post 2272’s Veterans Relief Fund and Durand Union Station.
Farner made the announcement Wednesday afternoon at the train station, alongside his wife Lesia, before a small crowd. As part of the announcement, Farner was named an honorary railroader by 2018 Railroad Person of the Year Jerry Chapman. He also received a key to the city of Durand from Mayor Deb Doyle.
“I’ve always loved the area. I had friends that lived in Durand and, you know, we would come out here back when I was a teenager and play at some of the houses around here where people were getting together and partying,” Farner said. “I’m looking forward to this concert that we’re gonna do, not just because I love to play music, but because the people that come are genuinely going to get supercharged.”
Farner, 70, was born in Burton and grew up in the Flint area. In 1969, he and his band, Grand Funk Railroad, took to the stage at the Atlantic Pop Festival before a crowd of thousands.
“We went from a garage over here on Davison Road to a stage in front of 180,000 people and that was our first gig,” Farner said. “We were supposed to be there, that’s all I can tell you. It was supposed to happen. We didn’t have a record deal at our first concert, the guy couldn’t even say our name. He said ‘Grand Frank something.’ He had three shots at it; we played three days; he didn’t get it right one time.”
The Flint trio went on to top the billboard charts twice with Farner as the frontman, with 1973’s “We’re an American Band” and 1974’s “The Loco-Motion.”
After the band broke up for the first time in 1976, Farner decided to go solo; he has gone on to record “six or seven” studio albums, he said.
Farner’s father was World War II veteran; his mother, of Cherokee descent, welded tanks during the war.
“Their background gives me my heart for whatever I do,” Farner said. “I know that my time is limited here on earth…I think that our stay here should be commemorative and we should do something to make it better. When I’m approached by people for doing this gig that we’re doing here in Durand, it’s for a good cause and it plunks that part of my heart string. I love to be involved, because it’s good. You get good people doing things for the right reason, it’s gonna turn out good.”
The Durand Veterans of Rock ‘n Roll, a group of local community members and musicians committed to serving area veterans, hosted their first benefit in 2017. In the first two years combined, the group has raised nearly $100,000 to benefit area veterans, according the Bob Sager, one of the organizers. The group most notably provided funding for the Veterans’ Memorial Park in downtown Durand.
Sager grew up in Durand, but moved to Florida where he’s resided for about 34 years. He said the event is a great way to connect with people throughout the community, while also supporting a great cause.
Sager’s friend and co-organizer of the event, Greg Martin, happened to meet Farner’s wife Lesia at one of Farner’s concerts. He told her about the group and the concert they put on every year, looking to see if Farner could make it.
“Lesia really helped,” Sager said. “She sent an email right away saying, ‘These guys are serious, I think they have the financial backing. They want to do this.’”
Farner, who also advocates for veterans, said people need to recognize the sacrifices that are being made for the country.
“The television is not reporting, it’s not giving accurate figures when it does report, it doesn’t cover each time an airship returns with coffins with flags draped over them, but it should,” Farner said. “Each one of us should know just what war is costing, not in money, not in dollars and cents, but in human life. Until that gets turned around, it’s gonna have to be people like me, like you, like whoever we can get to promote this locally, this is how the people will hear our voices.”
Farner maintains that even after 50 years on stage, performing remains his “fix.”
“I can’t get it any place else. When I walk up on that stage, I’m declaring those four borders there, that’s my country and I’m there to take it to ’em and that’s the way I’ve always looked at it no matter what country I’m in,” Farner said. “When I get on that stage, that’s my country. People give me that, they give me the honor and they give me the respect because they know where my heart is. I’m who my songs say I am.”
“When there seems to be a class war going on, music is fundamental in pulling people together…I have used my talent to write music, to call to people’s hearts, to bring us together. If they get that, then they got it. My band is all the same way, we love what we do. We always pray before we go on, we give the concert to love, because God is love, and when love shows up, s*** is good.”
Farner currently lives in Petoskey with Lesia, his wife of 41 years. He said he is looking forward to seeing a lot of familiar faces August 17.
“I know a lot of my friends will be here from around, when I say this whole area I’m talking a 60-mile radius,” Farner said. “There’s going to be all kinds of people here. It’s gonna be a lot of Michiganders coming together to have some fun, coming together to party, to get together and be behind this cause, being a part of something that’s very positive. It’s gonna leave people with a good taste in their mouth, and they’ll be going ‘I can’t wait until next year.’”