Grand Funk Railroad pulls into Delaware State Fair

Members of the classic rock group Grand Funk Railroad, from left, Max Carl, Mel Schacher, Don Brewer, Bruce Kulick and Tim Cashion, help wrap up the final day of the Delaware State Fair on Saturday as they perform as part of the fair’s first Craft Beer Festival. Delaware’s own lower case blues is also on the bill, which will take place at the M&T Grandstand in Harrington. (Submitted photo)

Members of the classic rock group Grand Funk Railroad, from left, Max Carl, Mel Schacher, Don Brewer, Bruce Kulick and Tim Cashion, help wrap up the final day of the Delaware State Fair on Saturday as they perform as part of the fair’s first Craft Beer Festival. Delaware’s own lower case blues is also on the bill, which will take place at the M&T Grandstand in Harrington. (Submitted photo)

HARRINGTON — Despite some bumps along the way, the classic rock sounds of Grand Funk Railroad continue to chug along.

The band’s next stop will be at the Delaware State Fair for the event’s final night as part of the first Craft Beer Festival at the M&T Grandstand.

Opening for Grand Funk will be Delaware favorite lower case blues.

Founded by guitarist and lead singer Mark Farner, drummer Don Brewer and bass player Mel Schacher, Grand Funk Railroad produced a string of hits in the late 1960s and early 1970s such as “We’re An American Band,” “I’m Your Captain/Closer To Home,” “Locomotion” and “Some Kind Of Wonderful.”

Grand Funk has toured the world, selling out in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan and South America. A 1971 performance at New York’s Shea Stadium sold out faster than the Beatles’ legendary concert in 1965.

Reminded that the band started 46 years ago, Mr. Brewer says he can sometimes hardly believe it.

“It always shocks me when I see that in print,” he said last week from his home in Jupiter, Florida, adding nothing special is yet planned for the band’s 50th year.

“We’ll worry about that when it gets here.”

Grand Funk gets out on the road now about 35 to 40 dates a year, which is just fine with Mr. Brewer.

“That’s all we really want to do anymore,” he said.

“No one wants to get on a tour bus and do 100 shows a year. That’s a manager’s dream, of course. But we’re fortunate in that we don’t have a manager so we can do what we want.”

He says he also feels fortunate just getting out there and performing.

“When you start something at 18 or 19 years old, you never dream of still doing it at my age. I just turned 66. And to still get to do what I love to do at my age, that’s just great,” he said.

He still is amazed every time he steps on stage at the array of ages who attend Grand Funk Railroad’s shows.

“You never really think about it until it’s staring you straight in the face,” he said.

“But you look out and see three or four generations. You get a grandfather with his grandson on his shoulders and they are both singing along to the music. It’s an incredible feeling and one that I never would have envisioned all those years ago.”

The band first broke up in 1976 and Mr. Brewer thought his days of singing with Grand Funk were over.

“Disco came in and our stuff wasn’t selling real well and the band just wasn’t getting along,” Mr. Brewer recalled.

“We had a reunion in 1981 and 1982 but that was it. We broke up again in 1983 and I never really thought I’d be doing it ever again.”

But then in the mid-90s, classic rock found a resurgence and Grand Funk Railroad got back on the tracks.

“A lot of classic rock CDs were reissued and there was a real interest in the old bands again,” Mr. Brewer said.

“We did a few test shows in 1996 and the market was there. We’ve been going strong ever since.”
Grand Funk Railroad’s three original members played to 250,000 people in 14 shows during a three-month period that year. In 1997, the band played three sold-out Bosnian benefit concerts, which resulted in a two-disc live CD. The shows featured a full symphony orchestra conducted by Paul Shaffer.

In 1998, Mr. Farner left the band and returned to a solo career.

He has been gone ever since and Mr. Brewer said “there are no immediate plans” for him to rejoin the band.

The group currently is composed of Mr. Brewer and Mr. Schacher along with lead singer Max Carl of 38 Special, lead guitarist Bruce Kulick, who played 12 years with Kiss, and keyboardist Tim Cashion, who has worked with Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band and Robert Palmer.

Mr. Brewer said the combination has worked successfully for 15 years now.

“We all get along and have the same goals. But more importantly we all respect the music,” Mr. Brewer said.

He said Saturday’s audience should expect a “foot-stomping good time” and to hear all of the hits.

“We know that’s what people want and we try to give it to them the best way we know how.”

He said he thinks he knows why folks keep coming back to hear these songs.

“It was honest and true and made us feel good and I think people picked up on that. It wasn’t contrived. It was just straight from the heart,” Mr. Brewer said.

“These days people talk about the production of the song rather than the song itself. I hear very little today that I think will be around 40 years from now the way the stuff that was written 40 years ago is around today.”

One of those songs “We’re an American Band,” released in 1973, was written by Mr. Brewer. He admitted he didn’t think much of the tune once he finished it.

“I never really thought it would become what it is today. I asked everybody in the band, ‘You really like this?’ Here it is all these years later being used in movies and car ads. I just had no idea,” he said of the song that hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts following its release.

Despite great commercial success, Grand Funk Railroad, named for the Grand Trunk Western Railroad, a railroad line that ran through the band’s hometown of Flint, Michigan, was never a real darling of the critics.
Mr. Brewer said that never bothered him much.

“Let’s put it this way. The critics are gone and I’m still here,” he said with a hearty laugh.

Saturday night’s event begins at 6 p.m. with lower case blues.

The three-hour concert and craft beer event will showcase more than 50 craft beers from breweries all across America. Attendees will sample beers on the track of the grandstand along with eating from various food trucks.

General admission tickets are $25 for just the concert and $35 for the concert plus a souvenir cup and five 4-ounce craft beer samples. An additional $10 offers five more samples.

Officials recommend arriving 30 minutes prior to the event as ID checks must be performed. In order to receive your tasting tickets and a 21-plus wristband you must have your printed paper ticket in hand.

Fireworks, originally scheduled for tonight before Little Big Town had to cancel its show, will go off Saturday night to end the festivities.

For more information, visit www.delawarestatefair.com.

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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