By: Josh Daunt
FLINT (WJRT) - (06/23/2016) - "I got goosebumps from those bricks, I love the bricks, I grew up with them," Mark Farner says as he stands on Saginaw Street in front of University of Michigan-Flint's Pavilion looking at his hometown's downtown area. "To me, comin' home I always have to take it in. It's breathin' it in, there's somethin' here, there's a spirit in this city. It's just good people that live here, there's a base of good people here and I feel it every time I come home."
The former Grand Funk Railroad singer and guitarist is back in Flint getting ready to kickoff his summer touring schedule with a show Saturday at Meadow Brook Amphitheater in Rochester Hills. And for this gig he's paired up with rocker George Thorogood, and Mark says he can't wait to hit the stage with his old friend.
"I did a fantasy camp with George, and he's a hoot. He don't take anything too seriously, and I like that."
But even moreso, Farner is looking forward to looking out and seeing a sea of family, friends and longtime fans at the show.
"I get jazzed up when my people are there. When I say, 'Is anybody from Flint out there?' And the people just roar up, I can fly man. Cause I know people are gonna get it. People around here recognize when there's somethin' in the music callin' them. And it's a bit of soul, it's not just the fluff you can go out and dance to, it's like, 'Ooh, that song is sayin' somethin'.'"
Farner's fans have recently been able to hear the messages in his music even clearer, as he's filled in the gaps between electric tours with acoustic shows across the country.
"It's somethin' beyond the loud bashing stuff. But it's more intimate, the songs are there but there's maybe an explanation, maybe a story that goes to that song that people get in the acoustic setting that they wouldn't normally get. Cause you know in a high energy rock setting you wanna keep it rollin', you wanna finish one and start the next one."
On top of a unique fan experience at the acoustic shows, Mark also likes them because they help get him in better vocal shape for the full band gigs.
"These acoustic shows have been helpin' me because there's not any other noise, just that guitar. So you gotta be strong vocally to pull it off, and it's caused me to come up a notch. So when I hit the electric shows it's got a little more edge."
While fans in his hometown have to wait a bit longer to see him acoustic, Mark says after seeing the work beginning on The Capitol Theater, he hopes to come back either by himself or with his band when the renovations are done.
"I wanna open that theater, I wanna do a show there and I wanna rock that place. I love that place, I put a lot of hours into that theater when I was a kid."
Not only does Farner want to play at home again to relive his childhood, but also to help the Flint community as it struggles through the water crisis. But he says he thinks when future generations look back on this time, they'll remember it not as another blow in Flint's decline, but as one of his city's finest hours.
"There's big problems here, and down the road there's even gonna be bigger problems. This has gotta be addressed in a national way. And now that we have hit the spotlight, we should deal with it. The people that are responsible right now should deal with it so the ones behind us get to go, 'Yeah, our parents and grandparents took care of that for us.'"
Pic By Daniel Heburt
Mark Farner is on the phone from his northwestern Michigan home, the day after Memorial Day. It is also two days after a U.S. Army veteran, possibly suffering from PTSD and depression, went on a shooting spree in west Houston that killed one, wounded others and resulted in his own death at the hands of police.
When not preaching the gospel of meat-and-potatoes rock and roll as the ex-lead singer/guitarist/main songwriter of Grand Funk Railroad or the gospel of Jesus Christ as a devout Christian, Farner talks a lot about veterans and veterans' issues, issues he had long been involved with. And he's pissed about what he sees today.
So, if he had a magic wand to do one thing for returning U.S. servicemen and women, what would it be?
"I would welcome them with loving, open arms and have people that are qualified to counsel and minister to these boys and women who have been in this nightmare," he says. "They were programmed to accept war. When you engage in real combat, it's not what they saw on a television, or the movies, or video games. But when a guy sees his best friend in the sand and it's soaking up the blood and he's gone...that's reality."By Bob RuggieroWednesday, June 8, 2016 at 7 a.m.
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