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Thursday, March 18, 2010

Can I Get a Witness?

This is a continuation of my post from yesterday.

           Once, when I was touring the country with a traveling stage show, I was backstage talking with the custodian at a school where we were performing.  He was telling me about some of the various entertainers who had performed there in the past and about some of their behavior.   According to this custodian's words, the worst groups that came to play in this auditorium had been the southern gospel groups.  He said that they behaved awfully and left all sorts of trash including many beer cans behind.

        I can't vouch for the veracity of this man's story and his motives for telling it.  This is just what he related to me.  He didn't say how many of these groups came in and did this or if it had only been just one.  The point I'd like to make is all of us are judged by others, especially in our professional lives.  If this story was true, then the people on whom the story was being told are responsible for having set a very bad example before this one man who probably told this story over and over.  I'm sure I'm not the only one to whom the story had been told.

        When I signed the contracts with the agency that represented Greg X. Volz and Mark Farner, I was doing so on good faith.  Their music was very good--I knew this because I had followed both artists and owned many recordings from each of them.  But I had no inkling of what they were like as people.  I was very pleased with the relationship that I had with the agency so far and because the bands were close by and had open dates, I was given what I thought was a very reasonable price for the bands. I had every reason to expect a high degree of professionalism.

         Greg X. Volz is a vocalist with an incredible range.  As front man for the group Petra he helped the group develop a strong fan base and achieve a high degree of popularity.  In the few years since he had left Petra he had released two acclaimed albums.

          Mark Farner was a rock and roll legend having been the singer-guitarist for the mega-group Grand Funk Railroad.  This group had sold millions of albums and had performed in huge concert venues. Even in his career as a solo Christian artist he could be considered a star.   I had been a big fan back in the early 70s and was now somewhat awestruck that he was going to be headlining a concert that I was producing and I would be meeting him in person.

           The night before the concert I was to meet Mark Farner and his band at the Holiday Inn at the World's Fair Site in Knoxville. Providing hotel accommodations was my responsibility.  Due to my limited budget, this was the best I could afford and though certainly not the best place in town, it was not too bad. Near dusk I was waiting in the parking lot of the hotel and as scheduled a fancy tour bus rolled up.  I got out of my van and went to the door of the bus.  A man stepped out and identified himself as Mark Farner's manager.   He said he would introduce me to Mark.

         The man who stepped out of the bus was exactly the way I might have pictured Mark Farner nearly twenty years after his famed Grand Funk days.  He had a quiet, peaceful demeanor.  His smooth, straight sandy hair cascaded below his shoulders and he was wearing a fringed leather jacket.  He graciously introduced himself and then told me he had not been feeling well and could I take him to a drug store.  After giving the road manager hotel keys so that they could get situated in their rooms, I drove over to a drug store on Cumberland Avenue near the University of Tennessee.  I waited in the parking lot with the van while Mark went inside the store.  During the short errand we made small talk.  He mostly asked me questions about what I did and about my life.  When we returned to the hotel, after checking to see if there was anything else that they needed, he excused himself and told me he would see me the following day at the civic auditorium.

        Then the day arrived--October 10, 1988.  I was first on the scene to make sure the facility was ready. Then time began to pass in a blur as a flurry of preparations took place.  The lighting and sound companies arrived and set up the equipment.  The catering company arrived to set up serving tables for the preconcert meal.  Equipment was unloaded and the stage began to take shape for the evening's performance.  I basically just watched with the awareness that I had done a good job at making the preconcert arrangements.  Now everything was in the hands of the professionals I had hired.

       Greg X Volz came in from Nashville the same day of the concert.  He and his band arrived like clockwork and set up their equipment.  Greg and Mark and their bands ran sound checks and with plenty of time to spare the concert set-up was finished.  The caterers had the food ready and everyone got their suppers.  I found myself alone at a table in one of the backstage rooms with Mark and a young man that I had gotten to help with set up.  Mark led us in a prayer and then the three of us ate.

        During the meal, we chatted and at one point I asked Mark how he could be a Christian and yet much of his tour schedule consisted of playing at rowdy bars.  Mark made reference to the Gospel passages that tell how Jesus went to be among the publicans and the sinners.  He said that he wanted to minister to the people that really needed it and not so much to play in churches.  His mission was to save lost souls.  He knew that he still had a large fan base from the Grand Funk days and many of those fans frequented bars.  If he was there with them, he might have the opportunity to minister to them.  This sounded like a good answer to me.

          The concert itself was fantastic.   Very few tickets were sold at the door--I was losing my shirt on this concert.  But the few hundred in attendance for the most part really enjoyed the evening.  One church group of about twenty did get up in the middle of Volz's opening set because he performed a mesmerizing version of Aerosmith's "Dream On"--they were offended because he had performed a secular song.  Greg's set would have been a great concert in itself.  It was slick and professional.  Then when Mark took the stage he commanded the rest of the evening with the talent that had made Grand Funk such a popular band.  In one way I was wishing that it wasn't my concert and I could just be sitting there enjoying it.  Then on the other hand, I was proud that I had been responsible for putting together such an amazing event.

        Then it was all over.  The audience was gone.  The crews scurried to pack everything away.  I was busy paying people and helping to breakdown the equipment.  In the dim light of one side of the stage I could see Mark Farner gathered with a small group of people.  They were audience members who had accepted Mark's invitation at the end of his set to come up afterward if they wanted to know more about Jesus Christ.  As I worked I would periodically glance over at the small group.  One was a burly guy who looked like a biker who had a hard looking biker chick with him and then there were three more rock and roller long hair types.  Eventually I could see them all on their knees praying.

          Later, I thanked Greg and his band--I had barely had any opportunity to talk to any of them--and they were on their way back to Nashville.  Mark came to me to thank me for everything I had done and I told him what a great concert it had been.  I never gave any indication how much I was hurting inside because of my failure in successfully promoting the concert and because I had lost what to me at the time was a lot of money. We shook hands and he quietly told me that tonight five people had come to Christ.  At that moment I looked in his eyes and saw not a figure from rock and roll history, or an artist I had hired to perform a concert, but a brother in Christ.  Standing before me was an extremely humble and gentle soul who had come to Knoxville to do a job and it was a job well done.

           A couple of weeks later, I received a letter from Mark's agency thanking me and letting me know that they would like to work with me in the future.  Enclosed was a check for a thousand dollars from Mark Farner.  He had been impressed by my attitude.  I had not paid Mark and his band and crew too much more than that to come to Knoxville.  Mark had probably lost money on the venture as well.  But of course there were the five people who came to Christ that night.

I am going to have to apologize for this and hope you will indulge me.  I had not expected this story to run as long as it has and I would like to postpone my piece that was scheduled for tomorrow and finish this story I've been telling.  I hope you will stay with me on this.  It's a good thing I didn't get into detail!  There is so much more I could have told.

Are you a fan of Grand Funk Railroad and Mark Farner?  Have you even heard of them?   What about the Christian rock group Petra?   Greg X Volz?   What was your favorite line-up of Petra--with Volz or a version that came later?  Should entertainers who are Christians perform in places like bars?  What are some of the Christian oriented concerts that you have attended and how did you feel about them?



  1. This is great Lee, what an interesting life you have had.
    I admit being this side of the ocean I have never heard of Mark Farmer but he sounds a fantastic person.

    You mention Tennessee alot in your post, can you enlighten me what Nashville is like as I am seeing Daniel there at the Grand Ole Oprey, along way to come I know but
    to see Daniel at his first appearance at that venue is a must for me.
    Look forward to tomorrow's post.
    Have a lovely day.

  2. That's a cool story. Sorry, don't know much about those bands. Heard a few Grand Funk songs of course and one of their songs is on the soundtrack for Heavy Metal.

  3. Dear Lee,
    Thank you so very much for your well-told story. It brought tears to my eyes, thinking about those five people who came to Christ because Mark was willing to testify to them, and because you were willing to "lose your shirt" to bring him to Knoxville to share his music and testimony with anyone in the crowd. We never know, do we, how one action can bring about change in a person's life. Thanks again. Ruby

  4. Thanks for the follow and comment. I'm returning the favor and can't wait to read up on your blog. :)

  5. What an amazing story! You plant the seeds and God grows the crop.

    Without going into specifics, I needed to hear this story, Lee.

  6. Carrie @

    What a beautiful account of God working through ALL of you! I love to hear true stories like this.

  7. Wow, this is an incredible story--so glad I poppped over here today.

    I love Petra, especaially some of their earlier records.

  8. rLEE-b ~
    I'm really enjoying this story, and I didn't realize you had done so many things in your life. You're an interesting dude, dude.

    >>[Are you a fan of Grand Funk Railroad and Mark Farner? Have you even heard of them?]<<

    Uhm... They "Were An American Band", weren't they? :o)

    "Come on, baby, do The Locomotion with me! - You gotta swing your hips now... Jump up! Jump back!..."

    I had a couple of their albums back in the day.

    Did you ever see the movie "The Spirit Of '76"? It's an ultra-low budget comedy spoof of the '70s starring David Cassidy. Most people would probably hate it, but I love it. Very cheesy but it captured the mid-Seventies better than any other movie or TV show I've seen.

    Anyway, Grand Funk Railroad gets mentioned a couple of times in that movie as if they were a band of gods come down to Earth. Funny stuffs. (The scene involving the Ford Pinto is classic!)

    >>[What about the Christian rock group Petra?]<<

    I've only heard OF them.

    >>[Should entertainers who are Christians perform in places like bars?]<<

    As long as they understand that the "two-drink minimum" applies to them as well.

    ~ Stephen
    <"As a dog returns to his own vomit,
    so a fool repeats his folly."
    ~ Proverbs 26:11>

  9. Yvonne -- I replied to the Tennessee question on your site.

    Alex -- I was reading where some music historians credit Grand Funk to being one of the precursors to heavy metal. They were considered very heavy and loud in their day. Check out their early albums of 3 piece power rock.

    Grammy- thanks for the kind words and encouragement. You never know who you are reaching with the example you set.

    Charity --Thanks for your support and look forward to hearing from you in the future.

    Diane --I hope this story was of benefit to you.

    Carrie & Jeanette -- thank you for stopping by and please do come back.

    Stephen ---Everyone in our era had Grand Funk albums. I'll have to check out the Spirit of 76 movie--sounds like one that I might appreciate.

  10. >>[Everyone in our era had Grand Funk albums.]<<

    Hey, man, don't be sticking me in YOUR era, man! I'm still a young man, man! ;o)

    I had one or two LPs. Definitely had the one with "We're An American Band"; I'll still turn that song up when I hear it played on the radio maybe once every 7 or 8 years.

    >>[I'll have to check out the Spirit of 76 movie--sounds like one that I might appreciate.]<<

    Maybe. It's xtremely silly.

    ~ "Lonesome Dogg" McMe

  11. i surely enjoy your writing style, very unique.
    don't give up and also keep posting because it simply just well worth to follow it,
    looking forward to find out much of your current writing, have a good one ;)

  12. Greetings, Arlee! It is so nice to "meet" you!

    What an interesting post. You are quite a story-teller....the reader really gets "pulled in". Isn't it amazing and beautiful how our wonderful God works?????

    Many blessings!

  13. I loved reading this! I also was a fan of Grand Funk Railroad and my daughter loved Petra. You surely lived an exciting life!

  14. I certainly am acquainted with Grand Funk Railroad. Of course, I am a Tennessean!

  15. Thanks for coming to my blog and leaving a message, I always enjoy meeting new people and getting acquainted with a variety of blogs. I am curious, how did you find mine? So I came to return the visit. I cannot tell you much about Christian music really because I have not listened to it. I do love bluegrass though and living in Georgia I have been to many bluegrass concerts. Some of them have religious/gospel music and they can be quite nice. My taste goes mostly to classical, tangos, French music, jazz, world music (Celtic, Middle East and Asian), bluegrass and folks. I used to listen to a lot of rock when I lived in San Francisco, but the music has changed. I enjoy African music (I mean from Africa, like Zimbabwe, South Africa and the Congo) and also some French rap, which is quite fun. Well, my tastes are pretty eclectic. It looks like you are open minded and like to discuss on a lot of different subjects.

  16. Thank-you anonymous, whoever you might be.

    And a special thanks to new visitors Tracy & Terri and to fellow Tennesean Debbie-- hope you all will continue to visit me here and say hello now and then.


  17. Vagabonde -- found you through the comment you left on the "painted elephants from India" blog -- weren't those something!

    Sounds like your musical tastes run as eclectic as my own. Yes, I enjoy exploring all sorts of topics and I think my blog certainly reflect this. Hope you will return often and engage some discussion. I'll be looking forward to your posts as well.

  18. Wow, what a great anecdote. I agree with Yvonne, your life is absolutely fascinating!

    Thanks for posting about your experiences.

  19. Hi Lee,
    Thanks for this great story and for taking me down memory lane. I remember getting to run a spotlight at the Voltz/Farner show.
    And I do fondly remember the days of the Airport Limo Service. Somewhere it the posts and comments I read about using traditional hymns in a contemporary worship service. I try to do that at every opportunity at TLC. For me it is the message of the song that connects the worshiper to God. The songs may be new but the message is timeless.

  20. hey Lonnie! I was thinking about you when I wrote this. I couldn't absolutely remember if you were there or not--thought you were but couldn't vouch for it. You know how that goes I guess. Can you believe that was over 20 years ago?

  21. Saw Greg X. Volz years ago at a church here in town. I was MCing for a little Christian outfit that would bring concerts into our little neck of the woods. I got to meet Randy Stonehill, Phil Keaggy. All of them were pleasant and fun to meet.
    My church recently hosted the Lost Dogs, and the next year Terry Taylor from Daniel Amos, Lost Dogs. I got to host both concerts. The staff knew I was big fan of them so they let me do the honors. Again, I was impressed with their demeanor and love for Christ.

    Hopefully they'll come back again.
    Blessing and Grace and whole big bunches of love.

    DJ GlenMC

  22. Those are all great artists. I wish I had had more time to visit with Greg x Volz when I met him. I would hope they would all have a good demeanor since they are ambassadors for the Lord.


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