Powers, chairman of the Chingawassa Days planning committee nearly since the inception of the festival, had to smile because he knows Marion’s secret.
Occasionally he even has to smile at Marion’s own residents when he hears, behind the general enthusiasm, a couple of naysayers wondering if Marion gets attractions because they are has-been bands.
The bands Marion gets are far from has-beens, Powers said. The bands normally attract thousands of people at the gigs they play. They have most of their original members still playing. They cost tens of thousands of dollars to book.
Their names read like a potential hall of fame list for rock and roll, or, in some cases, country music. They’re known by millions of Americans, perhaps a majority of them.
In recent years, Marion has hosted The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Kentucky Headhunters, Three Dog Night, .38 Special, Little River Band, Restless Heart and The Guess Who.
Powers fondly recalls the caliber of performance he enjoyed from Three Dog Night and The Guess Who. But everyone has had their favorites.
The headline performer at Chingawassa Days on Saturday night, June 7, will be by Grand Funk Railroad. Most Americans probably recognize the band’s signature song, “We’re An American Band.”
And so, Marion has done it again. It’s hosting a top-of-the-line band, Powers said.
And, yes, he will share Marion’s secret. The Chingawassa committee was in the right place at the right time to begin the tradition, he said.
In other words, they stumbled into a bit of luck.
Powers said the tradition really began with The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band back when Marion didn’t even know it could attract such big names.
“We needed a band for a hospital benefit,” Powers said. “The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was playing in Hutchinson, and they were open on a Friday before moving on to Kansas City Saturday. We were able to pick them up for a really good deal as something for them to fill in with.
“We got to visiting with their drummer, Jimmy Fadden, and he said his wife, Patty, had become a full-time producer,” he added. “She was booking all kinds of bands into festivals. We talked to her, and she was willing to represent us.
“The rest of it is coming up with the money.”
Powers said Fadden looks out for Marion’s interest, recommending bands that retain most of their members, most with 30-plus years of history, and who put on a good performance besides singing.
The Chingawassa committee also can request certain bands its members want to see—if they can get them and if they fit Marion’s budget, Powers said.
Sometimes they are beyond Marion’s financial means, such as one favorite that asked for a guarantee of $60,000.
Marion also has an advantage, Powers said, because when a band asks for half the money in advance, Fadden is able to say, “Look, these people are good for it. You’ll get your money.”
And, the bands accept her word, Powers said.
“She has a lot of credibility with the bands.” he said. “She’ll be here for Chingawassa this year for the first time in two or three years. It sounds like Grand Funk puts on quite an entertaining performance.”
For all the success stories, Powers like to tell the tale of the one who got away.
“We came close to getting Willy Nelson,” he said. “He was passing through to Oklahoma in July. But Chingawassa is always in June.”
Money for the bands is raised in two ways.
“First of all we get tremendous donations for support from the business people in the area,” Powers said. “All they really get for this money is their names printed in the brochure.
“Second, we sell those Chingawassa buttons. That really pays the piper.”
So the secret is out.
“We get the bands through just coincidence, that we talked to Jimmy Fadden the drummer, and his wife agreed to help us,” Powers said.