25News EXCLUSIVE: Uncle Kracker talks life on the road ahead of Thursday performance

Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 11:33 AM CDT
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NORMAL (25News Now) - You may know him from familiar radio hits like ‘Follow Me,’ ‘Smile,’ and ‘Drift Away.’ Now, after getting his first concert postponed due to high temperatures in August, Uncle Kracker is ready to bring some heat of his own to Central Illinois.

Originally known as Matthew Shafer, the singer, songwriter, and performer was a part of Kid Rock’s Twisted Brown Trucker Band, according to his official biography details. It was soon after that he kicked off a solo career of his own, one that would bring him success says he didn’t anticipate at the time.

His major label debut in 2000, titled Double Wide, went on to receive double-platinum certification, with the #1 smash ‘Follow Me’ leading the charge. The 2002 follow-up No Stranger To Shame achieved gold status, with more hits including ‘In A Little While’ and ‘Drift Away,’ the latter going on to set a Billboard charts record for most weeks at #1 at the time. It also sat on top of the Adult Contemporary radio charts for 28 weeks.

Uncle Kracker’s crossover into country began with the double-platinum hit ‘Smile’ in 2009. His fifth album, Midnight Special, would see him make the full transition to country for the album’s track list.

Becoming categorized by a genre was never something Uncle Kracker would allow at any point in his career. When asked how he would classify his music, he went back to the beginning of his time with the major recording companies.

“In the early days, they really liked to pigeonhole you...record labels only had one way of trying to sell something,” he says. “I was always pretty slippery, I guess.”

Now on the scene for a span of decades, Uncle Kracker says his career became a ‘natural progression’ over time, characterizing it as a process that lead from one thing to another almost by happenstance. He says he takes that sane relaxed, easygoing approach when it comes to his songwriting.

“Some people like to start with titles, I just like to start. I don’t like to finish until I have a chorus,” he reflects. “Only one way to eat an elephant: one bite at a time.”

This year, Uncle Kracker returned to the major tour circuit for the first time in six years, and in no small way. Since July. he’s joined rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top. He says it was like a dream come true, and a scenario when ‘no’ wasn’t an option.

“When they asked me, do you want to go on your with Lynyrd Skynyrd? ZZ Top? I was like, is Gene Simmons a permanent member of Kiss? Of course!”

He compares getting back on tour to camping, emphasizing the changing geography life on the road brings. Besides all of the ‘waiting’ and the ‘sitting’ most people don’t see, he says, it’s also a chance to make the most of where you are.

“You’re only in a (city for) an hour every night for what you’re supposed to be doing, for your ‘job’” he notes with a laugh, flexing his fingers in air quotes.

That same, fun-loving sentiment is what Uncle Kracker says he wants people to take away from his concert. It’s all about engagement, he says, and making a connection with the audience. It’s an approach created to make memories sure to put a ‘smile’ on fans’ faces.

“That’s what I’m there for, to have a good time. And if I’m not having a good time, then I know they ain’t having a good time.”

You can catch Uncle Cracker at the Corn Crib (1000 W. Raab Road, Normal) Thursday at 7:00 p.m., with the gates opening at 6:00. Tickets start at $25. You can buy them online here or at his official website here.