Moondance Jam 18

Moondance Jam 18

Andrew Olson

Reader Weekly

This past weekend Sheryl Crow, Journey, Foghat, Grand Funk Railroad, and many other bands rocked the 18th Annual Moondance Jam in Walker, Minnesota.

Despite attendance being as high as 16,000 people on Thursday alone, the festival felt extremely accessible and left one feeling like they were a part of a larger family. Bill Bieloh, the man who runs the large event, as well as a similar country music festival, was very approachable and was often surrounded by well wishers and satisfied customers. Many concertgoers had tales from Moondance’s past, while others like me were marveling at their first exposure.

Driving the two hours from Duluth was a quick ride, and one that brings you through the lake and forest guts of Minnesota. When you arrive the first thing you notice is the finely-tuned system of parking, concert, and camping. You can park and be shuttled from many locations or join the scores of campers who are in a very clean and well groomed campground that sits behind the stage. There is a carnival type of atmosphere for food and drink, and even a large bar behind the stage that lets you view the buses and bands as they go on stage.

For a festival the efficiency and just overall feeling was great. You could always find a great place to see, or just pop up a lawn chair and relax while still being able to see the band. If you really want pampered treatment you can purchase “Rockstar” or “VIP” status which will give you god-like views from balconies erected on the side of the stage, as well as many other perks.

Many bands have played the festival several times and are treated well by the fans and staff. They commented about the enthusiasm of the crowd many times and also their perseverance despite misting, abnormally cold July weather. At one point Bieloh offered 2 for 1 beers and merchandise for the troopers who had braved the elements.

The first band that I watched was Foghat, best known for their hit “Slow Ride”. They played early on Thursday evening and kicked off the talent to follow. Later that night Sheryl Crow, Kansas, and Journey also took the stage. Kansas and their “Dust in the Wind” sound was late 1970s western charm. They were also one of the few bands who still have almost all of their original members. Journey on the other hand is without former front man Steve Perry, who suffered a hip injury in 1998 and when he waited almost two years for surgery the band replaced him. Now the singer is a younger gentleman out of the Philippines named Arnel Pineda. He sounded much like Perry, but was a wild man on stage, running around and pumping up the audience.

(Above: Sheryl Crow)

Sheryl Crow was unapproachable and constantly surrounded by security when she wasn’t on stage. When she got up in front of the audience to perform she went directly into her many hits. The crowd was impressed and she put on an excellent show despite having wind and rain blowing directly into her face. This was not lost on other bands like Grand Funk Railroad who played a few days later and respected Crow’s perseverance.

The highlight of the show I thought came from Grand Funk Railroad. Best known for their hits, “We’re an American Band” and “I’m Your Captain”, they are the quintessential rock band. Talking to Mel Schacher, bass player, our conversation turned to their early Detroit roots and the band’s beginning in 1968. He also talked about the artistic album covers and the 1960s San Franciscoballroom scene.

“The art was great. It was really clever and fun. There’s a Fillmore poster that we are on… I think we were on with Santana. We did the Fillmore East and Fillmore West… At the Fillmore West one (show) I distinctly remember gettin’ high like crazy in the rafters with the drummer of Santana. Fun little kid… The lightshows were also really cool. The rubbery, overhead, liquid light show. I just saw a…documentary…and they had the guy that invented that on there. They showed how he did it… Well imagine, the magic, it is what it is, and takes some talent.”

(Above: Grand Funk Railroad)

Grand Funk stole the festival despite having an earlier time slot than Yes and Asia Saturday night. It was hard to listen to Asia play after Grand Funk. Asia, best known for the sports anthem “Heat of the Moment”, is more of a 1980s electronic band. They don’t have the rock balls, that “heavy” feeling, that Grand Funk has.

Yes, like Journey, had a young looking lead singer. The thing I didn’t like was that the singer, Canadian Benoît David, didn’t fit the band. David was the lead singer of a Yes cover band before hooking up with Yes recently. Original singer Jon Anderson suffers from acute respiratory failure, but was expected to rejoin the band this year after a tour was cancelled in 2008. The singer is important to the whole mystique and character of a band. Watching other people up there sing for the two bands made me miss the original singers even more, especially Steve Perry and his unique voice.

I originally pictured Moondance Jam as a drunkin’ camping festival in the middle of nowhere. You know the kind; young kids with beer bongs and old shirtless dudes. This preconceived notion turned out to be far from what Moondance really is. It is a family, a safe place to gather and a place to enjoy many great bands. There also are bands in between the main acts that perform in a large building on the opposite end of the field, and smaller bands that perform at a large indoor bar behind the stage. The acoustic duo The Dudes Abides captured the entire bar during their set at the Lazy Moon Backstage Bar. The near-capacity crowd cheered loudly when singer/bongo player Eric Winscher hit the high notes in the Four Non-Blondes hit, “What’s Up”.

With bands ranging from Spin Doctors and Sheryl Crow to Whitesnake, Judas Priest, Journey, a dead on Page and Plant tribute band Zed Leppelin, or screaming AC/DC women in Thunderstruck, there was something for everyone. You get a lot of festival bang for your buck as well with cheap food and beer sold on location. The best aspect though is the intimate feel that Moondance has. It is comfortable and extremely entertaining. It also isn’t that far away.