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Moondance Jam 24 – Walker MN, July 15th-18th

July 22, 2015

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It’s been 4 years since I last attended Moondance Jam, and I have to admit I’ve missed it.

Moondance Jam was started in 1992 by Bill and Kathy Bieloh, and was a modest event, with local bands playing on stages made from straw bales, and a fairground feel to it. Over the years however, it has developed into a huge, well run rock festival, and has hosted some of the biggest names in the business. Bands such as Kiss, Judas Priest, Journey and Def Leppard have travelled to this small town in northern Minnesota to take to the Moondance stage.

In recent years things have changed slightly, with the line-ups no longer consisting of solely “Classic” bands. In To keep the festival moving forward, “newer” rock bands have been added to attract a new generation of festival followers, and this year is no exception, with the Jam hosting the likes of Papa Roach and Shinedown.

Another newer act who were to have appeared, in fact they were due to close Thursday night, was Nickelback. Then the ‘Curse of Jim Morrison’ struck Moondance once again. The curse is so named as one of the first ‘late’ cancellations was the Doors of the 21st Century, who had to withdraw because of naming rights. Since then the curse strikes every so often with the likes of the New Cars, Thin Lizzy and The Family Stone all pulling out very close to the festival. This year Nickelback had to pull not only MDJ but the remainder of their US tour as singer Chad Kroeger needed urgent surgery on his vocal chords.

As with previous years Moondance managed to secure a replacement, with the Red Rocker Sammy Hagar and special guest Michael Anthony, stepping up to fill the closing spot.

Wednesday 15th July – Pre Jam Party

7:30     Alive: Pearl Jam Tribute

9:00     Fabulous Armadillos

10:30   Hairball

In order to cut down on entry congestion, Moondance came up with the idea some years ago to allow campers the chance to arrive a day early. To entertain those early birds they provide some free entertainment, now forever known as the Pre-Jam Party. It normally consists of excellent local/state bands playing the main stage, along with others playing the Moondance Saloon stage.

Opening up the whole event this year are Alive – A Tribute to Pearl Jam. The band consists of Scott K Vocals, Brian Waterman Drums, Paul Remillard Guitars, Brian Hollenbeck Bass/Vocals and Leni DiMancari Guitars/Vocals. Unfortunately I don’t know a great deal of their music, however according to aficionados of the band, Alive did a great job of covering the early Pearl Jam sound, and I certainly enjoyed their set.

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The Fabulous Armadillos are an 8 piece group, with 3 lead singers, who offer a large range of classic covers. This evening the assembled throng were treated to a great range of songs from Journey to The Who, Deep Purple to The Eagles. I particularly enjoyed their cover of Purple’s ‘Highway Star’, with singer Billy Scherer hitting notes that Ian Gillan certainly can’t these days.

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Closing the party as always was Hairball. Now don’t get me wrong these guys are fun, but perhaps Moondance could think of a change, as they’ve closed the Pre-Jam Party for a number of years in a row, certainly the last 4 or 5. The band is a tribute to all things “Arena Rock”. They juggle 3 singers who between them bang out hits from Van Halen, KISS, Motley Crue, Queen, Journey, and Aerosmith to name but a few. Perhaps I’m wrong in asking for a change, because the audience adores them, they put on a great show, and at the end of the day that’s all that matters.

Thursday 16th July – Day One

3:00     Pat Travers Band

5:00     Pop Evil

7:00     Black Stone Cherry

9:00     Papa Roach

11:00   Nickelback

As I said in my introduction, over the last few years Moondance has moved away from being a totally classic rock festival. Thursday (day one) now seems to be the “newer” band day (or that may just be coincidence), so it seems rather strange that today’s menu starts with classic rock guitarist Pat Travers. Canadian Travers hit the big time in the mid-70’s, and whilst he’s never reached the heights that perhaps his talent deserved. He is a steal for the festival in the opening 3pm slot. As usual he provided the audience with a slick sounding blues set, and an excellent cover version of Ram Jam’s ‘Black Betty’.

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Pop Evil are the first of the new bands on show today, and one (won’t be the first) I’ll to have admit I hadn’t heard of when they were announced. The band is made up of Leigh Kakaty lead vocals, Nick Fuelling lead/rhythm guitar/backing vocals, Dave Grahs rhythm/lead guitar/backing vocals, Matt DiRito bass/backing vocals and Josh Marunde (AKA Chachi Riot) on drums. Although unknown to me, they seem to be well known by the younger generation, and have made an impact, especially on radio, with a number of their singles getting plenty of airtime. Despite some heavy rain at the start of the set, the band attracted a large audience, and finished in fine style with their #1 US Hard Rock single ‘Trenches’.

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And then it happened! I was just about to head from the campsite to check out Black Stone Cherry when the heavens opened. I don’t mean rain, I don’t even mean heavy rain, I mean apocalyptic rain. This rain was so heavy it almost hurt when it hit you. Black Stone Cherry, God love them, did try to start, but had to abandon their set after 4 or 5 songs, due to the danger. Papa Roach never even struck a chord as it was announced that due to the weather all performances on the main stage were done.

This wasn’t going to stop Mr Hagar though. Somehow his roadies and Moondance backstage staff managed to get his gear to the covered Saloon. He played for over an hour to those inside, and many hundreds of brave souls outside, ending with the Beastie Boys ‘(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party!)’, which in the circumstances was quite apt.

Friday 17th July – Day Two

3:00     Honeymoon Suite

5:00     Vixen

7:00     Jefferson Starship

9:00     Huey Lewis & the News

11:00   Doobie Brothers

It was incredible after the monsoons of Thursday night, the main areas of the festival and campgrounds were almost dry by midday Friday. Apart that is from the lakes which sat in the low lying areas, some upwards of 5 feet deep.

Friday to had Moondance back to the festival I first came to. We the 80’s with Honeymoon Suite and Vixen, through to the classic rock sounds of Jefferson Starship, Huey Lewis and the News and closing with the Doobie Brothers.

Honeymoon Suite were formed in Canada (is this an invasion from over the border this year?) at the beginning of the 80’s. I’ll admit to never having heard of the band when they were announced. As always though I went in with an open mind, because that’s what festivals are all about. There always seems to be a surprise at here, a band that you maybe haven’t heard of, or know little about, that you end up really enjoying. For me, this year it was Honeymoon Suite. They have a great pop/rock sound which provided easy listening in the Friday afternoon sunshine (yes it was sunny!!).

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Not wishing to be sexist, but I guess Vixen were every young hot blooded rockers dream in the late 80’s. Hot girls, dressed in leather and playing some kick ass rock music. The band now consists of Janet Gardner lead vocals/rhythm guitar, Gina Stile lead guitar/backing vocals, Share Pedersen bass/backing vocals and Roxy Petrucci drums/backing vocals. I read somewhere that these days the girls all have other jobs; it’s the way of the world isn’t it. Apart that is from drummer Roxy, who is as Gina and Share put it in an interview in 2014, simply a ROCK STAR. What a performance they put in. They hit the crowd with a greatest hits performance, including their biggest hits ‘How Much Love’, ‘Edge of a Broken Heart’ and an excellent cover of Neil Young’s ‘Rockin in a free World’. Oh and being sexist again, they’re still hot!

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There seem to have been so many members of the Jefferson family over the years. They started as Jefferson Airplane, then transformed into tonight’s band Jefferson Starship, who begat Starship, then Mickey Thomas’ Starship – well you get the idea. Jefferson Starship was formed in the early 1970’s when Airplane seemed to have run its course. The band still has two original members in Paul Kantner and David Freiberg, which may be two more than other early 70’s bands that still tour today. Their set started slowly, with Kantner seemingly having major problems with one of his guitars, which had his guitar tech running backwards and forwards. In the end he left the stage, lit up a cigarette and stood on the side while the other members of the band continued without him. Eventually, guitar now working to his satisfaction, he returned, and we were treated to hit after hit, with (not surprisingly) ‘White Rabbit’ and ‘Somebody to Love’ being the stand out songs.

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Huey Lewis and The News closed Moondance 13, my first visit to the festival, and they put on a great show that night. Currently on a co-headling tour with the evening’s closing act The Doobie Brothers, Huey and the boys have so many great hits to choose from, it must be very hard for them to pick a set each evening. Tonight’s performance was, well outstanding. Lewis has such an easy going charm about him, which comes across when interacting with the audience. The a cappella section with the rest of The News was superb, as were ‘Doing It All for My Baby’ and of course ‘The Power of Love’.

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Closing the evening were The Doobie Brothers. The band last played Moondance in 2006, a year I sadly missed, so I was really looking forward to the show. Like Jefferson Starship, they can still boast two original members in Tom Johnston and Patrick Simmons. The Doobies have always prided themselves on smooth harmonious vocals, combined with a mix of rock and blues. Having looked forward to this for a while, I have to say I was a little disappointed in the set. Maybe it was the fact there was a lot of early stuff that only Doobies fans would know well, or because their set was a little ‘laid back’ after Huey, but at times they did lose a lot of the crowd. It was a little like the year The Allman Brothers followed Lynyrd Skynyrd, an upbeat set followed by one not so upbeat. After all being said though, it was good to hear the likes of ‘Long Train Running’ and ‘Listen To The Music’ played on the Moondance stage.

Saturday 18th July – Day Three

3:00     ThundHerStruck

5:00     Black Star Riders

7:00     Finger Eleven

9:00     Peter Frampton

11:00   Shinedown

Day 3 and it’s my birthday. Wasn’t it nice for Moondance to arrange to have two of my favourite bands to play for me today! If only that was the case, but as it happens with Thundherstruck and the Black Star Riders on early, it was a great start to the celebration.

Thundherstruck have played the Jam on many occasions, but for those who don’t know, they are a five piece all girl AC/DC tribute band from California. Fronted by Dyna Shirasaki who does a great job of both Bon Scott (cap off) and Brian Johnston (cap on), the rest of the girls are Diana Widegren rhythm guitar, Tina Wood who plays some great Angus riffs on lead guitar, Andrea Zermano bass and Stephanie Leigh on drums. Sometimes it’s like having the real AC/DC up on stage, just these girls are better looking!!!! Once again they attracted a large audience, larger than some of the later bands, which shows just how much Moondance Jammers love them.

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The Black Star Riders morphed from being Thin Lizzy in 2012, when four of the then band members decided it was time to retire the name. I for one was very disappointed when they did this, but totally understood the reasons why. They were about to produce a new album, and in doing so wanted their own identity, and boy have they done just that. Fans waiting to hear lots of Lizzy and just a few BSR songs would have been disappointed, because as I’ve just said this band now has its own identity, and plenty of material from two solid if not bestselling albums. The current line-up of Ricky Warwick vocals/guitar, Scott Gorham lead guitar, Damon Johnson lead guitar, Robbie Crane bass and Jimmy DeGrasso drums, do however still boast that ingrained Thin Lizzy twin lead guitar sound. As usual these guys didn’t disappoint. A cool mixture of their own material and Thin Lizzy hits with outstanding performances of ‘Bound For Glory’, Kingdom Of The Lost’, ‘Soldierstown’ and ‘Bloodshot’ from their own catalogue, and ‘Emerald’ and ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ from Thin Lizzy. Only disappointment was the size of the crowd. I know people know Thin Lizzy and was expecting more because of this. Perhaps after this performance, word will now go around the US at how good this band actually is.

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Finger Eleven are the third band this year that I have heard nothing of, and another part of the Canadian invasion for this year’s Jam. I suppose because they are slightly better known Stateside, have had more radio play time, and have had some US and Canadian chart success, it has put them higher up the pecking order than BSR in the 7pm slot, but really! (That’s just an observation, not a gripe). I wish I could say I enjoyed their set, but this just isn’t my type of music. As soon as I see guitarists trying to headbutt the stage and thrash about, I tend to switch off. The younger element of the crowd enjoyed them however, so they did go down well.

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It’s been 15 years since Peter Frampton played Moondance. I know they have tried on several occasions to get him back, but have just failed to do so. 2015 is the year they made it happen, and I know of many many people who are very happy with this signing. Bigger in the US than his UK home, he started his career at a very early age, joining first The Herd, and then forming Humble Pie with Steve Marriott. His biggest success however, is and probably always be, the album “Frampton Comes Alive”. Usually slated as being one if the best, if not the best live rock album of all time, it catapulted him to stardom in 1976. Now aged 65, it only showed once, when he attempted to kick a beach ball off stage, and ended up flat on his back! For a moment I feared the worst as roadies rushed to pick him up, but he was quickly back in the swing, and joking about his little mishap. It has to be said the man is an excellent guitarist and showed it during tunes such as ‘Baby I Love Your Way’, ‘Show Me The Way’ and according to a friend, the longest ever version (at 19 minutes) of ‘Do You Feel Like We Do’.

Shinedown are as Moondance put it, indisputably one of the biggest rock bands over the last ten years. Millions of albums sold, playing to sell out audiences, and yet! I know very little about them. I suppose that’s my bad again for not following up on newer bands. I do know however, that they have a big reputation to follow, coming from Lynyrd Skynyrd’s hometown of Jacksonville Florida (in fact they often include a cover of Skynyrd’s “Simple Man” in their set. Writers have characterized the band as hard rock, alternative metal and post-grunge, and I have to say after listening to the set it is hard to put them in one classification. I’m not sure whether I enjoyed the band or not, for me there were too many ‘add-ons’, vocally and instrumentally. A solid if unspectacular performance.

And so ends another year of great music, friends and all things Moondance Jam. Overall it’s been yet another success, and that is totally down to the Bieloh family and their staff. When Bill Bieloh sadly passed in 2010, they could quite easily have called it a day, but they didn’t. They picked up the mantle, and ran with it, meaning today it’s still one of the best rock festivals around. It will be interesting to see what Moondance 2016 has to offer, it’s 25th anniversary.

From me a big thank you to the Bielohs (Kathy, Jon and Bri), Bernie Schumacher, Mark Kirchhoff and Kevin Abernathy for all the help they continually offer. All my friends at Camp Howler, Lisa, Eric, Chris, Troy, Sam, Lori et al, for getting this greenhorn through his first years camping experience. Camps Hippy and Nisswa for putting on some great parties. Carrie, Greeter, Hippy, Toots and way too many others to mention. Laura and Kel for getting me there and back, I couldn’t do this without you. If I haven’t mentioned you, please forgive me, there are just too many names for an old man to remember.

Full photograph albums can be found at : http://s16.photobucket.com/user/Ian_R/library/Moondance%20Jam%2024?sort=3&page=1

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