Editor’s Note: The article that follows is a breakdown of events to what I consider to be the best rock festival in America. Instead of simply recounting band after band and boring you to tears with set list after set list, it is my intention to describe the Moondance experience in detail with the hope of sparking a hunger inside of every classic rock fan in America. The Moondance Jam is more than a rock concert; it is a way of life. Once one treads upon the hollowed grounds of the Jam site, time ceases to be. Pressures of daily life are checked at the gate and real world problems are forgotten. Years peel away as the most important decisions one must make are what time should they to head to the main stage and how many vendor tokens they should buy.
Moondance can actually sell you a ticket that will transport your mind and soul back 25 years for four days each July. The Jam is unique in that memories of youth come flooding back at the same time new memories are being made. Bill and Kathy Bieloh may just have in their possession what the legendary Ponce de Leon spent his entire lifetime seeking: The Fountain of Youth. After reading this article, it is my sincere desire that you visit www.moondancejam.com and make plans to attend Moondance Jam Sweet 16 in July of 2007.
A strange mixture of wonder and exhaustion filled my mind as I starred into the darkness on July 17, 2005. It was well after ten PM and the fifty-seater I was riding on had still not touched down. We were to be in the air a little over an hour but the pilots had tired of the downpour and rerouted the flight to the east side of the Colorado border in order to come in behind the storm cell. This made for a smoother trip but also doubled our flying time. As I waited to return home, I peered out the window and reflected on attending my first Moondance Jam. For several days, I had endured lack of sleep while literally standing the entire day in the hot sun. My feet were aching, my body worn down and I was chaffed in places that I didn’t even know existed. My thoughts were interrupted as I heard the wheels skid down on the runway of Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport. I was home. As I slowly stood up from the back of the plane and reached into the overhead for my carry on bag, I had one final thought: I could not wait to get back to Walker, Minnesota.
One year later I found myself back onboard a plane headed for Minneapolis. Behind me sat Classic Rock Revisited’s Promotional Director Kelly Borror. I smiled a sheepish grin as Kelly had never been to Moondance and I knew he was in for the time of his life. I, however, felt a little worried about this years event for two reasons. First off, I was not an experienced Moondance Jammer. It had only been a year since I lost my Jammer virginity. I wondered if festival owner’s Bill and Kathy Bieloh could top what they had done the year before. I also wondered how I was going to top the article I wrote on the 2005 event. It was going to have to be a very special week.
Our flight was very routine. I had made arrangements to be picked up at the airport by friend of CRR Ron Bozich. Ron had such a great time at Fab 14 that he was taking his wife, Jen, to her first Moondance so she could experience the event for herself. We made our way through the airport and Ron met us outside of the baggage claim and we headed out to the highway. Last year, traffic was backed up for miles and we spent an hour just trying to get to the event. This year we were wiser and flew in a day early.
After checking into the hotel, I went downstairs to the casino and lost twenty bucks to a greedy slot machine. After deciding that losing money was a stupid thing to do, we gathered the crew together and went for something to eat. The casino recommended a place called Charlie's. Steaks and ribs were the specialty of the house so the decision to eat at Charlie’s was an easy one. Charlie's had tremendous ambiance and proved to be a throwback to the days of the American Dream. There was no corporate BS in this establishment. The decor, including the heads of numerous animals, was pure American small businessman. Next door, Charlie owned an outdoor bar that was actually made from a boat. We debated going over to the boat for a drink but instead opted to go to the site. We went backstage and met up with Moondance veterans Mark Kirchhoff and Kevin Abernathy. Mark hooked us up with our credentials and we sat and watched the stage being built. The crew had arrived late and were behind schedule. Mark watched over the assembly, staying up all night to ensure the job was done right. Little did we know that Charlie's was the place to be and before the night was over many of the Moondance crew were headed to the boat bar for drinks to celebrate the beginning of Dream 15. We left Mark to tend to the stage and headed back to Charlie’s for some fun. We sat for hours and talked with Jammer Girls, radio jocks and excited fans who, like us, were early birds. Dream 15 was quickly becoming a reality.
Band of the Day: The Steve Miller Band
Biggest Surprise of the Day: The Guess Who
Best Saloon Band: Hairball
Worst Moment of the Day: DeYoung Doing "The Robot" Dance
Surreal Behind the Scenes Moment: DeYoung Eating an Ice Cream Cone
Day I was here and everyone awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Like kids going to an amusement park we had smiles on our faces and our hearts were pumping faster than normal. Excitement was in the air. We began the day at the Moondance Saloon and watched local band Sister’s Attic officially begin the event. The band was okay and the lead singer was easy to look at but the real excitement was being reserved for the main acts Steve Miller and Dennis DeYoung. Before we would get to them, however, we would be treated to Black Valentine, The Little River Band and The Guess Who.
While waiting for the main stage to kick into gear, I wandered over to the Moondance Office in search of the newest permanent structure on the Moondance grounds. Bill and Kathy, in addition to creating the largest rock n’ roll family in America, are very patriotic, so much so that they have placed a monument dedicated to America’s veterans on the Jam site. As I approached the monument, I was met by Mr. Moondance, himself, Bill Bieloh, who explained how the structure came to be, "Every year we have a salute to our soldiers who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Last year a guy came up to me who runs a granite company and told me he thought that was the coolest thing. He asked me if he could make a monument and I said, ‘Of course.’ Ron Bitman is the guy’s name. He said he would give me the monument in exchange for five years worth of tickets. I told him I could do that and last week he showed up and with a flat bed and this eight-foot monument."
The monument is etched with the heading, "Thank Our Veterans for the Freedom to Rock n’ Roll." At the bottom of the structure is an astonishing miracle of nature featuring a full rainbow with the Moondance stage magically centered in the middle. "The picture below was taken three years ago," Bieloh explained as he pointed to the bottom of the monument. "War was playing and Joe Cocker was getting ready to go on next. It was raining. Suddenly, it cleared off and one of our Moondance photographers took the picture of the giant rainbow that covered the stage. Ron saw the picture and had it etched onto the monument."
I thanked Bill for the interview and returned to the concert arena and waited for Black Valentine to kick off the main stage. Before going any further, I must take a moment to remind you of a person we met while covering 2005's Fab 14 – Super Fan. Super Fan arrives early each morning and parks his chair next to the stage. He waits all day in the red-hot sun with no shade in order to have the best seat in the house. After running the story last year, Super Fan emailed me and thanked me for including him in the article. This year we made a point of setting a Classic Rock Revisited T-shirt aside for him and thanking him for his dedication to the music. Super Fan admitted, "Sitting out here like this all day really makes you appreciate The Moondance Jam even more. You appreciate all the music and the bands." He told us that we were not the only ones who noticed his dedication last year. "One of the stage crew brought me water and someone even brought me a steak to eat last year as they saw me sitting in the sun without even getting up for food."
We shook hands and took a photo with Super Fan while Black Valentine took the stage. They were a non-descriptive hard rock band. Nothing to write home about but not bad either. After their set, it was time for the national acts. First up was the Little River Band led by longtime band member Wayne Nelson. While there are no original members left in the group, the current lineup encapsulates the musical sounds and vocal harmonies of days gone past. Nelson has been around since 1979 and sang vocals on some of the band’s biggest hits including "Night Owls." LRB was a good choice to get the ball rolling. The crowd began to gather in front of the stage to hear such timeless classics as "Lady," "Cool Change," "Help is on the Way," and "Lonesome Loser."
During the band’s performance Ron, Jen, Kelly and I were met by James Mazzanti (a friend of CRR who drove 850 miles by himself to attend the show) and were off to the VIP area to perform the first of our nightly VIP giveaways. The event was hosted by Mountain Ash vocalist Roger Anderson. Raffle tickets were handed out and autographed merchandise from Twisted Sister, Alan Parsons, Foghat, The New York Dolls, The MC5, Mountain Ash, Def Leppard, Blue Oyster Cult and Cinderella were up for grabs. In addition to the signed merch, dozens of CDs and DVDs by bands including Deep Purple, Judas Priest, DIO, Journey and Bryan Adams were handed out to VIP winners.
Many events claim to have VIP packages but few end up living up to the title. Rest assured a Moondance Jam VIP is just that. These very important people enjoyed many privileges not given to the common fan. VIPs were eligible for Meet and Greet opportunities with participating bands and were able to go stage side and watch the show from an elevated platform. When the rest of the crowd was drenched by rain (see Day II), the Moondance VIP’s were dry in their covered VIP area. The food and service given to VIPs was both excellent and professional. The staff of hosts and cooks worked hard to make sure all of their wants and needs were taken care of. Did we mention that VIP’s get free beer as well? VIP is the way to go and the price, when broken down daily, is very reasonable proving that one really does get what they pay for. Classic Rock Revisited is already gathering goods to give way at 2007's Moondance Jam Sweet 16. We hope to see you there.
After wrapping up our giveaway, we moved toward center stage to check out the Guess Who. The band was without original members Randy Bachman (guitar) and Burton Cummings (vocals) but was flanked by founding members Garry Peterson (drums) and Jim Kale (bass). Knowing the legacy of the band, I was very disappointed that neither Bachman nor Cummings were no longer members. I seriously doubted this would be a good show. Nonetheless, I love songs like "No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature," "American Woman," "Bus Driver" and "These Eyes" so I decided to check out the show.
I was surprised to see former Canadian hard rock vocalist Carl Dixon (ex-Coney Hatch) at the helm. Dixon proved that he was up to the challenge to lead the Guess Who through a set of Bachman/Cummings classics. After each song the crowd before them seemingly doubled. The music was powerful and strong. Jammers who planned on skipping this band were drawn into the arena by the music. When the last notes of "American Woman" were done, they deserved the standing ovation they received.
Backstage, Dixon explained to me how he came to be the band’s singer, "I grew up a huge fan of the band so when they reformed I just had to be the vocalist. It was natural. This band is really good and we fight the fact every night that Randy Bachman and Burton Cummings are no longer members. We are dedicated to staying on the road and keeping these songs alive and continuing the legacy of the Guess Who. I have a whole album of new songs like the one we played tonight. We are going to go into the studio and record them."
The Guess Who raised the bar for the rest of the event. Expectations were low and they blew the crowd away. Even a seasoned vet like Dennis DeYoung would have a hard time following this band. DeYoung, famous as the founder of the band Styx, is a serious showman. His stage presence goes well beyond rock music as he has appeared on Broadway in both Jesus Christ Superstar and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Tonight, there would be no Broadway tunes as Dennis was billed an evening of Styx music. His powder blue oxford shirt matched the blue sky behind him as day turned to night during his set. DeYoung started out strong with the title track to the classic album Grand Illusion. His voice was as strong as ever, and while his Shakespearian movements may be too grandiose for a Walker, Minnesota crowd, the classic songs were going over well.
DeYoung kept things interesting with three songs from the album Equinox. "Lorelei" and "Light Up" were both featured early in the set while the haunting "Suite: Madam Blue" was played near the end. Rock nerds delighted at the inclusion of the deep album cut "Castle Walls." DeYoung eventually wove the Moondance crowd into one as everyone in the audience helped him close the show by singing every word to the classic "Come Sail Away." What I have described thus far, however, is only half of the story. DeYoung, perhaps more so than any other performer, lives with the controversy that some of his most well known songs are considered to be a slap in the face to his hardcore fan base.
In the early Seventies, Dennis created Styx and led them through a period of time where they were a progressive hard rock band. Styx sold millions and the fans loved his unique style of pomp rock. In 1979, Dennis turned his back on the style of music that made him famous and pandered to a pop audience. "Babe" crawled to # 1 on the Billboard Charts and Styx attracted new pop oriented fans, many of whom were unaware of the band’s past. The group’s loyal fans recoiled in disgust. Eventually, the other members of the band confronted DeYoung and the band broke up. The song that ended Styx ironically went to Top of the Charts. The song is titled "Mr. Roboto." When played at Moondance, half the crowd screamed in joy while the other half screamed in agony. Needless to say, a Dennis DeYoung concert is an interesting event. Some songs had the crowed going nuts while other songs, such as his solo effort "Desert Moon," saw people in droves going for a potty break and a beer run.
It is interesting to note that on rhythm guitar for the Moondance show was Glen Burtnik, who until recently, had been the bass player of Styx. As we watched the show, we noticed two men who looked like bank executives emerge from backstage and ascend up to the elevated side stage viewing platform. One of the men was Steve Miller while the other was rumored to be the owner of the Las Vegas Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. I went up and stood next to them. Down below, Miller caught the eye of Burtnik who smiled and pointed up at him. Both Miller and his guest were smoking huge Cuban cigars. I leaned over and told the men that my cigar was only a Swisher Sweet. They smiled and laughed.
Steve Miller was the one the masses had come to see on opening night. Few artists have the set list Miller does. "Space Cowboy," "Living in the USA," "Take the Money and Run," "Jet Airliner," "Wild Mountain Honey," "Abracadabra," "Serenade," "Swingtown" and "Dance, Dance, Dance" are but a handful of the classic tracks Miller has in his bag of tricks.
From the onset of his stage show it was apparent that Miller was soaking in the entire Moondance Jam atmosphere. Smiles were abundant on stage as the crowd ate up everything he threw at them. At one point during the show, Miller adorned a very unique guitar. He told the crowd that he had been offered $700,000 for the strange instrument and that he only paid $125 for it. The guitar is used on the song "Wild Mountain Honey" and has the normal six strings but also has a tiny looking harpsichord built in as well. From the look on Miller’s face when he played the track, the guitar is not for sale. The evening ended with Miller asking his band what else they could come up with to play. "Crossroads" and several other blues standards were pulled out and performed with brilliance. The blues tunes turned into long jam sessions as Miller put everything he had into his performance. When Miller was finally done, he descended the stage and went directly into an awaiting vehicle and drove off into the Minnesota night.
Band of the Day: The Gregg Rolie Band
Biggest Surprise of the Day: The Rain
Best Saloon Band: Zed Lepplin
Worst Moment of the Day: Outage of Power Due to the Rain
Surreal Behind the Scenes Moment: A Roadie Getting a Shower
As the light of day entered our room at the casino I could tell that my roommates, Kelly and James, had enjoyed Day I of Moondance a bit too much. They each purchased the collectable and very large Moondance mug the day before. We estimated that each mug held about three beers and each man had filled the mug up at least ten times. As I went to the casino to win back my twenty dollars, Kelly and James moved more slowly. Eventually I amassed more than six thousand pennies on a very bizarre machine called Xanadu while James found his way to the blackjack table. While it was nice to get my money back, I was not in Walker, Minnesota to sit in a casino with a bunch of blue hairs; I was there to rock! We met up with Ron and Jen and headed back to the event center to check out Day II.
The day promised to be the best day of the bunch, mostly due to the one-two punch of having Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper play back-to-back. I was also looking forward to seeing Gregg Rolie, a founding member of both Santana and Journey. First up, however, were five friends of mine, Mountain Ash. I accepted the honor of taking the stage and introducing the band and kicking off Day II. Mountain Ash woke the campers up with killer renditions of "Doctor Doctor" by UFO and "ETI" from Blue Oyster Cult. The band featured Roger Anderson, an eccentric frontman who is held together by bookend guitarists Mark Kirchhoff and Kevin Abernathy. Mark Juenemann (bass) and Brandon Fjetland (drums) hold the boys in check proving to be the top rhythm section in Kenyon, MN.
As Mountain Ash kicked Day II off to a good start, the crowd began looking behind them at the darkening sky. The willful thinking of twenty-five thousand camping, drinking and rocking maniacs was not enough to thwart God’s plan of dumping a few thousand gallons of water onto the crowd below. We crammed into the area known as Billy’s Backstage Bar and huddled together and got to know everyone around us very well. We watched as the rain pounded the Moondance Jam. The only funny moment of the rain came when the stage tarp had to be dumped. The Moondance production staff warned everyone in Billy’s Backstage Bar to scoot back as they were going to dump some water off the tarp. A few moments later an unsuspecting roadie came strolling through the vacated area just as the monsoon from the tarp was unleashed. He stood drenched for a moment and then looked up at everyone on stage laughing at him. A huge grin broke out on his face and he went running after them.
After a half hour the rain subsided. Everyone let out a huge cheer. The Moondance staffers had already gotten equipment in place on the concert area to turn over the ground to soak up the water. Seeing the Moondance crew go to work so quickly was impressive. The dedication and work ethic of everyone involved in the Moondance is dazzling. The entire Moondance crew works together like a big, extended family and it is this feeling of togetherness that becomes infectious and spreads to everyone in attendance.
Starship featuring Mickey Thomas took the stage as the crowd emerged from their hiding places. Mickey is in fine voice and played all the Starship staples including "We Built This City," "Jane," "Find Your Way Back" and "Familiar Stranger." He also threw in "Fooled Around & Fell in Love" from his days as the lead singer for Elvin Bishop. As always, it was a sound performance.
Next up was Gregg Rolie. The music was a throwback to his days spent as the founding member of the band Santana. Backstage, Rolie told Classic Rock Revisited how he met the legendary guitarist, "Carlos was working at a place called Tick-Tocks, which was a hamburger stand in San Francisco. My friend went there and told him that he had a friend who played keyboards and that he had to come down and jam. We played in some guy’s garage until the cops came. We ran off when they showed up. Actually, Carlos was the first one to run off – I don’t know if that was habit from living in the Mission District or what but he beat feet into this tomato patch. I followed him and that is where I actually met him – sitting in that tomato patch. We sat out there until the police went away. From there we started Santana."
Rolie’s set was a feast of percussion with drummer Ron Wikso being joined by Adrian Areas on Timbale and Michael Carabello on congas. Gregg played all of his Santana classics including "Oya Como Va" and "Black Magic Woman" as well as several tracks from his critically acclaimed solo album Roots. Rolie’s band jammed out and totally strutted their stuff, flexing their musical muscle for the entire crowd to see and experience. What I liked about Gregg was that there was little emphasis on showmanship. Instead of putting on a show, the band was more concerned with performing very complex music.
After grooving and grinding through a Latino filled rock set the skies once again turned black. Preparing to take the stage was The Motor City Madman Ted Nugent. Nuge and the US Postmen have the same mantra in that neither rain nor sleet or snow will keep them from doing the job at hand. The rain held back as Nugent took the stage with a wireless headset for a microphone and a Gibson Les Paul decorated with the Stars & Stripes. Nugent blasted out "Snakeskin Cowboy," "Free for All," and "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang."
Nugent is the master of his guitar and for more than 30 years he has dominated audiences around the world. Finally, as if on cue, the sky opened up and the rain came pouring down. Lightening danced through the sky but Nugent was not letting up one iota. He played harder and faster with more and more intensity. During the rainstorm Nugent introduced his ode to a man who was his mentor when he was learning the art of bow hunting. The song, named after his hero, "Fred Bear" is a song of magic and mystery. The emotional guitar work swoons back and forth with the intensity of a hunter on a blood trail. As if by the command of Fred Bear himself, the rain stopped while the song was being played. Nugent thanked Fred’s Spirit and the crowd did the same. Nugent closed the show with the jaw-dropping guitar classic "Stranglehold." Ted told Classic Rock Revisited about recording the famous guitar solo, "It was one take. I had to go back and learn all those patterns. I am a jazz guitarist who was inebriated by the rock n’ roll energy and I think the influence of my influences really came to its optimum delivery in the ‘Stranglehold’ guitar solo. I understand that one of the guitar magazines named it one of the top guitar solos of all time."
Alice Cooper was slated to take the stage at 11:00 PM. The top of the hour came and went but there was no sign of Alice. The music that usually played in-between bands was silent as well. The lights reflected an empty stage as the entire Moondance complex was filled with those eager for Alice to bring Day II to a crashing end. Still, there was nothing – just an empty stage. Cooper was on site as I saw him backstage. He seemed fine. If Alice was there then what could be the delay? As the minutes went by one could feel the tension mounting. From my vantage point in the photo pit I could see a group of men huddled together at stage left furiously working on a sound board.
Moondance could do many things but stopping the rain proved impossible. After what seemed like an eternity, the jumbo-tron flashed a message that there were technical difficulties. This brought a loud series of groans from the audience. Things were threatening to turn ugly. Now we would see what Moondance was made of. Could they control the crowd? Would the crowd retain the spirit of family that had purveyed the entire day? Would the cool heads of the Moondance security team be able to remain calm and in control? And most importantly would they be able to fix the damn water soaked board and bring Alice Cooper to the stage? It took an hour but things returned to normal; the show would go on. The crowd remained grumpy and wet but under control. The road crew breathed a sigh of relief and the lights went down and the music went up.
Cooper is touring on a new album titled Dirty Diamonds. The title track along with "Lost in America" both harken back to the 70's when rock concerts ruled the world. His band is loud, proud and they rock their balls off. Alice looks scarier the older he gets and his evil persona takes up every inch of the stage. Coop’s daughter, Calico, provided many of the theatrics as she danced across the stage and even held her father’s severed head up to the crowd after he was placed in the guiottine for crimes against humanity. The crowd perked up as Alice treated them to some of his most classic tracks including "School’s Out," "No More Mr. Nice Guy" and "Poison." "Only Women Bleed" and "Welcome to My Nightmare" were flawlessly executed, both musically and visually. Cooper ended up in a straight jacket before escaping to beat up Calico and then being captured again and sent to the gallows.
Moondance survived a close call as they had to negotiate with Mother Nature. Once again, it was the experience of the Moondance crew that were able to keep calm, keep their head together and keep riding the storm out. Even though the hour was late, Alice agreed to meet with Moondance VIPs. He took photos, signed autographs and chatted with them until everyone went away happy.
Band of the Day: The Outlaws
Biggest Surprise of the Day: Chris Layton on Drums for KWS
Best Saloon Band: ThundHerStruck
Worst Moment of the Day: KY Wrestling
Surreal Behind the Scenes Moment: Dinner with CC Deville
Day III began at a Walker restaurant called Jimmy’s. I had scheduled an offsite breakfast to meet with classic rock album cover artist Ioannis and his brother George. Ioannis is well renowned in the music industry as one of the premier album cover artists for classic rock bands. In his career, which spans decades, he has created covers for Deep Purple, the Allman Brothers, Blue Oyster Cult, Styx and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Ioannis also created a commemorative limited edition print for Moondance Dream 15.
We spent the afternoon being taken around the entire Moondance Campsite by Mark Juenemann. The amount of work put into some of the campsites was very impressive. One camp was made entirely of sticks and decorated to resemble an old Tarzan movie. Another was set up like a tequila bar and had people doing the Limbo. My personal favorite was the camp where guests could come by and get a free Jell-O shot. The only catch was that the shot was first placed into a blow up doll’s vagina. Everyone passed in our group – everyone but Kelly. They filled the doll’s love canal up with booze and Kelly grabbed it by the inflatable hips and went to town as everyone cheered him on. Kelly laughed as he recoiled from the doll and said, "Why did they have to use red Jell-O?"
We saw campers with bowling alleys and campsites with makeshift stages and poles for girls to dance on. We even ran into The Jack Daniels’ Girls and Kelly joined them for a tequila shot. We met many interesting characters and saw some really cool water fights. I was only glad that I didn’t have to decide which campsite would be the winner of the Moondance Jam contest. It would have been an impossible decision to make. Bill announced that this years Best Campsite winner would be able to go backstage for the final day of the event and the best campsites were shown all day long on Day IV on the jumbo-tron. This should raise the competition to a new level for 2007!
Once our tour was completed, we went to the Saloon and met up with a Moondance Jammer named Sassy who is very active on the Moondance Jam message board. Sassy was familiar with the article we wrote last year and we gave her and some of her friends T-shirts. The message board community is a subfamily of the bigger Moondance family. They communicate all year long and Bill and Kathy throw them a party during the day and they all meet up with each other in person. Sassy is an integral part of the community and seemed to be having the time of her life.
The rain was gone for good and Day III looked like it was going to be a good one. The first national act on the main stage were the Outlaws led by guitar slinger Hughie Thomasson. The Outlaws were one of the first and most successful southern rock bands of the 1970's. For the last several years Thomasson had been a member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. After dazzling audiences with Skynyrd classics, Hughie decided to resurrect his old band and get them back on the road. The band opened the set with "There Goes Another Love Song" and the crowd could tell they were in for a treat. It is rare when the opening band gets called the strongest of the day but in this case it is true. What makes this accolade even more impressive is the fact that each of the other bands slated to take the stage that day put on a good show. The fact is, the Outlaws, much like The Guess Who from the first day, are a damn good band. "Ghost Riders in the Sky" was the band's most commercial number and it still sounded cool all these years down the road. The song that was best received, however, was the Outlaws answer to "Freebird," "Green Grass & High Tides." The instrumental section features awesome interplay between the rhythm section and the lead guitar player. The Outlaws are a band back on the road with something to prove. If this band comes anywhere near you then take if from us; get out there see them.
Next up was Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The twenty-something blues guitar player has built a solid following in the Midwest. The respect he has garnered in the blues/rock community is best shown by the fact that drummer Chris Layton is touring with Kenny. Layton was a member of Double Trouble, the backing band for the late guitar legend Stevie Ray Vaughan. Shepherd plays with the same passion as SRV and nearly has the same chops. His boyish grin and lanky build give him the classic guitar god look. Vocalist Noah Hunt brings soul to the band. Hunt, despite his young age, has the voice of a Delta bluesman and the swagger and good looks to pull off being a front man. Kenny Wayne blasted through a set of blues standards as well as his arsenal of hits including the # 1 smash "Blue on Black." The band got a huge ovation and would be welcome back at a future Jam.
At both of the last two Moondance Jams there has been a special presentation to our troops fighting the war on terror. This year the event was more heartfelt than ever as one of Bill and Kathy’s nephews was home on leave from Iraq. Along with two of his servicemen he stood on the stage and watched as his home movies were presented in a documentary about what it is really like in Iraq. Unlike what we see on the news, this documentary had a positive spin and showed what the men in uniform are doing to make our world a better place – despite the politics that surround them. The patriotic feeling was brought home by a dance number performed by three professional dancers that culminated in the unveiling of the American flag. The Moondance crowd responded positively to the message of both the documentary and the dancers.
Originally, Moondance 15 was going to feature The New Cars as the headline act for Day III. However, New Cars guitar player Elliot Easton suffered a broken shoulder when he fell on his tour bus and the band had to cancel. The end of Day III was going to be an 80's New Wave fest as The New Cars were paired up with the all-girl band The Bangles. Now, with The New Cars replaced with Poison, The Bangles were odd woman out. Sandwiched between hard rocking blues and an 80's Hair Band made for a hard row to hoe but the girls took it all in stride and played a respectable show. Some in the crowd were dissing the band but I thought they did a fine job. The main problem was that the classic rock loving Moondance crowd was only familiar with four of the band’s songs. The Bangles opened with the Prince penned "Manic Monday" leaving a whole show to go before they got to the rest of their hits. "Walk Like an Egyptian" got people dancing with many creative versions of the dance seen in the famous video being recreated in the crowd. "Eternal Flame" and "A Hazy Shade of Winter" were well received.
The last band on the main stage was Poison. Earlier in the day, the band showed up and unloaded four Triumph motorcycles from a trailer that was being pulled behind their tour bus. The band rode the Moondance Jam trails and soaked in the atmosphere. As I strode backstage, I ran into CC Deville, recent star of VH1's The Surreal Life. CC and I had recently done an amazing interview and he invited me to join him and his girlfriend, Shannon Malone, for dinner. After spending an hour together his assistant came by to offer to get him anything from the Jam vendors that he might want and asked him what he wanted to wear that night on stage. CC told him he was fine and to set out his Number 1 stage outfit. Deville is still searching to find his place after sobering up from a lifelong bout with alcoholism. We are happy to report CC is alive and doing well and surviving his first tour without turning to the vices of his past.
Before Poison took the stage I made it over to the Saloon stage where LA’s own all girl AC/DC tribute band ThundHerStruck was playing the first of their two sets of the evening. These five ladies are a force to be reckoned with and could have easily fit in opening up for Ted Nugent the night before. There tour manager asked the crowd, "What could be better than watching five hot chicks play AC/DC songs?" The only answer I could think of was if they were naked! If you did not go see ThundHerStruck play and you were at Dream 15 then you missed one of the best concerts of the entire festival. These ladies kick ass and take names. They filled the Saloon stage and before the set was over they had people lined up twenty rows deep into the grass outside the bar.
The set list was stellar as they played every AC/DC classic known to man. From "Highway to Hell" to "Hells Bells" to "You Shook Me All Night Long" to "TNT" to "Thunderstruck" to "For Those About to Rock" these chicks blasted it out. At first glance they may seem to be a novelty. You have five good-looking girls on stage and they are playing AC/DC songs. The lead guitar player wears a schoolgirl’s outfit and dances around the stage like Angus Young and the rest of the ladies do their part as well. This, however, is where the novelty stops.
From the opening notes of "Sin City" one realizes this band rocks and rocks hard. These big city girls know what they are doing with their instruments. As the band played the long intro the crowd began cheering. They didn’t know what to do when vocalist Dyna Shirasaki, AKA Bon Johnson, went into the first verse. The spirit and soul of Bon Scott leaped into her lungs and ignited the fuse sending the crowd on hand into a frenzy and the band into overdrive. Dyna is not alone in her shock value as each band member brings something special to the mix. Rhythm guitarist Carin Toti hunkers down and delivers a solid performance in the same way Malcolm Young of AC/DC does. Bass player Andrea Zermeno bounces along the stage to the exact rhythm of Cliff Johnson. Phil Rudd is paid tribute by drummer Stephanie Leigh. Steph is one high energy person who takes on a lot of responsibility behind the scenes. On stage she pounds the skins like a woman possessed. Lead guitar is handled by Tina Wood. Wood is a true professional as she does not miss a note. She handles the fastest AC/DC riff with ease and blasts out note perfect solos all the while kicking her leg in the air and flashing the metal sign ala Angus Young. In the end, ThundHerStruck proved they are a damn good band. They are loud, noisy, greasy and groovy – just like AC/DC – only they look a damn site better.
When the girls finished, it was time to head back to the main stage to watch the headliner. Poison is currently on tour with Jam ‘05 performers Cinderella. 2006 is Poison’s 20th Anniversary and they have released a Greatest Hits album that debuted in the Billboard Top 20. Since the band is touring with Cinderella, they could not bring their entire stage show to Moondance. This was going to be a stripped down Poison show without all the fire, explosions and confetti that the crowd was used to. In a way, it was really cool to see Poison stand up on their own and play as a band without having the safety net of their pyrotechnics to fall back on. The band passed the test and played a ferocious set complete with all their classic hits. "Every Rose Has It’s Thorn" saw the entire place singing along and in places you could hear the crowd over vocalist Bret Michaels.
I went backstage to say hello to Janna Elias, who works for Bret. Over the years, I have watched Janna work and I have to say she is one of the best in the business. Poison are a unique rock band. Like the Moondance, there is a real family atmosphere between the band and the members of the crew. Many have given the band years of service and they all function under the common goal of making the show the best it can be. Apparently, it is working as Kathy Bieloh told me it was the largest crowd in Moondance history. Once the show was over, I went back to say hello to Bret and checked in with Janna to see when he would be available. She told me that Bret was so impressed with the Moondance Jam that he wanted to invite the owners onto his private bus for a beer and some conversation. Janna also asked me if I thought I could get my hands on ten Moondance Jam glow mugs. I went over and found Mark Kirchhoff and told him what was needed and he got on the radio and made things happen. A few moments later Kathy, her daughter and her daughter’s friend and the Classic Rock Revisited crew went onboard Bret’s bus. A security guard fetched the glow mugs and was rewarded by getting a drum head signed by the entire band.
Bret travels in style as his bus has a bar, a plasma screen television and enough seating for ten people to hang in style. Bret thanked Kathy for inviting them to the show. He passed beers around to everyone and promised Kathy that he would play worse shows at other festivals as he enjoyed Moondance the best. Bret picked up on the feeling of togetherness at the show and exclaimed, "This is like one great big family. Everyone is into the music and gets along." Kathy smiled and replied, "We are a family and we are going to keep it that way." Michaels praised the set up and the fans. "We go to a lot of these multi-day festivals and the crowds can get crazy. At Rock-Fest one year I had to stop playing because these two guys were beating the crap out of each other. Everyone at Moondance was into the show and that made us get more into it. I wish we would have had the entire stage show with the lights and fire but this really was cool because we got to prove we could play together as a band and do a great show."
The evening had turned into morning as it was approaching 2 A.M.. We drove Jen back to the hotel but the night was far from over for the guys. Kelly, Ron and I piled into the car and made our way back to the General Admission Campground. We had heard legendary stories of this place. KY Wrestling, naked girls, open sex acts going on before your very eyes – the list goes on and on. Now, what kind of men would we be if we didn’t at least go check it out? The first stop we were planning on making was Camp Confused, home of KY Wrestling. Before we could even get there, we were pulled over by the law. The Sheriff and Ron had a conversation and it was quickly apparent that both men were about the only sober people in the campground. After pleasantries were exchanged, he went on his way. We walked up to the camp site. A small crowd had gathered around and a girl and guy were wrestling. A giant pad was smeared with KY and we had hopes that we may witness some real decadence. Kelly was fired up enough that he was willing to recreate the scene from the movie Stripes where John Candy, called Ox in the movie, jumps in a mud wrestling pit with five hot chicks. After ten minutes at the KY pit, however, it was very clear that we were not going to see a good show. We came on an off night. A large gal did throw down with a very big dude. He ended up slamming her hard to the ground. She came back up fighting and the crowd cheered them on. Next, two dudes began wrestling and that was our cue to go check out the pole dancing. Maybe next year?
We got in the car and drove to the camp site with the poles. Several girls were dancing and rap music was blaring. This was going to be more interesting for sure. We quickly found out that we did not have in our possession the currency of the campsite — we had no beads. Damn the luck, it seems beads are necessary to get the girls to do more than dance. Fortunately for us, some other guys were rich with beads and willing to share. For the next fifteen minutes, we watched as a blond girl periodically flashed her boobs to the crowd. She also shimmied up the pole where it became clear she had nothing on under her jean skirt. Later on, she made out with a big-chested brunette. She was, however, the only one pushing the limits as the rest of the gals danced with their clothes on. We decided that we were getting too old for this kind of thing and wandered back to the car. The entire scene was a mix between an episode of Cops and an episode of Girls Gone Wild. It was quite an experience and while it seemed the scene could teeter out of control at any given movement, it never made it all the way over the edge. It was a fun place to visit but a bacon cheeseburger at the casino proved to be more our speed.
Band of the Day: The Doobie Brothers
Biggest Surprise of the Day: Pierced Nipples
Best Saloon Band: ThundHerStruck
Worst Moment of the Day: The Unforgiving Heat
Surreal Behind the Scenes Moment: Ann Wilson of Heart Walking Her Dog
Day IV began and it quickly became apparent that we were also too old to function on three hours of sleep. It also was apparent that it was going to be damn hot. The temperature spun out of control as a heat wave hit the State topping out at 100 degrees. The last day of the Moondance is when the Moondance staff loosens up a bit and begins to have a dazed look on their face. The end is in sight and everyone hunkers down to squeeze as much enjoyment as they can for the last day of the Jam.
We hit the T-shirt shack and laid down some greenbacks to take home various Moondance Jam clothing. Kelly and I wondered away from the pack and spotted three girls walking toward us. One of the girls was holding her shirt well out from her body and had a very strange look on her face. When they were in earshot range I asked if she was okay and if we could do anything for her. She smiled and looked at us and said her nipples were sore. With that she lifted her shirt and revealed two freshly pierced nipples. Kelly, quick with a camera went for the shot, explaining that we were not perverts – we were journalists. Whatever he said worked as all three ladies flashed their newly decorated breasts at us for the shot. We went back to brag to Ron and Jen at our good fortune.
The loudest and proudest classic rock radio station in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes is KQRS. They were onsite doing live broadcasts the entire weekend. When we arrived on site we learned that deejay Lisa Miller had mentioned the 2005 Classic Rock Revisited article on the Moondance Jam on the air. We made our way to the booth and spent some time talking with Lisa. She was very cool and told us how much she enjoyed Classic Rock Revisited. She even has us listed as one of her favorite links on the KQRS website!
The next stop was the Mardi Gras tent. A band was playing Zydeco music. The band that played was very talented. The star of the show was the violin player. People would hang him upside down and he would keep on playing. He would let people hold his violin bow and then move the instrument up and down and jam out. The singer sang while wearing a scrub board around his neck. He appeared to be playing percussion on it with two small bones. We watched until Y&T were ready to take the stage.
Y&T is best known for their 80's hit "Summertime Girls" but this band is much more than a bunch of One Hit Wonders. They also have more talent than their bubble gum hit would lead one to believe. The band is lead by lead vocalist and lead guitarist Dave Meniketti. The other original member is bass player Phil Kennemore. Backstage after the show, Kennemore had a Moondance mug holding a bottle a whiskey inside of it. His road manager came by and asked for a drink, thinking he would be getting something ice cold to combat the heat. Instead, he caught a whiff of the straw and snapped his head back laughing. Phil just grinned and took a long pull from the straw. Phil mentioned that the band is looking for a record deal and has begun writing some new songs. A lifelong rocker he plans on continuing to perform until the bitter end. "I either want to die on stage or I want to die in hotel room with two hookers, a bottle of whiskey and an ounce blow by my side" he commented. Phil summed up his take on the rock n’ roll life style when he said, "I was born broke and I will die broke but I am going to have a hell of a lot of fun in-between."
After Y&T, we set up our giveaway table for the last time in the VIP area. We gave away our remaining pile of merchandise as well as the last of our Classic Rock Revisited T-shirts. We also gave away one of the Moondance Jam Dream 15 artist signed commemorative prints by Ioannis. Once we were done, dozens of patrons came up and spoke with us and told us how much they enjoyed the giveaway. Ron packed up the equipment and we sauntered backstage where we ran into the ThundHerStruck girls. The worn out backstage staffers could hardly keep up with the AC/DC divas as they rattled off something about their banner. The requests were met with blank stares as four days in the hot sun had made taking care of anyone but the headliners a near impossibility. The ladies were pacified by the case of beer and bottle of tequila that Kelly and I were kind enough to supply them with.
As we sat in the girl’s trailer, a man knocked on the door and informed us that the air conditioning was being cut off as the heat had the system over loaded. That was our cue to head up front to check out John Kay & Steppenwolf. It does not get any more classic than "Born to Be Wild," "Magic Carpet Ride," "Hey Lawdy Mama" and "It’s Never Too Late." Kay was in better voice than the last several times I had seen Steppenwolf perform. The band was tight and they put on a very enjoyable performance. During the show he announced that he was retiring from touring, making this show even more special. The band played "The Pusher" and ended it with an extended guitar jam before leaving the stage.
The band of the day turned out to be the Doobie Brothers. The West Coast rock band took the stage and immediately the crowd came to life. Mainstays Pat Simmons and Tom Johnston steered the ship Doobie to the land of musical bliss. The Doobies seem to always pump out an enjoyable show filled with tons of feel good anthems. Tonight was no exception. The band made everyone forget the heat as they crowded together to sing along with "China Grove," "Black Water," "Long Train Runnin’" "Takin’ It to the Streets" and "The Doctor." At one point, I decided to quit fighting the crowd and go backstage for a bottle of water. Along the way I noticed saxophone player Marc Russo standing talking to Y&T’s drummer. He stood there with his sax strapped on ready to play as he shot the breeze while his band jammed on stage fifty feet away!
Once backstage, I sat in the shade and ran into Jack Jordan of TEA Productions. Jack is an ominous figure – the type of guy you don’t want to be your enemy. Luckily for us, Jack likes us. We sat and ate a quick meal and discussed what it takes to put on a show like the Moondance Jam. Once we were done talking I peered over in the direction of Heart’s dressing room. The sign outside the trailer said "Ann & Nancy’s Salon." Both of rocks most famous sisters sat outside in lawn chairs and appeared to be enjoying themselves. Ann disappeared inside her makeshift salon and returned with a small white dog and a leash. She hooked the dog’s collar and away they went. I smiled always amazed to find out rock stars are people too. They are people who do amazing things but people nonetheless.
It was with a twinge of sadness that Heart took the stage as they were the last band of the Jam. After Heart the main stage would be empty and Dream 15 would be a memory. I sucked up the last remaining amount of energy I could muster and watched and listened to one of the most professional acts to ever take the Moondance stage. Heart has had twenty Top 40 singles and six Top 10 albums. The set list included "Barracuda," "Crazy on You," "Magic Man" and "What About Love." Ann Wilson’s vocals sent chills up my spine and Nancy played her heart out (no pun intended). A huge surprise came when the band pulled off two Led Zeppelin classics as well as an elegant version of The Who’s "Love Reign on Me." There were rumbles in the crowd that Heart could have better spent the time singing their own songs but I found the remakes to bring a freshness and an energy to the band. The songs were a tip of the hat to the music they loved and they were done very well. I love to see an established band such as Heart reach out and take risks and do what they want to do instead of what they are supposed to do.
Alas, all good things must come to an end. And when Heart left the stage Dream 15 was over. The expectations were high coming off Fab 14. The Moondance crew were faced with many challenges including pounding rain, technical difficulties and unrelenting heat. Yet, they had faced every challenge thrown at them and come away the victor.
Covering this event for Classic Rock Revisited put us in the unique position where we were able to see the Moondance Jam in its totality from nearly every conceivable angle. We experienced Moondance from the living room of Bret Michael’s tour bus to the KY Wrestling pit in the General Admissions Campground. We went from being inside of Bill and Kathy Bieloh’s office to being among the crowd at the top of the hill during Steve Miller’s set. We saw Moondance from the viewpoint of Jim the security guard at the backstage entrance as well as from the cook slaving over the barbeque. We watched as the stars came in and we witnessed the fans who sat all day in the sun. We talked with campers who were there to party, deejays who were there to work and the production crew who worked tirelessly to make sure the show went on as scheduled. From the Saloon stage to the VIP Tent, we saw it all and met everyone involved. The one thing we came away with was the awesome feeling of togetherness as everyone was gathered together for one common purpose.
Our hats go off to the security crew who literally stayed up all night to ensure our safety. We applaud the hospitality staff, the cooks, the VIP hosts, the Jammer Girls, the backstage crew and the fans for their dedication to making Moondance the best rock festival in the United States. A huge debt of gratitude goes out to Bill and Kathy Bieloh. Excellence starts at the top and works its way down. Bill and Kathy’s vision is alive and in the pulse of each and every person who takes part in the Moondance Jam.
In closing, Dream 15 produced musical memories that will live on each time I hear "Cat Scratch Fever," "Schools Out" or "Jet Airliner" on the radio. More important, Dream 15 produced other memories that will remain deep inside of my soul for my entire life. The memories I am speaking of are the faces of the people I met at the Moondance Jam. There was the hippie couple in Billy’s Backstage Bar who sat and talked with us and told us about their young son. There was Elizabeth, her sister and the lady from Canada who we ran into all weekend long. They always smiled and stopped to talk. How could we forget Laura Kremers, Program Director from 103.7 The Loon? There were the three drunk girls I was instructed to take backstage and find a rock star for them to meet. We met people who ran a county music show that were checking out the Moondance to see how to do it right. How could we not mention all the nice people who put together their campsites and allowed us to invade their temporary homes in order to snap pictures? There was a girl named Kelly who took a liking to us and a girl in the VIP area we only knew as Socks. She waited through every drawing hoping to win something but never did. Still, she had a smile on her face when she left. We have to mention the Moondance Icon in the photo pit. He even asked me to autograph the door of his trailer. We met the artist Ioannis and his brother George who handles his business affairs. Both men were totally blown away by the feeling of togetherness of Dream 15. Classic Rock Revisited scribe Dan Wall wrote the Moondance band biographies for the official Jam brochure. Mark Kirchhoff and Kevin Abernathy have become true friends and the rest of the band Mountain Ash seem to be following suit. Lisa Miller gave us an on air mention on KQRS and then took time to chat with us and thank us for the article. We met Sassy and the other Moondance Jam message board members who have made Moondance a way of life. Wheatland Jam owner Rod Trowbridge summed it up best when he motioned to the huge crowd and then to Bill Bieloh and exclaimed, "That guy is my hero."
As we left Moondance Dream 15, we realized that what makes this event special are the people. The smile on our faces will last for months as we eagerly await 2007's line up to appear on the Jam’s official website. In the meantime, we will discuss the Jam, stay in touch with the friends we have made and look forward to Sweet 16. After all, the Moondance Jam is more than a four-day rock event – it is a way of life.