WALKER -- Moondance Jam got under way in earnest today with Leon Russell and other rock and roll dignitaries who "make this year's Jam the best lineup of music by far," said founder Bill Bieloh.
Now in its ninth year, the outdoor classic rock festival in rural Walker features more than a dozen "bands we grew up with, the bands everyone remembers," Bieloh said in an interview.
The music started at 5 p.m. Wednesday -- the festival's "free night" for early birds -- with headliner Eric Burdon and the New Animals.
It opens officially at 3 p.m. today with regional band Halie O' and Part of the Tribe, followed by Russell at 5 p.m., Creedence Clearwater Revisited at 7 p.m., STYX at 9 p.m. and The Doobie Brothers at 11 p.m.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers and Joe Walsh and his band will headline Friday's acts, while Paul Rodgers, The Beach Boys and Peter Frampton will perform Saturday.
"Moondance is made of memories, and memories are what bring this whole event alive," said Bieloh, who started, with wife Kathy, a community music festival that has grown into a major summer event.
Reached Tuesday night on his cell phone -- he was supervising the table setup in the beverage tent -- Bieloh said he expects 20,000-25,000 people each day, based on advance ticket sales and forecasts for nice weather.
That's about 25 percent more than the number who attended last year's Jam, hindered by heavy rains that turned the festival and adjoining campground sites into muddy lakes.
With road and drainage improvements, the four-day festival can stand up to just about anything, Bieloh said, including "a hurricane or a tornado."
"But with the nice weather forecast, we will be ordering more beer" to accommodate a larger crowd, Bieloh said.
The Moondance crew was making final preparations Tuesday night, including a final sound and lighting check at the Main Stage, where the rock legends will appear throughout the festival.
Three other stages at the site will feature ongoing regional bands, including Silent Partner, The Fabulous Stool Pigeons and The Retractions, all of the Brainerd area.
The gates open each day at 9 a.m., and the music begins to crank up on the ancillary stages about noon. The first act on the Main Stage opens at 3 p.m. each day, followed by another every couple of hours.
The campgrounds opened early Wednesday but Bieloh said Tuesday night that about 200 campers were already parked along the road leading to the site a few miles east of Walker.
More than 6,000 camping tickets had been sold by Tuesday, Bieloh said.
"When the gates open, we will tag them, bag them and get them into their campsites," he said. "Then we are ready to rock."