WALKER - As big as it has become, Moondance Jam promoter and owner Bill Bieloh made it clear Saturday that the Jam, expected to host more than 70,000 rock music fans during its four-day run, is still just his little party.
Begun in 1992 as a birthday party for his wife, Kathy, the Jam now attracts nearly 20,000 fans each night, nearly 10,000 of them camping on the grounds. The theme for the 11th Jam was "Red, White and Blue" with a special tribute to U.S. armed services each night, a fund-raiser to help support Operation Hometown Proud and even a fly-over by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Thursday evening.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, Bieloh met with his area department leaders to go over problems encountered the following night, discuss issues to be faced that day and to generally see if things were running smoothly.
As each of the 12 to 20 workers checks in, Bieloh, a grocery store owner in Walker, listens and makes sure that problems are being addressed and people are being served.
"Is everybody having a good time?" he finally asks.
"Yesterday was perfect and today will be the best," responds a security head.
While Wednesday and Thursday were the best opening days ever, Friday was lower in numbers, they reported, with just around 16,000 coming out to hear Blondie, Journey, Gypsy and Indigenous. Saturday, Bieloh told his staff to brace themselves and be ready to host quite possibly the largest crowd ever when Loverboy, Dio, Deep Purple and Scorpions take the stage.
As the crowds were moving into the concert grounds Saturday afternoon, it appeared that his prediction would come true.
Beer sales had been up, Bieloh learned from a representative of Nei Bottling of Bemidji, with as much beer sold the first three days of the Jam as the entire four days in 2001. Well over the equivalent of 600 kegs of beer or about 20,000 gallons expected to be served in addition to wine coolers and mixed drinks.
While excessive alcohol consumption is a concern, Bieloh said that precautions are taken and a strong law enforcement presence is evident. Concert attendees are encouraged to camp and if someone appears to have had too much to drink and plans to drive, they have the option of parking their car and sleeping it off or finding another way home.
"We don't want people drinking and driving," said Bieloh. "We want people to be safe and to party responsibly. I think people understand that. We don't have very many problems with overindulgence but with this many people, there will always be a few instances and we try our best to address them and get the people involved home safely."
Many Moondance Jam concert-goers opt to by a VIP ticket. For about three times the cost of a four-day general admission ticket, the buyer can sit in a reserved section of the concert arena close to the stage, get catered meals that include prime rib, shrimp. walleye, crab legs, roast beef and all the beer and free soft drinks they want.
"The best part is the extra portable toilets in the VIP section," joked VIP area supervisor Ray Ricci.
About 650 people opted to purchase VIP tickets this year, he added, most of whom camped in the VIP campground located adjacent to the south gate of the concert area.
During the Saturday evening concert, Bieloh said there will be a Jam in 2003 and has a commitment from his staff and the community to support a Jam in 2004, adding that he and Kathy Bieloh have comprised their own "wish list" of bands they will attempt to sign for next year.
At $160,000, Meat Loaf was the highest paid act this year, followed by Journey, which signed for $150,000. Contracts may include other considerations for the artists, such as travel and lodging, he added.
Their list includes the acts that have never been here before such as Boston, Chicago, Tom Petty and John Cougar Mellencamp, as well as previous Moondance attractions Steve Miller, Lynyrd Skynyrd and George Thorogood and the Destroyers.
"In the past we've always polled our fans about who they want to hear and attempted to respond," he said. "Next year, Kathy and I are going after our favorite groups."
Reservations for campsites for 2003 will be available on the Moondance Jam Web site, www.moondancejam.com, on Aug. 15.