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Moondance Jam: A lesson in diplomacy

By George Fairbanks Pioneer Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

WALKER -- For Bill Bieloh, who owns and promotes Walker’s annual Moondance Jam rock music festival with his wife Kathy, dealing with musicians and bands has brought both joy and frustration.

Moondance Jam 12 gets underway today and runs through Saturday.

For the Bielohs, finding bands for the next Jam is a process that begins in the fall, not long after that year’s Jam. They use a Minneapolis-based production company to begin negotiations with bands and then the Bielohs step in near the end of the process.

Step one is simply figuring out who is touring and where. Some acts the Bielohs are interested might be touring in Europe or could even be taking time off, thus eliminating them from consideration.

Other acts, like ACDC, have made the choice not to play outdoor venues.

“Another one is Tom Petty, one of my favorites, won’t play outside,” Bill Bieloh said.

When the bands are signed and the Jam rolls around, the Bielohs and their army of staff makes sure the artists are well taken care of.

“We want them to have a good experience,” Bill Bieloh said.

The rider

A Moondance Jam staff person is on call to pick up the acts at airports in Duluth, Fargo, the Twin Cities and Bemidji.

Moondance staffers must also be prepared to fulfill the needs of each bands rider, the list dictating what each act expects to be waiting for them backstage.

Bill Bieloh has plenty of stories about musicians and their sometimes very thick riders.

Leaning back in his office chair at the Jam site, Bill Bieloh explains Hank Williams Jr., who played at Moondance in 1999, produced a rider stating a gold Rolex watch had to be waiting backstage.

Bill Bieloh caught the request in the rider before agreeing to it and called Williams’s management team.

They told Bieloh he could cross it off the list because the Rolex request was in the rider simply to check whether or not concert personnel actually read it.

Bill Bieloh, added with a laugh however, if he hadn’t caught the request he would have been on the hook for the Rolex.

Many of the bands tend to ask for some of same things. Special cigars and alcohol lots of alcohol are the biggest tasks for Jam staffers.

Bill Bieloh said he has to place his liquor order a full month before the Jam so he can meet each band’s requests.

Food is another important element within the rider. As an example, Bill Bieloh said he’s been surprised through the years by how many music industry people are vegetarians, a preference reflected in the riders.

Boston, one of this year’s high profile acts, has a rider calling for cases of alcohol and other items.

The band travels with 37 people and Bill Bieloh said Boston’s rider alone will cost about $10,000.

“It’s part of the deal,” he said. “My people are instructed to do whatever they need to do.”

In 1999 Lynrd Skynrd even sent a Jam staffer into Walker to purchase rain gear with a band credit card, Bill Bieloh said.

That rider fee is in addition to Boston’s $200,000 performance price tag.

All told, Bill Bieloh said this year’s band budget is around $900,000. That’s opposed to a $1,200 band budget for Moondance Jam I in 1992, a small affair filled with regional acts.

The Jam’s increasing popularity and ticket sales have made high-profile acts a reality, Bill Bieloh said.

Past acts

Through the years, both Bielohs have dealt with musicians who won them over and others who left them disappointed.

The Wallflowers, who performed at Moondance 10 in 2001, didn’t leave Bill Bieloh with positive memories.

“Those four punks, I want to call them,” he said.

Bill Bieloh said the band gave away several tickets and passes to young women. Law enforcement had to be placed backstage to make sure alcohol wasn’t consumed by underage people.

“Worst band I ever dealt with,” Bill Bieloh said.

Last year, German rock band the Scorpions made it difficult for the Bielohs to get on stage and thank the crowd and their employees, which has been their custom through the years right before the final band on the Jam’s last night comes on stage.

Meatloaf, who played at last year’s Jam, surprised Kathy Bieloh because of his demeanor backstage and on stage.

“Meatloaf, as rude as he was on stage, he was great backstage,” she said.

Meatloaf’s stage antics, which included swearing at the audience, were largely an act, she added, but many in the audience took the behavior seriously, which disappointed some Jammers.

At times during past Jams, Kathy Bieloh said, she and her husband have felt like they didn’t even own the event because certain bands “walk in like they own the place.”

Yet, Bill Bieloh was quick to point out he’s had many positive experiences with bands and musicians through the years.

Most notably, REO Speedwagon and George Thorogood.

Kathy Bieloh has fond memories of Gary Puckett, who’s played at multiple Jams.

“Styx was always a band that was pretty cordial,” she added.

Styx has also played at multiple Jams.

“The last couple of years is when we had the majority of the nicest bands,” Kathy Bieloh added.

The Bielohs’ have also been forced to deal with rumors as the Jam’s popularity has blossomed.

Recently, Bill Bieloh had to put to rest a rumor the owners of We Fest were planning to buy the Jam and move it to Detroit Lakes, We Fest’s site.

That, Bill Bieloh stated emphatically, isn’t going to happen.

“This thing will never leave Walker,” he said.

Bill Bieloh explored the possibility of purchasing We Fest and moving it to the Moondance Jam fairgrounds but decided in the end the numbers just didn’t make sense.

While the Jam continues to grow, so does the Bielohs’ list of “dream” performers.

Right now, John Mellencamp is high on that list.

“We lost John Mellencamp at $275,000 two years ago,” Bill Bieloh said. “Before I quit I will get Mellencamp.”