WALKER -- To be sure, Moondance Jam’s primary focus is drawing rock bands and musicians with big name recognition to the area. With acts like Boston and Alice Cooper slated to appear at this week’s Jam, the goal of booking big names seems to have been met.
Walk around the Jam’s campgrounds for a few hours, however, and you’ll soon discover that for many Jammers spending four days in a tent or camper is as important as dancing the night away in front of a stage.
Mike and Linda Nelson, of Nisswa Minn., for example, are attending their eighth Jam.
They, along with hundreds of other camping Jammers, pulled onto the quiet country road leading to the Jam long before the gates opened at 8 a.m. Wednesday.
“If I were to guess, we were about 100th in line,” Mike Nelson said.
When asked what keeps drawing them back to the Jam, Mike Nelson was quick to say: “Just the music and the crowd … the fun of it. Really, we come for the music, but we also come for the camping.”
Like many of their fellow Jammers, the couple finds time during the festival to cruise around on motorcycles, hit the local lakes and shop and eat in Walker.
Linda Nelson said she’s been impressed with how the Jam’s camping situation has improved each year she and her husband have attended the event.
Roads have gotten better, camping spaces better defined and portable toilets more plentiful.
“It’s gotten better every year,” Linda Nelson said.
The Jam features several different reserved and general campgrounds.
No matter if it’s a reserved or general campground, Jammers come prepared.
On Wednesday morning, the sky in the Walker area was in ominous gray and a strong, relentless rain combined with a cold wind, made life difficult for campers.
Yet, the campgrounds were full of people already playing games, sharing drinks and chatting around fires.
George Wetherbee of Brainerd, like so many of his fellow campers, was busy stringing a huge tarp over his camp spot in an effort to provide shelter from the rain shower.
Wetherbee, who is camping solo this year, is attending the Jam for the fifth time.
“I’ll come forever,” he said with a huge grin.
He arrived at the Jam fairgrounds at about 8:30 Wednesday morning and immediately went to work putting his site in order.
He explained the tarp and the fire beneath draw fellow campers all through the night. They come to share drinks or a conversation.
“I have lots of people enjoy the tent,” he said.
Wetherbee also noted he’s never seen any out-of-control behavior in the campgrounds. People get along, he said, they help each other and share among themselves.
“All the fun is camping with people,” he said.
Wetherbee also praised Jam staffers for fostering a good relationship with campers.
“It’s always been good,” he said.
When asked which he preferred, the music or the camping, Wetherbee paused, smiled, and said, diplomatically: “Both.”
For Wetherbee, it’s the entire Jam experience that keeps him coming back summer after summer.
“The thing is about this place, everyone is friendly,” Wetherbee explained.
Deep in another Jam campground, William Klaus of Guthrie stood next to his tepee, seeming to ignore the rain.
Like Wetherbee, he’s attending his fifth Jam. Each year he’s brought the tepee with him, sparking plenty of questions and comments.
With a laugh, Klaus also said people frequently ask how much is costs to have their picture taken in front of the tepee.
“I say pictures with the tepee are $1, tepee pictures with this old Indian are $2 and topless with either is free,” Klaus said, before adding a surprising number of women have chosen the third option through the years.
Klaus has also been impressed with the conduct of his fellow Jammers.
“People get along out here,” he said.
Standing in the tepee, with the rain pounding onto it, Klaus noted he’s watched the camping facilities improve from Jam to Jam.
“This used to be just a mud pit, you’d get stuck,” he explained.
Despite Wednesday’s rain, the roads and grass in and around the campgrounds were in good shape, making driving, walking and camp setup easy.
This year’s Jam might also hold even more memories than usual for Klaus, who was married a week ago.
“This is me and my wife’s honeymoon,” he said. “This is one of the times we can be together without kids around.”