WALKER – Bill Bieloh wanted ZZ Top to perform at Moondance Jam so much that he is spending three times more for the legendary classic rock band to perform tonight than he usually spends for all opening night acts combined.
ZZ Top tops tonight’s start of the 13th annual festival, which over four nights will feature 16 national bands and 24 regional ones, with a total act price tag pushing $1 million. Bieloh is paying $175,000 for ZZ Top alone.
He had been trying to get the group for years.
“It is just a good band,” Bieloh said. “They’ve been around 25 years. They are just so good.”
He originally wanted the group to be a Friday feature, but a Canadian event outbid him. So now ZZ Top headlines the strongest Wednesday-Thursday slate Moondance has presented. It is scheduled to be on stage at 11 p.m.
Other nights feature acts such as the Allman Brothers Band, Pat Benatar and Rick Springfield. Regional bands play each afternoon.
On stage Tuesday, preparation was nearing completion. Woody Widhalm and Owen Sarratt hoisted a remote-controlled spotlight in place.
“We are the first ones to come and the last ones to go,” Widhalm said as he went looking for his next project.
The Nebraska-based crew, among many subcontractors working the event, gets to enjoy the music before tearing things down early next week.
Organizer Bieloh has been working on the 13th annual version of Moondance since the 12th version ended. Bieloh said on Tuesday, amid dozens of interruptions by people seeking last-minute direction, preparation for Minnesota’s largest rock festival was ahead of schedule.
The weather forecast already looks lucky for the 13th Moondance Jam. After a 2003 Moondance hampered by heavy rains, a much lower chance of rain threatens this year’s event.
This year’s big difference is an emphasis on weeknight entertainment. Bieloh said he hopes that doesn’t mean a huge traffic jam tonight and Thursday as northwest and north-central Minnesotans try to put in a full day of work and then jam the night away.
Sixty percent of Moondance tickets are sold to residents within 120 miles of Walker.
Seventy percent of the tickets are sold in advance, but Bieloh said only a few people ever have been turned away at the gates.
About 18,000 to 20,000 are expected each day. Good numbers, Bieloh said. He aims at keeping the festival this size – which still is far bigger than the 500 who came to the first jam or the 1,000 who followed a year later.
“We don’t want to be bigger, we want to be better,” Bieloh said.