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Bands vary, but agree Moondance worthwhile

By Don Davis
Capitol Reporter

Sunday, July 18, 2004

WALKER - The Moondance Jam main stage is as professional as at any concert.

Moondance must provide a top-notch stage because performers such as Rick Springfield, ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd electrified crowds from it during the rural Walker classic rock festival last week.

A couple hundred yards away stands a metal building housing the Moondance Jam Saloon. Tucked away in a corner of the often-hot facility is a small triangular stage like found in many bars. It is where rock bands from throughout Minnesota play during the four-day Moondance run, which ended Saturday night.

Regional band members say they are thrilled to be part of Moondance, even if their venue is the saloon. In fact, some prefer the smaller stage.

“It doesn’t matter, as long as we play,” a smiling Joel Jay said after Point One Oh wrapped up its set.

“It’s a toe in,” Eric Reed said when El diablo finished its hour-long performance.

Paul Peterson of Tow Truck Tom liked the saloon stage, too, but shouted to the crowd the band’s goal: “Tell the guy who runs this place we need to be on the big stage next year.”

Twenty-six Minnesota bands – with names such as Bluespot Lobotomy and Free Beer – played in the afternoon before the big stage fired up, as well between national acts each night.

“We like to showcase regional talent,” Moondance organizer Bill Bieloh said. “We like them to say they got their start at Moondance.”

The 26 came from 224 bands Bieloh’s crew considered.

The bands come from a variety of molds. Three show the differences:

- Walker-based El diablo is a three-man band that plays other artists’ hits and prefers area bars to the stage where thousands listen. “We’re just a bar band and we hope you enjoy it,” lead singer Reed told his audience.

- Tow Truck Tom, with members from Rothsay and Barnesville, emphasizes its original songs and wants to become a well-known group. “We all got so frustrated doing bar bands,” guitarist James “Buck” Berger said. “At least we are trying.”

- Falling in between is Point One Oh, a Park Rapids band named for the soon-to-be-changed drivers’ blood-alcohol limit. Singer Julie Snow said the group already plays in places as far away as Duluth and Warroad, and wants to expand south to Alexandria.

Tow Truck members

who describe their sound as a combination of straight-ahead rock, blues and southern rock – “get self satisfaction out of writing our own stuff,” Peterson said. Moondance could help them find new venues.

“It was an incredible opportunity to show our kind of music,” Berger said.

Peterson offered Bieloh a guarantee if he would put Tow Truck on the big stage: The group would return his money if the crowed booed.

Tow Truck took advantage of its late-afternoon time slot, performing to several hundred people waiting to hear the national bands that often played to 15,000 or more.

Moondance is a great engagement, no matter where a band plays, Snow of Point One Oh said. “The atmosphere here is incredible.”

Snow and her colleagues said they prefer the saloon stage to an opportunity at the big one, where the bands and the crowd don’t mix.

“I wouldn’t be able to stand being on a closed stage,” Jay said.

The band likes to mix with the crowd, which at Moondance was heavily populated by other regional bands.

El diablo drummer Bill Erickson agreed with Jay. “I like interaction with the crowd.”

The Walker band’s set started at 1 p.m., early by Moondance standards. Just 40 people were in the audience at first, although the crowd eventually more than doubled.

“I’d do it again – maybe later in the day,” Erickson said.

As a bar band, El diablo tries to play requests, even if the trio doesn’t know all the words.

Their goal, Erickson said, is to leave an audience entertained. Part of that is singing songs their audience knows.

“People like that familiarity,” Reed said.