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Moondance Fab 14 draws thousands of Jammers

Dean Morrill, Editor
The Pilot-Independent

Tuesday, July 19th, 2005

Record crowds again made Moondance Jam Fab 14 another success.
Over the four-day festival, gate receipts topped more than 20,000 each day, making it the largest campin' and jammin' event in the 14-year history.

Weather played a critical factor in the Jam's overall success, as no rain fell during any performances, making it the second straight year this has happened.

"I think it's one of only three Jams that we had great weather," said Bill Bieloh, who along with his wife Kathy started the Jam 14 years ago.

"Seeing the people have fun and the good help we have is why we continue to do this every year. They make it easy to put on," said Bill, adding that about 310 people are hired each year to make the Jam a success.

One of the highlights of this year's Jam was the Troop Tribute, a salute to all the Minnesota men and women serving in the Armed Forces. The ceremony was held Saturday night just before Cinderella took the stage.

Kristy Peterson, a Leech Lake summer resident, sang "God Bless America" and "Soldier Come Home," a song she co-wrote with her father. The Walker American Legion Post 134 Honor Guard brought the colors on stage during the tribute.

For Bill and Kathy, honoring service members has special meaning. One of their nephews served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and another nephew will be heading to Iraq later this fall.

"That chopper coming in was absolutely cool. The whole response from the crowd was really neat," said Kathy.

Following the tribute, Cinderella got the crowd warmed up for Whitesnake and Twisted Sister. Twisted Sister, a replacement for The Doors of the 21st Century that canceled only days before the event, closed the show with a crowd-pleasing display of great guitar play and loud lyrics.

The event did not start off on a good note as traffic jams backed up traffic on Highways 371 and 200. The congestion prevented many Jammers from getting into the campgrounds and fairgrounds for several hours.

The Bielohs said the traffic jam was attributed to miscommunication with the state patrol and a record number of campers.

Kathy, like so many others, was caught in traffic for just about two hours.

She said, unlike previous years where the campers would arrive early in the morning, the hot and humid temperatures delayed many of the campers from arriving early.

"Last year everyone got here early. They wanted to get here for ZZ Top," Bill noted. "This year, everybody kind of dragged. They didn't want to get here early. It's 90 degrees, let's not rush it."

In 2004 the highways were cleared just under two hours. This year the traffic jam lasted many hours, as vehicles were backed up several miles all the way to Walker.

"All the campers decided to come in Wednesday. They saw a beautiful weekend and decided to get up here," Kathy said of a record 10,000 campers.

Performances by .38 Special and Lynyrd Skynyrd, two of the best southern rock bands that feature brothers Donnie VanZant and Johnny VanZant respectively, also helped bring a record crowd.

An estimated 21,000 jammers came out to rock Wednesday night. Also performing was The Daisy Dillman Band, Minnesota's original country rockers.

Thursday and Friday night also brought out record crowds. More than 21,000-plus saw REO Speedwagon, Grand Funk Railroad, Blackfoot and Cheap Trick, who gained international fame in the 1970s, 1980s band Loverboy, and Tesla who had hits in both the late '80s and and early '90s.

To accommodate the record crowds, the fairgrounds were expanded by about 31,000 square feet.

The Jam also featured a new addition to an already spectacular stage. A platform was added 20 feet above the main stage so fans could see the bands perform without interfering with the production staff.

Bill and Kathy said in a few weeks they will talk with all their key staff members and decide if there will be a Jam in 2006. Next year would mark the 15th anniversary — a milestone that the Bielohs believe would not be possible without the "great" support of the Walker business community.

If next year is a go, Bill and Kathy want to do something special. They don't want to speculate on what bands they want to perform, but they are sure the Jam will still focus on classic rock 'n' roll.