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Moondance Jam
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Moondance Jam 2007 opens tonight

by Robby Robinson
Bemidji Pioneer

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The 2007 version of Moondance Jam, “Sweet 16,” will kick-off tonight with one of the biggest and most popular groups ever to play at the music festival.

Def Leppard began its current 50-show tour on June 28 and will be on the road until the end of October, including a show at the Minnesota State Fair on Sept. 3. Since their debut album, “On Through the Night,” was released in 1980, Def Leppard has sold more than 65 million albums.

Preceding Def Leppard on the main stage will be the local band Mountain Ash at 3 p.m., Jackyl at 4:30 p.m., Loverboy at 7 p.m., and Tesla at 9 p.m.

Two bands had to back out of their commitment to the Jam this year. Deep Purple was initially set to tour with Def Leppard but the joint tour schedule was cancelled and the bands went their own ways. Smash Mouth had to cancel because of a recording date conflict. The popular Minnesota band Soul Asylum replaced Smash Mouth in the Friday lineup.

The New Cars, which includes new lead vocalist Todd Rundgren, was unable to make last year’s Jam due to an automobile accident that injured one of the band members. The band honored its promise to return and will play as the final act at 11 p.m. Friday.

A representative of Moondance Jam said they expect a large crowd Wednesday, with many purchasing single day passes just to hear the day’s lineup.

At the Moondance Jam campgrounds near Walker, a few early birds were setting up their tents and campers Tuesday. Campers were allowed in a day early this year as one way to cut down on congestion, said owner and promoter Bill Bieloh, especially with the popular line-up on the first day.

Bieloh, a former Walker grocery store owner, conceived the Jam in 1992 as a way to promote the riding stables he and his wife, Kathy, owned. Kathy was also celebrating her birthday, so it was viewed as a big party and barbecue.

The event got off to a modest start that first year by featuring a roster of regional bands, and a crowd of approximately 3,500 attended.

By 1997, Moondance Jam was featuring nationally known artists and attracted 35,000 concertgoers over a three-day run. Several years ago, the Bielohs sold the grocery business to concentrate on their music festivals. This year they marked the first-ever Moondance Jammin Country Fest, which featured a lineup of local and nationally known country bands. That was held the last weekend in June.

In 2006, the Bielohs sold the Moondance Ranch and Adventure Park and some of the buildings were moved to the Moondance Jam concert grounds to expand the restaurant and bar there. Bieloh said he wants to hold at least three major events at the Moondance concert grounds each summer. The grounds are also for rent for weddings and other events.

Although as many as 20,000 or more have been in the concert arena at one time and the 300-acre concert and the campgrounds has room for many more than the 8,000-10,000 campers who visit each summer, Bill said the Jam is about as big as they want it to get. In the past they have, and will again, cut off ticket sales if they feel too many have been sold.

Although people come from all over the country, approximately 80 percent come from within just 50 miles of Walker.

“We want to keep this manageable and make sure everybody who buys a ticket has a great experience,” said Bill. “You just reach a point where you have to draw the line.”

While excessive alcohol consumption is a concern, Bieloh said that precautions are taken and a strong law enforcement presence is evident.

Concert attendees are encouraged to camp and if someone appears to have had too much to drink and plans to drive, he or she has the option of parking his or her car and sleeping it off or finding another way home.

“We don’t want people drinking and driving,” said Bieloh. “We want people to be safe and to party responsibly. I think people understand that. We don’t have very many problems with overindulgence, but with this many people, there will always be a few instances and we try our best to address them and get the people involved home safely.”

Tickets and campsite rentals are still available and can be purchased at the gate.

A single-day concert pass is $70, a four-day pass is $150 and four-day camping passes are $80 per person.

VIP passes are sold out.

A free shuttle bus runs from the Northern Lights Casino parking lot to the concert arena on an ongoing basis throughout the music festival.