Moondance Jam mostly old school, but one young star has been invited to shine
by John Hansen
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Her career is just starting to take off, but Ali Gray has already done something few other performers can claim - she has been booked at both WE Fest, Minnesota's biggest country music event, and Moondance Jam, the state's biggest classic rock event.
The Minneapolis singer performed in 2000 at WE Fest with Starlight Express and she'll lead the Ali Gray Band into Moondance for a 3 p.m. Friday show on the main stage.
"With WE Fest, I was with three other girls and we were just so excited to be there," Gray said in a phone interview Tuesday. "At the time, I don't know if we knew what to expect. We knew we were there on the same day as Kenny Rogers and Martina McBride, but it wasn't until we got there and had our own trailer that it set in.
"But with Moondance, it's 10 times the honor, because it's my own music. It's pretty overwhelming."
Mark Kirchhoff of Moondance Jam admits Gray's band - which fits best under the Americana label - isn't the typical Moondance selection.
"It's just a little different twist on the main stage," said Kirchhoff, who tapped the band after seeing them in September at the Tree Frog Festival in Faribault. "We thought classic rock people would accept them, and we'd also bring in new people."
While Gray isn't entirely country, she's obviously not classic rock, either - at age 32, she's simply too young to be "classic." But for Moondance, her band will have no problem rocking.
"We typically take more of a country approach to songs, but we wanted to make sure we kept in tune with the fans at Moondance, so (in rehearsals) we've kind of shied away from country and are going a little more rock 'n' roll," Gray said. "I'm a little nervous, I have to be honest with you. But my band is all veterans who are extremely talented."
Drummer Brandon Fjetland also plays with Mountain Ash, which performed Wednesday at Moondance. Lead guitarist Patrik Tanner and bassist Jon James also have plenty of rock experience. And Gray was a backup singer for several years in Martin Zellar's Neil Diamond tribute show.
"I learned so much from (Zellar) - how to stay grounded, and also the rock 'n' roll etiquette, being gracious in every gig and every venue," Gray said. "I still am incredibly loyal to Martin Zellar and owe him probably everything. It was a great launching pad for me."
Even before her time with Zellar, Gray had a solid rock background. The first record she owned, when she was 6 years old, was REO Speedwagon's 1980 album, "Hi Infidelity." (REO will perform at 11 p.m. Thursday at Moondance.)
"I was the kid who carried my records wherever I went," said Gray, who joined her first band at age 20. "It's always been a part of me. I just remember being hungry for music all the time and soaking it in."
Gray put out her first album, "Let You In," in 2005, and she's now "waist-deep in writing" songs for the second disc. A regular on the Twin Cities club circuit - among her favorite stops is O'Gara's Garage in her hometown of St. Paul - she is starting to branch outside the metro area.
But she still has a day job at Memorial Blood Center, and she insists she doesn't have her heart set on big-time music success - although she wouldn't shy away from it, either.
"I never had a plan, and to be honest with you, I still don't," Gray said. "Not to say I don't love what I'm doing, but having a plan sets you up for failure and disappointment."