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Moondance Jam just for fun, says businessman turned rock and roll festival promoter, Bill Bieloh

BY LOUIS HOGLUND
ECHO EDITOR
Lake Country Echo

July 17, 1997

What started more or less as a musical gathering of friends and some guests has evolved into a party of regional scope, with big league bands, big crowds and a big budget.

Moondance Jam wrapped up its sixth annual weekend of rock music and revelry--attracting crowds averaging about 10,000 each night. For the first time, the music festival was a three day affair, July 10-12.

"Really, we do this mainly for fun," said Bill Bieloh, the Walker area business- man and promoter of Moondance Jam, on his property east of Walker. "Almost everybody who works out here are friends and family. All of us are involved in a tourism-related economy, so we look at this as kind of a mid-summer break."

Describing Moondance as a leisurely "break" from the busy summer season appears an extreme understatement. This mid-summer diversion requires an army of workers, an incredible array of logistic challenges – and a budget that is approaching $300,000.

In contract payments for bands and entertainment alone, the sixth annual Moondance totaled $190,000, according to Bieloh. Costs associated with booking the headline act, REO Speedwagon, were nearly $50,000, according to Bieloh. "I calculated it at about $1,700 per minute," laughed Bieloh. "But I really don’t have a problem with that price. You have to spend money to bring in bands that bring in people."

For a music enthusiast with roots in 1970’s rock and roll, Moondance is Bieloh’s idea of a great time in the good old summertime.

Many business colleagues in the Walker area say that Moondance is the busiest, highest sales volume weekend of the entire year. For some businesses, Moondance fuels more business activity than Walker’s other trademark attraction: The International Eelpout Festival.

"WeFest, the nationally-known country music festival in Detroit Lakes, was the inspiration behind Moondance," said Bieloh. He had attended the 1989 WeFest, and conceived the idea of a "small" festival to promote his horseback riding and Moondance Ranch park businesses.

"The first couple of years were a disaster... We didn’t know if we were country or rock music," said Bieloh. Also, the Moondance festivals consistently lost money.

Bieloh, his staff and the promoters settled on a classic rock formula for the festival. Finally, two years ago, Moondance broke even. Last year, it earned a modest profit. By Saturday night, as a record crowd was forming for the final concerts, Bieloh was predicting a solid profit for the 1997 Moondance.

Profits are welcome, but Bieloh insists that money is not the main motivation behind Moondance.

In fact, his greater concern is that the festival will become "too big." He said he will prevent that from happening by limiting sales, if necessary. He said he would prefer to determine a logical and reasonable "sell-out" point. When sales reach that level, tickets will no longer be available, keeping the crowd at a manageable and comfortable level.

"We really do this for fun," said Bieloh. "Look at it this way, you spend $40 to $50 for one concert in the Twin Cities. Here, you spend $40 and you can see 18 bands."