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Moondance Jam grows beyond founders' wildest dreams
Benatar, Nugent, Thorogood, REO Speedwagon headline this year's Jam

Tempo Correspondent

Thursday, July 19, 2001

WALKER -- When Bill and Kathy Bieloh created Moondance Jam in 1991, they envisioned a family oriented "backyard party."

Ten years later the Jam has grown into a four-day bash that attracts thousands of classic rock and roll fans and some of the best-known musicians from the 1970s and 1980s.

Pop and rock icons Pat Benatar, Ted Nugent, George Thorogood and REO Speedwagon, for examples, will headline this year's Jam, which gets under way July 11 at the Bielohs' rural Walker ranch.

Another measure of the Jam's success is the overall budget, which has rocketed to well over $2 million this year -- $700,000 just to pay the bands, Bill Bieloh said in an interview this week.

Marketing, promotions, land improvements and maintenance, and full- and part-time staffing -- about 300 people during the four-day event -- eat up much of the rest, he said.

"It's gotten so big we have to weigh whether it's worth it," said Bieloh, better known as Walker's primary grocer.

He and his family own and operate Bieloh's Family Foods, as well as the Moondance Ranch and Wildlife Park from which the Jam gets its name.

"If we made really good money, it would be worth it," he added, "but the risk is high. The reason you don't see a lot of these outdoor festivals around the country is because it's difficult to make money."

This means little, however, to the 10,000-12,000 classic rock and roll fans who cough up $100 for a four-day pass, plus additional dollars to reserve a site in one of six campgrounds on the 280-acre site a few miles east of Walker.

The three campgrounds with hookups -- 1,700 sites -- have been sold out since April 1 and the three primitive campgrounds are going fast, said the Jam promoters.

Jammers come for the music, which Bieloh said "emphasizes quality over quantity."

Over the years, Moondance surveys at the gate indicate the outdoor festival appeals most to those in their 30s (the average age is 36.7), the offspring of baby boomers in search of the music of their youth. Sixty percent of ticket buyers are women.

"The music reminds them of something they did 20 years ago," Bieloh said. "It makes them feel young again, and today's music has no meaning to them."

This year's Jam, however, may be remembered as much for the musical acts that got away as those who signed to appear on the Jam's main stage.

Bieloh and his booking agent, TEA Productions of Minneapolis, went after Tom Petty, John Mellencamp and others that rejected the Moondance offers.

Mellencamp gave a verbal commitment but never entered into a signed agreement, Bieloh said, despite the Jam's offer to pay $220,000 for a single performance, more than twice the amount paid to any other act in this year's Jam.

The average price for the Jam's headliners is normally about $80,000, Bieloh said, with Nugent and Thorogood commanding about $100,000, plus transportation and other expenses.

In an effort to attract younger jammers, the lineup July 12 will include the Blues Traveler and the Wallflowers, bands that hit their stride in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

"We wanted to offer favorites for every generation," Bieloh said. "Younger music fans don't always like classic rock and roll but they will come for bands from the 1980s. This year we are offering bands for every age."

George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers will headline the July 13 lineup, preceded on stage by REO Speedwagon, Big Head Todd, Molly Hatchet and Head East.

Nugent will wrap up the festival July 14, while Benatar, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, Night Ranger and Dave Mason will appear on stage earlier in the day.

Brainerd area band Silent Partner will open the festival from the main stage July 11, followed by the Shufflecats, Treater Band and Mountain Ash. The headliner is the Little River Band.

Twenty local and regional bands have been selected for performances on secondary stages. For ticket information, call 877-666-6526. Single day passes are $75 at the gate.