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Moondance Fairgrounds to start new era this weekend

by George Fairbanks, Staff writer
The Pilot-Independent

Sunday, May 23rd, 2004

The Moondance Jam fairgrounds, long known for hosting one of Minnesota's premier summer musical festivals, is quickly becoming one of the Leech Lake area's most unique destination facilities.

The fairgrounds will debut its new and improved MDJ Saloon this weekend. Music acts Mountain Ash and Mitch Ryder will rock the grounds Saturday night. This weekend's concerts are free and completely open to the public.

Bill Bieloh, who owns and operates the fairgrounds with his wife Kathy, noted that one of the highlights at the new saloon is its kitchen.
"We'll have fresh ground beef, half-pound burgers," Bieloh said. The saloon will also feature other food items. "Pretty much just like a snack bar," he said.

The kitchen will be open during events held at the fairgrounds during the year.

The saloon wasn't the only major construction completed at the fairgrounds recently. The Bielohs had a 55-by-110 foot building, with interior tongue and groove paneling, built. They also had a 32-by-40 foot permanent stage constructed.

The stage is elevated by 36 inches and should provide music fans with plenty of space to move in time to the music.

"We figure we can fit 2,000 people for any of the concerts, with a large dance floor in front."

Throughout the summer, the fairgrounds will host musical acts like Head East, Southern Rock All-Stars, the Classic Rock All-Stars and Thunderstruck, a five-piece all-girl band out of California that is the ACDC cover band," Bieloh noted.

The saloon will also be open for weddings and big group events.

"We don't want it to be open all the time, just for special events," Bieloh said. "It's available if people want to rent it for the day."
Construction on the new facilities began in early February but ran into several delays.

"We're going to have it wrapped up by May 21," Bieloh said with a laugh.

The biggest hiccup during the construction was heavy rain that caused rafters to fall in. "Mother Nature wasn't good to us," Bieloh noted.
In addition to the music, the fairgrounds will be hosting seven softball tournaments through the summer. The grounds have four modern softball fields complete with permanent bathrooms and showers, a stocked concession stand and electronic score board.

This Saturday the fairgrounds will host a 12-team local tournament. But the summer months hold a busy schedule of tournaments.

Included in this summer's tournaments is the 35-year-old and over Class C and Class D men's state tournament.

"It's the first time it's been held outside of the Twin Cities," Bieloh said.

The tournament will be held over three days and will require all four of the fairgrounds fields at least on the first day.

"Possibly Hackensack and Longville will let us use their fields the first day," Bieloh added.

The Class C and D state tournament is likely to provide a significant cash register boost for numerous area businesses.

"We're expecting 3,000 people with that one," Bieloh said.

This spring the Walker-Hackensack-Akeley softball program has been using the fields at no cost to the school district, and two tournament's for next spring's season are already a possibility.

The grounds also feature a newly-remodeled Moondance Jam guest house, which will officially be called the Aultman Farm, in honor of the family that originally built and lived in the home.

"We've completely remodeled the five bedroom farmhouse," Bieloh said. "Nancy Negaard did all the design and put it back into the 1930s look."

In addition the home also features three bathrooms and hookups for campers outside the house.

Staffers from Jack Daniels, one of Moondance Jam's sponsors, already have the house booked for this year's Jam. But Bieloh noted the house also is for rent at any time.

"You'll have use of the whole 300 acres," he said. "Horseback riding, four-wheeling, snowmobiling in the winter. They can use the softball fields and the volleyball court."

Said Bieloh: "We want to show people that Walker 'rocks' more than one time a year."