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Thousands pack Moondance Jam 13

by George Fairbanks, Staff writer
The Pilot-Independent

Friday, July 23rd, 2004

An estimated 68,000 classic rock music fans attended last week's Moondance Jam 13, reveling in the sunshine, as well as performances by such acts as ZZ Top, Lynyrd Skynyrd, John Fogerty and Huey Lewis and the News.

Things got rolling Wednesday night when Chris Robinson and New Earth Mud hit the stage and got the crowd dancing with their version of upbeat Jam music. Thousands of Jammers piled into the festival ground's dance pit and soaked up Robinson and the weather.

For as good as Robinson was, Wednesday night's crowd was there for one big reason: ZZ Top. Through the years, ZZ Top has become one of the bands Jammers often requested when asked who they'd like to see in a future Moondance lineup.

The Texas rockers didn't disappoint, hitting the stage to a thunderous ovation. They tore through some newer music but also got the crowd fired up with some of their older hits. As is custom at Moondance, the audience was ready and willing to sing along with some of the music they've been hearing through their radios for more than two decades.

Pat Eischens, one of the handful of people Jam owner's Bill and Kathy Bieloh have entrusted to help them run the show, noted the crowd was extremely responsive to ZZ Top.

"A lot of people came out to see ZZ Top," Eischens said.

The Jam's second day featured three legendary acts in a row; Little Feat, Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band.

Little Feat got the crowd warmed up at 6:30 p.m. as Jammers began to make their way into the festival area from the campgrounds and shuttle bus area.

For the second straight night the weather couldn't have been any better. A clear, sunny sky with a gentle breeze. It was clear from the outset the weather was going to push Jammers to enjoy the festivities even more than usual.

After Little Feat, Lynyrd Skyynrd took the stage. From the reaction of the crowd when the legendary southern rock band appeared, it was obvious thousands of Jammers were seeing one of their favorite bands.

As Skynyrd blasted through its long list of hits, audience members smiled, poured back drinks and danced around. Customarily at Moondance, as the acts gets bigger and the music becomes more recognizable, Jammers push their party further and further.

Skynyrd was followed by the Allman Brothers Band, whose mellow, highly polished sound, kept the audience riveted. The one-two punch of Skynyrd and the Allman's seemed to work perfectly.

The lucky run of picture perfect Leech Lake area weather continued into day three. During the day, thousands of Jammers spread into the local community. Restaurants and area shops were packed with happy — although slightly tired and achy — people with Jam bracelets around their wrists.

Jammers were even spotted on the Heartland Trail, biking and hiking.

Santana's Gregg Rollie hit the stage at 7 p.m. and wowed the crowd with a full set of music from his days with Santana as well as some of the newer projects he and his band of been dabbling in.

Following Rollie, Pat Benatar hit the stage with husband Neil Giraldo. Benatar seemed to be one of the acts with the most excitable fan base.

Countless people in the audience held up signs asking for autographs and photos.

Benatar's biggest backers seemed to be women who would have been in their teens during the height of her fame. They knew every lyric to nearly every song and eagerly sang along while dancing and jumping up and down.

The crowd's raucous ovation following every Benatar tune left no doubt that she had completely won Jammers over with her brand of fast, aggressive music.

Yet, Bill Bieloh wasn't completely impressed with Benatar. In a week largely highlighted by bands that were easy to deal with, Benatar and company were the most "uncooperative," Bieloh explained.

Benatar's people demanded the stage be cleared during her performance and we also unhappy about doing a meet and greet.

Meet and greets give selected fans a chance to meet a performer before or after a show and snap a photo or chat for a moment or two. For many Jammers, the chance to meet a performer they've long admired is an exciting moment.

Following Benatar's performance, legendary rocker John Fogerty took center stage and came with a performance that's already being called one of the best in the Jam's 13-year history. The following day it seemed all the Jammers wanted to talk about was Fogerty.

During his set, Fogerty mixed in several of the top hits he wrote for Creedence Clearwater Revival as well as many of the hits he penned during his highly successful solo career. In addition to his strong vocals, Fogerty mixed in a powerful, distinct guitar performance.

It seemed nearly every Jammer — whether standing in the dance pit or standing on the grassy knoll behind the dance area — couldn't resist dancing or clapping along with Fogerty.

"Fogerty definitely stole the week," Bieloh said. "That's all we heard."

Eischens agreed with Bieloh adding, "I thought all the bands were great; John Fogerty was my highlight."

By the fourth day of the Jam it was clear that while the Jammers were having fun, they were also wearing out. The sun seemed to be the biggest factor in the tired faces.

"It definitely seemed to wear them out," Bieloh said. "We had the least amount of problems."

According to Bieloh, the Jam had only three or four squabbles during its entire four day run. For that, he showered the police and security force with praise.

"I can't comment enough on how Cass County and our own security just did a great job," Bieloh added.
Eischens also commented on the well behaved crowd.

"The sun screen was out," Eischens said. "People were well behaved."

Bieloh and Eischens, as well as several Jammers themselves commented the vast majority of problems seem to be caused by people in their early 20s or people under 21 who get beer and other alcohol from those who can purchase it legally.

After the Jam, Bieloh explained he and his organizers might consider making future Jam's 21-and-over-events only. With that, the already low numbers of incidents would likely go even lower.

John Waite hit the stage at 7 p.m. on the final night, and his audience grew as his set moved along. People were drawn in from the campgrounds, unable to resist one last night of dancing and jamming.

For Mark Kirchhoff, the Jam's backstage director, meeting John Waite was one of his personal highlights.

"I've always been a fan, and enjoyed his music," Kirchhoff said.

Kirchhoff got to meet and talk with Waite backstage before his performance.

"He's done a lot but is very unassuming," Kirchhoff said.

Kirchhoff and his staff are charged with making sure bands are secure backstage, have privacy, are fed and have a place to relax among many other tasks. While a band's management can sometimes be hard on concert staff, Kirchhoff noted most folks are pleasant to deal with.

"I can't think of any bands that weren't fun to deal with," Kirchhoff said.

After Waite, Rick Springfield took over and immediately connected with the audience, especially the female audience. Springfield, who also played last year's Jam, gave an extremely energized performance that included lots of bantering with the crowd, bringing people on stage, wading into the crowd to sing and play guitar and a couple of dirty jokes. Springfield had the crowd completely hooked.

For his part, Kirchhoff praised Springfield not only for his performance but the quality of his support team, who Kirchhoff noted were pleasant to deal with.

Kirchhoff also explained while Springfield was performing, Huey Lewis, who was closing the Jam along with this band the News, made his way to the corner of the stage and witnessed for himself how strongly Springfield was performing.

"It was a nice challenge; you always want to raise the bar," Kirchhoff said of Lewis.

After both Bill and Kathy Bieloh came on stage to thank their Jammers and staffers, Lewis came out and seemed to take Kirchhoff's words to heart.

Lewis and the band stormed through their hits and newer material, drawing the crowd into one last celebration before Jam 13 drew to a close.

As of Monday, Bieloh and his staff still didn't have an exact attendance figure, but it was clear the Jam had robust ticket sales.

"If I was to guess, I'd say 68,000," Bieloh stated. "That's as big as we'd ever like to be."