WALKER - Starting in 1992 as a birthday party with live music put on by Walker grocery store owner Bill Bieloh for his wife Kathy is now an attraction drawing tens of thousands to the Walker area each summer.
Moondance Jam promoter and owner Bill Bieloh expects even greater things in the future. He said he now has the time to concentrate his efforts on providing fans with better music as well as better facilities.
The 13th edition of Music Dance, called “Lucky 13,” was to come to a close Saturday night with performances by Huey Lewis and the News and Rick Springfield. By all indications, the last evening may turn out to be one of most well- attended.
Bieloh, who said his plan for the future is to concentrate making the
four-day event better not bigger, was able to attract more fans during
the first two days of the Jam than past years with performances by recent
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees ZZ Top on Wednesday, as well as
classic rock and roll front-liners Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers
The plan was successful as an estimated 15,000 fans were present each of the first two nights.
Already the largest outdoor classic rock music festival in Minnesota, Bieloh said he wants to continue the highly successful festival and recently sold his Walker grocery business, in part, he said, to concentrate on the music. He still operates Moondance Ranch and Adventure Park in Walker.
“This is what I want to do,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “The grocery business has been good for me and my family, but I love putting on the Jam every year. This is a lot of work but we have had such great people working here each year. It’s good for the area and I really love the music.”
New to the festival grounds for 2004 were new bleachers for V.I.P. ticket holders, a remodeled and expanded Moondance Saloon and Grill and a new Moondance Guesthouse for year-around rentals.
About 900 attended the Jam as V.I.P. ticket holders. In addition to special seating and the chance to camp in the V.I.P. campground, V.I.P. ticket holders enjoy gourmet meals and free soft drinks, wine coolers and beer.
Moondance Jam V.I.P. ticket coordinator and local Bemidji businessman Ray Ricci said it’s the preferred way to attend for many, especially those who don’t want the hassle of cooking or camping.
“When you think of how much you can spend on everything,” said Ricci, “many consider it a bargain.”
V.I.P. tickets sold this year for $350.
While music is the draw for many, most agree that the people are what brings them back each year in July.
Kevin Vaultavermaet of Grey Eagle said he went V.I.P. in 2003 and enjoyed the treatment he received but returned to the reserved campgrounds this year because “people are just a little bit looser.”
Vaultavermaet was tending bar at his campground during the Jam, offering beverages to anyone that came by thirsty. And apparently there was much thirst to be quenched in Walker this week.
“I don’t know if they were stuck up, but they’re more into doing their own thing over there in V.I.P.,” he said. “Here, we’re a little more open ... a better party atmosphere.”
Gary Paavola of Winger echoed Vaultavermaet’s opinion.
“It really is the people you meet and the fun you have that brings you back,” he said. “But the music is great, too.”
The Jam is also a real boost for the Walker area, in general, said Bieloh. Around 350 are employed by Bieloh and hundreds of others work in various privately owned merchant and food booths.
The Jam also fills the motels, requires sanitation services, and increases sales of food, gas and, of course, beverages in the Walker area.
Four women from Walker and Remer have turned their recipe for hot sandwiches into an annual money maker, said Anne Kletten of Remer.
Kletten works with Terry, Tony and Darlene Gross of Walker at the Burch-Gross Hot Beef and Pork Sandwich.“It’s four days of hard work but it’s a lot of fun, too,” said Kletten. “You meet interesting people, hear good music and generally take the best that summer has to offer at the Jam.”
With as many as 20,000 filing the festival grounds, for four days each July, Moondance Jam easily becomes the most populated place between Fargo, N.D., and Duluth.
Despite the huge numbers, tight security, with many off-duty police officers, sheriff deputies and State Patrol officers on the grounds, keeps problems to a minimum, said Bieloh.
The major incident of Jam 13 as of Friday was the death of a 48-year-old band member from Forest Lake.
Charles Kenneth Worden of the band Chain Lightning apparently died of a heart attack while taking down equipment, said a Cass County Sheriff’s deputy.
Most crimes involve minors drinking or people trying to get in with fake tickets or wristbands, he said.
“I think we’ll be around for awhile,” said Bieloh. “As long as the music fans keep coming, we’ll have a party for them here at Moondance.”