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Bands, jammers 'heat up' Moondance Dream 15

by Dean Morrill, Editor
The Pilot-Independent

Tuesday, July 18th, 2006

Record-setting temperatures during Moondance Jam Dream 15 kept medical and other staff busier than normal, making sure jammers were taken care of.

The 15th anniversary festival — held Wednesday through Saturday at Moondance Fairgrounds — was one of the hottest on record as the temperature reached 100-plus degrees on the final day of the four-day festival.

Temperatures rose from the mid-80s on Wednesday to the high 90s both Thursday and Friday. But despite the heat and humidity, the fairgrounds and camp sites were packed.

An estimated 20,000 Jammers attended Wednesday's opening night, with the Steve Miller Band headlining and pulling in the majority of the crowd. Those numbers dropped off Thursday night to only 15,500, but rebounded to about 19,500 Friday night. Poison replacing The New Cars was the biggest reason.

Saturday, Heart filled the fairgrounds as just over 20,000 jammers came out to push gate receipts for four days to nearly 75,000.

"It went exceptionally well, considering the heat," Bill Bieloh said Sunday afternoon.

Kathy Bieloh thought it was fantastic. "Yes, the heat wrecked our days, but the people still had a fun time."

She also mentioned the economic impact the Jam has for the community. "Our community is so supportive of the business this brings in."

The biggest loss was felt at the refreshment and concessions stands as sales dropped because of the hot and humid temperatures. Bill Bieloh said the heat also took something away from the festival atmosphere.

One area that was greatly improved was the traffic congestion that has occurred along Highways 371 and 200.

The Bielohs lauded the work of the Cass County Sheriff's Department, Minnesota State Patrol and Cass County Commissioner Jim Dowson for coming up with a plan to eliminate traffic problems that backed up traffic all the way to Walker at the 2005 Jam. Opening campgrounds Tuesday instead of Wednesday also helped alleviate traffic congestion.

Both Bill and Kathy Bieloh credited the work of the staff, which this year swelled to the largest ever at 312 workers, for keeping the jammers safe.

The Bielohs were also especially proud of Friday night's Troop Tribute to service members serving in Iraq. Area soldiers Eric Alger, the Bielohs' nephew David Nelson and Kris Kolkin were brought on stage by the Kimball Post 261 Honor Guard.

A video highlighting the Iraq mission and the All American Dance Team performance concluded the tribute.

Mix in a little heat and rain

Throughout the Jam's history, there have only been four times where Mother Nature cooperated, last year was the most recent.

This year, workers not only had to battle the heat and humidity, but rain, wind and electrical storms.

Mark Kirchhoff, the backstage director for seven out of the last 10 years, said organizers were more than extremely cautious.

"Our biggest concern is for the crew. They're here first thing in the morning and are the last to leave at night. We want to make sure they're fed and watered, and get plenty of fluids throughout the day and divide the days up so everyone gets a break," Kirchhoff explained.

He said some days it's harder than others, especially Thursday night when thunder and lightning storms arrived and threatened to halt the show.

"Our concern is keeping people safe. The stage company is always very concerned; we're tracking the weather every 15 to 20 minutes and keeping an eye on it if it does turn," Kirchhoff said. "Luckily that wasn't an issue. We didn't have to get everybody off the stage or away from it."

Despite the record-breaking heat, the Jam ran fairly smoothly, with nearly all the bands making their scheduled start times.

The electrical crew was kept busy Friday, rerouting a few pieces of equipment.

"Electrical gear and water don't mix really well. But the show went on," Kirchhoff said. And it was on time.

Making the Jam better

Each year, the Bielohs and their 18 department heads (lieutenants) meet, discuss and come up with ideas on how to make the Jam better.

Twelve years ago the lineup changed from regional to national acts performing on the main stage. The Bielohs built the Moondance Saloon; camping was added; more parking; a softball complex; a bigger stage; throw in the JumboTron; and an addition to the Saloon all followed.

Last year a poser deck was built so fans got a chance to watch the bands perform. This year, another poser stage was added for Jammers who purchased VIP tickets.

Kirchhoff, the lead guitarist for the Mountain Ash band, has seen the Jam grow leaps and bounds since he first arrived at Jam 4. "It get a little bit bigger a little bit better each year."

The poser deck was such a hit in 2005, the biggest challenge was trying to get all the people up there. This year, Total Entertainment Group, owned by Darren Stewart and based out of Winfield, Kan., was able to add a second platform on the other side of the stage.

"It's a nice way to view the concert from a different perspective," Kirchhoff said. In past years, fans were rotated on stage, but this was difficult because it's still a work environment.

"It's a nice selling point for the Jam," Kirchhoff added.

Zachary Paneral, Kirchhoff's nephew, was one of many first-time Jammers. He made his first trip to Moondance all the way from of Houston, Texas. The teen got to hang out backstage and see firsthand the inner workings of putting the Jam on.

How the Jam stays successful

Many believe the talent is what has made Moondance so successful.

But if you talk to the Bielohs, the reason it's called the campin' and jammin' event of the summer is because of all the hard work the staff puts in to not only make it safe, but better than the previous year.

"Our staff was superb. I heard a lot of good comments from new people who said our people were so helpful and nice," said Kathy Bieloh.

Kirchhoff noted the relationship between all the workers is crucial.

Total Entertainment is one of those key components to making the Jam a success. The workers arrived mid-morning Monday after driving all night from Chicago where they had just put on a concert. Stewart's crew provides the sound, lighting, staging and stage hands for the production part of the event.

"These people are great and are easy to work with and will do whatever it takes to make the festival successful," Kirchhoff stated. "It's been a great relationship, and we hope it continues for years and years. That's what makes it easier for everyone else to make the Jam successful."

Others who play a part in the show's success are the other department heads. Security and medical are paramount when dealing with 20,000-plus crowds and a heat index of 100-plus.

Bill Bieloh said this year there were more heat-related incidents — about 20 on Friday alone — but Mona Glassman and her EMT team were up to the task, and none were serious.

Kirchhoff added that while music is the initial draw, people love to camp, and that's where you need the support staff.

"What makes this whole thing work is that we're continuing to have fun. We hope it goes on for years and years," he said.

Grading the music

Scorching temperatures may have hurt refreshment and concession sales during the four-day festival, but gate receipts still topped off at 75,000, making Dream 15 another successful Jam.

The festival kicked off Wednesday with the Steve Miller Band, Dennis DeYoung: The Music of STYX, The Guess Who and Little River Band performing. Most jammers came out for the Steve Miller Band to hear his "greatest hits," which happens to be one of the top-selling albums of all time.

Thursday night, past performers Ted Nugent and Alice Cooper closed out the show. Both attract a large following, but thunder and lighting storms during both shows kept some of the fans away.

Poison's first appearance at Moondance pushed the numbers over 20,000 Friday night. The "hair band" put on an incredible performance, even shaking hands and having their pictures taken with many of their fans.

The Jam closed on a high note Saturday. The rising mercury kept many jammers at their campsites for most of the early performances, but the crowd grew to 20,000 as Heart took the stage just after 11 p.m.

The Doobie Brothers, who went on just before Heart, showed why they are considered one of the country's greatest bands by playing all their hits from 30 years in the business.

Bill Bieloh said the Doobie Brothers, The Guess Who and Steve Miller Band were his favorites this year.

Kathy Bieloh said her favorites were Steve Miller Band and the Doobie Brothers. She was really pleased with Poison's performance.

"They were absolutely awesome. Bret [Michaels] was so sincere when I met him. He told me this is a 'class-act festival,' and he would like to come back again.

Thunderstruck was the biggest surprise of the Jam, receiving the biggest raves of all the regional bands. Many fans went online requesting they be moved to the main stage next year.