WALKER - Three years of rain and generally poor weather may be enough for Moondance Jam promoter Bill Bieloh.
The third annual music fest, held at Moondance Ranch east of Walker, topped off a weekend of country and classic rock music, a pretty muddy one at that.
By Saturday, the weather had cleared up and the sun accompanied by a warm breeze helped dry out the listening area.
Bieloh said he had cut back on rain insurance this year and took out insurance, based from previous Moondance Jams, for between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m., when 60 percent of the gate admission was sold. A sophisticated $20,000 rain gauge made by NASA was set up to measure precipitation during those periods Bieloh was insured. He explained that for every minute during the insurance period, a valve opens up and collects precipitation. The gauge is even sensitive enough to measure drizzling rain. The gauge is then analyzed by specialists to make sure the contents are rainwater and determine if there is enough precipitation to warrant a claim.
Despite rain on Friday and the mud, festival goers made the best of the situation, seeking shelter under umbrellas or large pieces of plastic placed over stacked bales of hay. Some chose to brave the elements for a closer look at their favorite performers.
Mel McDaniel and Pirates of the Mississippi closed out Friday night to a rowdy, energetic crowd. McDaniel, who appeared to be very accommodating to his fans, most of them dancing in the mud at the foot of the stage, appeared to have no shortage of guitar pics and red bandanas. McDaniel tossed dozens of guitar picks to the audience as well as 10 to 20 sweat-drenched red bandanas, leaving some to wonder if he owns a pick 'n' bandana franchise in his hometown.
Saturday's early afternoon sun highlighted a number of local and regional acts, and began to set in time to cast a most pleasant glow on the faces and in the eyes of the all-female group, Evangeline, from Louisiana. The group turned in a solid, tight performance of original Cajun rock, blues and gospel music.
Johnny PayCheck and Gary Puckett closed out the evening. PayCheck, whose hit "Take This Job And Shove It" barely carried the set, gave the audience a less than desirable performance by most standards. Some people near the stage commented overhearing PayCheck turn his back on the audience and yell at his band because his guitar was out of tune.
However, Gary Puckett's performance more than made up for any weaknesses in PayCheck's act. Puckett, who closed out the weekend on Saturday, drew an estimated 2,500 to 3,000 and was the most popular act on the ticket, Bieloh said.
Puckett, who charted six consecutive gold records in the late 1960's and early 70's, played a high energy set of songs from his early days with the Union Gap, as well as some new material, along with his personal favorites of rhythm and blues from that era. His performance, punctuated by tight vocal harmonies and dynamic arrangements, brought three ovations. Drummer David Page joked backstage after the third ovation that the group had run out of music for any more ovations. "All we have left are ballads," he smiled. Puckett's powerful voice complimented his unassuming and sincere stage presence.
In addition to the music, the festival featured a wide variety of food and games for those attending. Bieloh commented that he was somewhat surprised and happy with the number of local people who came to the Jam. He referred to Saturday night's crowd as "good and well-behaved."
Bieloh declined to make any official statement regarding the future of Moondance Jam, but he did say that a Moondance Jam IV would be doubtful. "It's not growing as quickly as we hoped it would," he said Monday morning. "You question whether your line up is right. There was more excitement and enthusiasm with the classic rock than there was with the country acts."