WALKER – Casino gambling and Leech Lake aren’t the only drawing cards for the Cass County seat.
Walker (pop, 1.200) is on the rock ’n’ roll map. Reason: Moondance Jam, one of several enterprises spawned in the can-do world of Bill and Kathy Bieloh.
The Bielohs own and operate Bieloh’s Family Foods, the Walker grocery that might, keep anybody else too busy to branch out. Not this couple. They’ve tapped a vein of mid-American destiny. The proclamation reads:
"Rock ’n’ roll will never die."
This year’s national-act bargain package of big-name bands – Grand Funk Railroad, Three Dog Night, 38 Special, Mickey Thomas and Starship, Randy Bachman, Mitch Ryder, The Byrds Celebration – are sure to draw the wider audience Moondance has sought through four previous summer weekend galas.
Last year’s Friday-Saturday estimate of 15,000 partiers may double, which would mean a bit of logistic trouble. Just in case, the Bielohs have doubled the parking space and tripled the camping space, all without jacking ticket prices beyond reach of the middle-class rock fan.
"We’ve moved the camping area away from the parking to the opposite side of the stage," said Bill Bieloh. "And we’ve added outdoor showers." Another comfort factor – portable toilets – will be noticed, "We’ve doubled the number of them (88) and instead of having one guy to service them we’ll have four," Bieloh added.
Excitement has been building since the radio stations across the Midwest began teasing listeners early last month. The snippets of musical hits are a sure lure for those who thrive on classic tunes such as "Joy to the World" and "Some Kind of Wonderful."
The return of Mickey Thomas and Starship breaks rock tour tradition, appropriate for the entrepreneurial Bielohs, whose Moondance Ranch now greets tourists on Highway 371 south of Walker, (The festival is at the original ranch site off Highway 200 four miles east of the 371-200 junction and Northern Lights Casino).
"The promoter had told us you never book anybody two years straight," said Kathy Bieloh. "Then, when we were finalizing the choices on the play list. Mickey Thomas had an opening for this weekend and he pitched him to us."
Some times the pieces fall into place (and hopefully the weather will do the same), as Mickey Thomas proved in 1995. Moondance Jam fans recognized a stellar voice above the din of throbbing percussion and screeching guitars. With songs such as "Sara," "We Built This City" and "Fooled Around and Fell in love," Thomas raised the level of artistry.
"He wanted to come hack, and so many people are really keyed up about that," said Kathy, who added that people seem equally anxious for their first live encounter with Grand Funk ("We’re An American Band" and others). Her personal favorite, Three Dog Night ("Celebrate" and "Out in the Country" among others).
Bill Bieloh concurs with the early returns – Grand Funk, as Friday night’s finale will be a showstopper.
Each of these bands, as well as the regional bands that play before the stars come out, will probably bring devotees of their particular sound. These fans will revel in nostalgia. They’ll also cherish the moment.
With improved facilities, including a stage 20 feet deeper than last year’s and 500 amp power to service the high-energy wattage needs, the open-air concert may stir up the best of memories and make for many more.
Walker’s Centennial creates added excitement. Corporate as well as community interest of a positive nature indicates the "bandwagon effect" of a festival that is not just good fun but also good business.
The regionally magnetic appeal of an outdoor music festival, regardless of the critical weather factor, serves a summer tourist town well.