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Moondance Jam
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Moondance's growth
Bielohs' idea for a community event has become one of state's largest music festivals

By Terry D. Mikelson
Tempo Correspondent


WALKER -- With the eighth edition of Moondance Jam fast approaching, Bill and Kathy Bieloh await its arrival with the anxiety of expectant parents.

As the event creators and promoters, the Bielohs will play host to 60,000 fun-loving guests who will converge on the couple's 280-acre ranch east of town for a four-day binge of classic rock and roll starting July 7.

Interviewed this week at their Moondance Ranch and Wildlife Park, the Bielohs acknowledged that the festival's meteoric success has been a double-edged sword, recalling with nostalgia the good old days "when we had to beg people to come."

In those days the event was called Moondance Jam and Bar-b-que and the Bielohs "encouraged everyone in town to come out with their grills and get together with their friends and families. Now it's work and it starts the day after the festival ends," they said.

The Jam was conceived as a family oriented community event that would help promote the Walker area as well as the Bielohs' riding stable, then located at the Moondance Jam site, the couple said.

The stable has since been moved to the wildlife theme park that they purchased in 1995 on Highway 371, south of Walker. They also own and operate Bieloh's Family Foods, the town's primary grocery store.

Last year's festival, which attracted 50,000 people and featured top draws such as Jonny Lang and the Steve Miller Band, marked the event's transition as a major outdoor summer concert, according to the Bielohs.

"Moondance VII scared us a little," Bill Bieloh said, "because we just weren't prepared for the number of people who came and the mammoth traffic jam they created."

They attribute the festival's rapid growth to the quality of the musical acts, positive word of mouth and an effective marketing and promotional campaign that includes a strong Internet presence. The Jam now employs two full-time staff members who work year-round on developing and promoting the event.

As a daily reminder of the festival's growth, the Bielohs now receive about 300 e-mail inquiries every day and have sold tickets for Jam VIII to music lovers in Sweden, Portugal and Russia.

Over the years the Bielohs have invested heavily in improving the event to accommodate its remarkable growth including:

-- Purchased 180 acres adjacent to the original 100-acre site.

-- Installed a 160-acre campsite and a 100-acre parking lot.

-- Upgraded electrical service and added security lighting throughout the parking and camping areas.

-- Widened the approaches and entryways to the site to help alleviate the traffic problems.

This year's jam begins July 7 with a free warm-up concert featuring Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, as well as several regional bands, starting at 6 p.m., as a way of encouraging ticket holders to arrive early and avoid the traffic snarl that occurred last year.

The Jam gets under way in earnest July 8 with a full slate of major acts, starting at 3 p.m. with John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, followed by Starship, .38 Special, Eddie Money and REO Speedwagon.

Each band is allotted 90 minutes on the main stage, with regional bands filling in the gaps on two smaller stages. The music ends each night at about 1 a.m.

On July 9 Lamont Cranston takes center stage at 3 p.m. followed by the Chris Duarte Group, Elvin Bishop, Hank Williams Jr. and Lynyrd Skynyrd.

The Outfield, Blue Oyster Cult, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, Elo Part II, and Cheap Trick are the featured performers on July 10, starting at 3 p.m.