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Moondance Jam 17

By Marty Moffatt

Review originally posted at
July 2008

Moondance Jam - Day 1 (9th July)

Jul 16, 2008 in Rock Music

(sorry, I'm a little late getting this stuff online. We had no internet connection during the festival itself in Minnesota, it took us 36 hours to drive down to Atlanta, via Chicago, and I'm still working my way through all the photos I took).

Moondance Jam is an annual Classic Rock festival held in Minnesota and this year was it's 17th. When I get back to England I'll put together a full review and set of galleries for each of the bands, but for now I'll just concentrate on a few headlines and highlights.

First up were a local band called Black Valentine. Doing mostly covers they did OK in front of a fairly sparce crowd (many people decided to skip the relatively weak lineup on the first day).

Next up were Otis Day and the Knights. Their brand of Soul and R&B wasn't really to my taste but they got the crowd going with an energetic performance.

Then came tribute band Led ZepAgain. I'm not keen on tribute bands who go out of their way to impersonate the bands they're covering - I'd much prefer they be themselves but just reproduce the music. That said, Led ZepAgain made a passable interpretation of some of Led Zep's greatest hits, despite a few technical problems on stage.

Later came Big Brother and the Holding Company. I'd never heard of these before, but found out they used to be Janice Joplin's backing band (how many years ago must that have been??). I wasn't familiar with any of their material. However, they have a new female lead singer and I have to say she has a fantastic voice. Despite not knowing any of the songs I could happily have listened to her for longer than the hour or so they played.

Headliner for Day 1 was Creedence Clearwater Revisited. I've never been a Creedence Clearwater fan and didn't expect much from this set. The music was OK but not great, but for me the biggest disappointment was the lack of any kind of stage show. This was one of the headliners at a major rock festival, for crying out loud. You would have thought they could at least have put on a good light show. Later in the festival, others (notably Poison and Sammy Hagar) showed how it should be done, but more on those later.

Day 1 was an enjoyable way to ease ourselves into the festival. None of the bands were spectacularly good but we didn't expect that of the first day, which was billed as a tribute band day.

I have to say that the organisation and friendliness of staff and fans at this festival is second to none, but again I'll expand on that more in my full review.

Moondance Jam - Day 2 (10th July)

Jul 22, 2008 in Rock Music

Still working my way through all these images from Moondance jam. Here's Day 2 of the festival, and a short review of the day.

Hairball. These are a covers band who take 'cover' to a new level. They exploded onto the stage playing a couple of Twisted Sister tunes with the lead vocalist looking like (and dressed like) Dee Snider in fetching pink gear and makeup. After two songs he left the stage and instantly reappeared (or at least another vocalist did) dressed as Paul Stanley from Kiss. Two Kiss songs ensued, after which he left the stage and was replaced immediately by the first vocalist, wearing cap and vest (a la Brian Johnston) to the strains of a couple of AC/DC tunes…. And so it went on. Having two vocalists swapping costumes kept their short set pacy and entertaining. And the lead guitarist bent and twisted himself into positions someone of his age shouldn't be capable of, all the while cranking out riffs and breaks pretty damn close to how they originally sounded. Great start to the day..

The Guess Who. This was another of these American bands I knew next to nothing about. They are almost unknown in the UK. However, they sounded pretty good to me, and reminded me a little of Cheap Trick (and not just because the new lead singer bears more than a passing resemblance to CT's Robin Zander).

Sammy Hagar & the Wabos. Sammy and his band were the guys I was most looking forward to over the whole festival. I've been a fan of his music for nearly 30 years and think he's written some of the best rock anthems ever created. Plus he never disappoints on a live stage, and he certainly didn't disappoint here. In blazing sunshine, Sammy created a party on stage, with a backdrop of fortunate fans on stage behind him. And with the tequila flowing freely from a beach bar at the side of the stage, it really is a pleasure to watch and get caught up in the atmosphere of a Sammy Hagar concert. But why he was only third on the bill and not the headliner was beyond me.

Boz Scaggs. After the excitement generated by Sammy's set, this was such a let down. Maybe I'm a little prejudiced because I'm not keen on such laid back, polished music anyway, but for me the contrast in styles was such a huge one that I, and I suspect most of the audience, was left feeling a little cold. The crowd thinned to about half what it had been just a couple of hours earlier, as many headed to the saloon bar or took the opportunity to return to their campgrounds for some early partying. I have to say it was a polished performance by Mr Scaggs, but it wasn't a 'festival' performance.

In fact I left Boz to his main stage after a little while and headed into the Saloon Bar, where Hairball were putting together another hugely entertaining set on the smaller indoor stage. More costume changes, more hits from 80's hair bands, more bendy theatrics from the guitarist, and all great fun.

Crosby Stills & Nash. After the main stage crowd had been left comatose or partying elsewhere, it was unlikely that headliner Crosby Stills and Nash would be able to raise the excitement levels again, with their laid back approach, so I wasn't expecting much. What we got was even less than I expected, unfortunately. They came on stage, they played (blandly in my opinion, although others may disagree), but they didn't really interact with the audience or with each other and looked very much like they were just going through the motions. And as for the light show…. Well there wasn't one. Sammy Hager, third on the bill and playing in daylight, had more of a lightshow than CS&N. I find that inexcusable in a festival such as this, for the headliners on any day to make so little apparent effort for the thousands of fans who had turned out to see them.

Despite my disappointment at the final two bands, I was sufficiently impressed at the first three to regard this as a highly enjoyable day.

Moondance Jam - Day 3 (11th July)

Jul 24, 2008 in Rock Music

More from this great festival. Here's day 3…

Mountain Ash. These are regulars here at Moondance Jam. A local band (the guitarist doubles up as one of the organisers at the festival) they played a variety of rock covers, but looked like rejects from the movie 'Wild Hogs'. They sounded OK though – a more than decent opening act.

Great White
I was looking forward to seeing Great White. I hadn't heard anything from them other than their cover of Ian Hunter's classic 'Once Bitten Twice Shy'. They battled against the elements as a big storm came through delaying their arrival on stage and drenching the crowd, and it continued raining throughout their set. However, they sounded terrific and got the crowd going.

Sebastian Bach Careering around the stage like a bull at a rodeo, Sebastian Bach probably expended more energy in an hour than the rest of the bands put together. His high energy, almost heavy metal approach seemed a little out of place compared to the more melodic offerings at the festival, but I enjoyed it immensely. As a photographer, I found him a joy to capture, as he put his heart and soul into his performance with macho posing and great crowd interaction.

I didn't see all of their set, for reasons I'll explain in a moment, but what I did see (and hear) disappointed me just a little. There was nothing actually wrong with their show, but as a UK originated band I'd grown up listening to in my youth I'd hoped they would really show these US festival goers what British Glam rock was all about. However, the band is more American than British nowadays, and that Britishness somehow got lost in the transition. The songs were still recognisable and the crowd loved them, but for me the old Sweet spark of old was missing. Gone was the glitter, and with it a little of the humour they were known for. Maybe it was these rose tinted glasses.

I caught the first 4-5 songs of Sweet's set, so I could get the pics I wanted, but then made my way to the backstage area. We'd brought along my friend's daughter Lisa to what was her first real festival, and she was desperate to meet Brett Michaels of Poison. So I met her in the semi-backstage area by some railings that separated this area from the real backstage, and there she waited for any of the rock stars passing by. Eventually Brett came by and Lisa spoke to him and got her laminate signed and had a silly grin on her face for the rest of the week.

I'm not particularly a Poison fan and had never seen them before, but I was impressed by their performance. We photographers were allowed the first TWO songs in the photo pit, and as anybody who's taken photos from the pit will tell you that six or seven minutes absolutely flies by. However, the band are very image aware and are a photographer's dream. They strike all the classic poses and cover the whole stage so everybody gets a chance to get great images. Guitarist CC DeVille in particular makes a special point of playing up to the photographers at the beginning of their set.

Unlike Creedence Clearwater Revisited and Crosby Stills & Nash, Poison really did put on a headliners show, with great lighting, specially constructed stage ramps and a huge video backdrop, and it was a thoroughly enjoyable show in front of undoubtedly the biggest audience of the four days.

Another highly succesful day.

Moondance Jam - Day 4 (12th July)

Jul 24, 2008 in Rock Music

I was really looking forward to seeing these girls again, not least because I'd promised to take lots of photos for them this year (a selection of my photos from last year are currently on their MySpace site ThundHerStruck MySpace). They are an all girl AC/DC tribute band and probably one of the best tribute bands, of any genre, I've seen anywhere. Their renditions of all the AC/DC classics are note perfect, they work the audience well and they have the added advantage of all being pretty good to look at (unlike the real thing haha). I also took in their set later in the evening in the Saloon Bar, and if you want to see more of them, I put together a separate gallery here ThundHerStruck at Moondance Jam 17 – Day 2.

ThundHerStruck started the day of in storming form – they are the only opening act I've seen that got hauled back on stage for an encore, and the crowd gathered was bigger than for many of the later bands.

Gear Daddies
After the excitement of ThunHerStruck, the Gear Daddies were a bit of an anticlimax. A Minnesota band, who's heyday was in the 80's and 90's, their particular style of pop rock didn't do much for me personally, but they seemed to be quite popular with the locals.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Yet another artist I'd never heard of before coming here. Kenny is a young blues guitarist of quite extraordinary talent. His style reminded me of another great guitarist, Joe Bonamassa, and I could quite happily have listened to him all day. He's a lot more photogenic than Joe, however, and with his vocalist looking and sounding a little like a young Paul Rodgers, the band should certainly appeal to younger audiences. I understand from talking to others at the festival that Kenny is popular in the US, but he's virtually unheard of in the UK, which surprises me. I'm certainly going to look out for some of his albums.

I saw Styx a couple of years ago, so I knew what to expect from this polished and professional touring unit. They rarely put on a bad show, and today was no exception. Of course it helps when you have material as strong as theirs.

I watched perhaps half of their excellent set before heading off to the Saloon Bar to catch the evening show in there by ThundHerStruck. I wanted to get in there early, as I was photographing the band without the benefit of a photo pit and I knew the place would be heaving. Despite a slight problem with another photographer who sat himself ON the stage directly in my line of sight, I did manage to get some decent photos by shooting around him.

There is no doubt that ThundHerStruck deserved to play on the main stage at this festival, but they perform equally well in the intimate surroundings of the Saloon Bar. There, they play right up to, and even above the heads of, the audience, and the appreciative noise generated by the crowd is fantastic to hear.

George Thorogood. When I came out of the Saloon Bar, George Thorogood was just about to start. Only the staff photographers were allowed to shoot this show from the pit, and even then I think it was only for two songs, so I didn't even bother trying to get close. Instead I took some pics from a distance and then listened to much of it in the backstage bar area to the side of the stage, while we said our goodbyes to some of our friends hanging out there. From what I could see and hear, the show went down well with the crowd and I could see why he's a good festival attraction. His bluesy R&B songs had a good consistent beat that didn't require any concentration to dance along with – perfect for those festival goers who'd over-indulged in the four day party atmosphere.

We left Moondance Jam at the end of the night confident that this wouldn't be our last Jam. We'll almost certainly be back next year, and the year after…. I've attended many, many festivals (albeit all in the UK) but I can honestly say Moondance Jam is the friendliest and best organised festival of them all.