Live Review: Minnesota’s Moondance Jam Triumphs with Record Crowds

Published on July 29th, 2013

_MG_2146Bachman & Turner, Cheap Trick, Motley Crue, and Slash were among the headliners at the 22nd Annual Moondance Jam in Walker, Minnesota

WALKER, M.N. – By the time Slash was about to take the stage to deliver a headlining set on night two of Walker, Minnesota’s iconic Moondance Jam, festival founder Kathy Bieloh and her team of organizers couldn’t hold in their excitement any longer.

“Come back next year, because we’ve already signed REO Speedwagon!”

2013 hadn’t even wrapped yet, and it was time to start making plans to return in 2014.

This loyalty is the stuff that fuels one of America’s longest running and most successful music festivals.

For three nights (four including the “Pre-Jam” party), rock enthusiasts of all generations flocked to the scenic grounds. They did a fine job filling up the expansive grass slope nestled in the Minnesota wilderness.

According to the area newspaper, Bieloh thinks an attendance record could be broken once the receipts are tallied.

There are no major population centers near Moondance. You couldn’t even call it a meeting place between any two metropolitan hubs. But year after year, the campers and cars roll in like clockwork.

Canadians driving in to see their hometown heroes Randy Bachman and Fred Turner.

Hardcore Crue fans here to catch one of the band’s scant summer shows.

Moondance loyalists who make the annual pilgrimage no matter which bands are on stage.

The latter category keeps growing and is responsible for the yearly tradition of setting another attendance record.

But the line-up didn’t hurt either.

Buckcherry cranked it up loud at 7:00pm on Thursday after 1970s rare entities Shooting Star and Cain had already delivered their goods.

Josh Todd had his usual flair, striking sassy poses with his tambourine between takes at the microphone. The younger band had no trouble fitting in between two classic rock acts despite being founded long after Moondance came into existence.

After the aggressive onslaught of the Buckcherry catalog, Cheap Trick was a welcome change of pace with their hits sounding more harmonious than ever. Robin Zander is breathing new life into the “Dream Police” schtick, donning his retro cop outfit.

Not to be outdone, guitarist Rick Neilsen had a custom-made Dream Police bowtie to show off.

With a luxurious two hours separating each band, Cheap Trick and the rest had plenty of time to play more than a typical festival set, expanding into lesser heard tracks.

Motley Crue blew the place into another dimension if it wasn’t there already. Rolling out with their biographical anthem “Saints of Los Angeles”, all four original members of the storied rock band proceeded with passion through a trove of melodic hits.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to hear how great they manage to sound; they’ve been earning rave reviews from fans and critics alike ever since their comeback with new material in 2008.

But it is surprising, because these four were written off as dead years ago by the same critics (and perhaps declared legally dead by doctors).

Walking away from the stage after the first day was done, the perfect weather and nearly full moon only amplified the picturesque scene.

The likes of Blue Oyster Cult and Johnny Rivers brought everybody back on Friday afternoon, leading right into a set from Canadian rock royalty Bachman & Turner which was almost too good to be true.

Anthems “Takin’ Care of Business” and “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet” were sharp as a tack when sung by the stuttering sensation Randy Bachman, and Fred Turner roared like he was gargling nails as he steamrolled through “Four Wheel Drive” and “Roll on Down the Highway”.

The highlight, though, was when Randy Bachman tossed aside his guitar picks and chose a drumstick to extend “Blue Collar” into a glorious guitar solo.

These legends would have been worth the trip for Friday alone.

But there was more.

Slash, the Guns ‘N’ Roses axeman, singing companion Myles Kennedy, and a band which is fittingly called the Conspirators, stormed the stage to close out the last of two nights at Moondance devoted to 1970s and 1980s rock.

With his unmistakable hair and tophat, Slash looks the same and hasn’t lost a step musically either. He was in top form alongside a band which could give the original GNR lineup a run for their money any night.

For Saturday, an onslaught of modern rock including the likes of The Offspring, Theory of a Deadman, and Halestorm were enough to pull everyone back in while adding another layer of younger weekend travelers to the crowd.

The festival created to please fans continues to do so in even bigger ways, boasting a cross-generational lineup and a friendly atmosphere that feels a lot more like family.

In the process of bringing legendary rock bands to northern Minnesota each year, Moondance Jam has been become a legend in itself, and a testament to the power of love and commitment to an idea.

Founder Bill Bieloh passed away in 2010, but his wife Kathy carries on the mission of Moondance as her own.

Watch for what’s to come in 2014.

_MG_2021Randy Bachman & Fred Turner brought along their best driving rhythms for the Minnesota crowd


_MG_3880Slash, with lead singer Myles Kennedy, impressed as Friday’s headliner at 11pm


_MG_3957Buckcherry was a force to be reckoned with early on Thursday


_MG_4773Singer Robin Zander gave Cheap Trick fans the full “Dream Police” experience



Motley Crue played their smash rock hits loud and proud into the night on Thursday



_MG_9158Moondance founder Kathy Bieloh estimates records were set for attendance this year

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