Leading up to this year’s Moondance Jam 27, many thought this was the best line-up in at least decade.

Despite rain showers most of Thursday and a few late Friday night, some of the largest crowds in the last 10 years came out to make the 27th installment arguably one of the most successful ever.

Gate receipts weren’t tallied yet, but an estimated 15,000-plus jammers packed the fairgrounds Thursday night, followed by what many thought was about 20,000 Friday night, with the Jam wrapping up Saturday night with a crowd nearly as big as the night before.

Kathy Bieloh said it was a fantastic weekend, giving all the credit to her staff and the jammers for coming to the festival.

“I was in awe every night with the great crowds. Friday was huge for us and Saturday was just as close.”

Near-perfect weather played a big factor in the success of this year’s Jam, and Bieloh said Moondance is now more secure than ever.

“If we had bad weather like we have the last few years, it would not have been good. The perfect weather really saved us,” she said, adding, “We are planning on having Moondance another 10 years. As long as the people keep coming and showing support, we’re going to hold Moondance Jam.”

Ticket sales leading up to the event were also good, so Bieloh was sure this year’s Jam was going to be a great success.

Last year Bieloh announced that she was in talks to bring on a couple of partners, but that fell apart over differences of how the business was going to change.

“I’m glad it didn’t go through. It just wouldn’t be the same with someone new coming in and changing the way we do things. Moondance is so much more than the music. It’s about the friendships and having fun.”

In addition to Moondance’s friendly staff, it’s the bands that help bring the people in, and with Bret Michaels, Kid Rock and Tesla as the closers, that was the reason the campgrounds and fairgrounds were packed over the four days.

“We are back to the Moondance numbers that we all remember,” said Production Director Mark Kirchhoff. “It’s always tough every year to get a great line-up, but this year the balance was just right. We had a little bit of everything and everyone enjoyed that. For me personally, there was not a single band that I wouldn’t enjoy seeing, and they all kind of complement each other.”

Production Assistant Director Kevin Abernathy said there were also those “sweet surprises,” a reference made to the band Sweet, which performed Friday afternoon.

Kirchhoff also liked KIX and Jackyl, who both performed Saturday.

“I think we really got back to the classic rock vibe,” Abernathy noted.

Bieloh agreed and wants to continue bringing in bands from the ‘80s and ‘90s, maybe a couple from the ‘70s, and a couple of big headliners.

It’s hard to argue with that formula, since it probably brought out more Jammers, judging by the high gate receipt numbers.

“It’s always been the intent to focus on classic rock, and this year we had more options to choose from. Most years we don’t, and we get little choice [and] have to book whoever is available,” Kirchhoff said. “It all depends on who is going out, and this year the [stars] were aligned.”

Weather also plays a huge factor in the success of the Jam, and while there was some rain, the weather for three of the four days was ideal.

“When we get bad weather it really changes the dynamics backstage. It gets a lot more intense, and for us a long slosh of rain, even though it wasn’t that bad, still causes problems. But we make it work and the bands went out on time,” Abernathy said.

The music

The campin’ and jammin event of the summer got off to a great start Wednesday with the Pre-Jam Party and perfect weather. Mountain Ash, Def Leggend and Hairball performed on the main stage in front of a couple of thousand Jammers.

Mountain Ash, which is made up of members who are all part of the Production Crew, has been a mainstay at the Jam for several years, and has become one of Minnesota’s favorite regional bands.

Def Leggend is the most authentic Def Leppard tribute band out there. They didn’t disappoint, with many believing they were comparable to Hairball which, besides their great music, is also known for their lights, sounds, smoke and fire.

Intermittent rain did not dampen or delay the performances of Crow, Lita Ford, Ace Frehley, Kansas or Bret Michaels Thursday, nor did it keep the Jammers away. Each put on great shows, but the latter two stood out.

Kansas showed why, after more than four decades, they are still considered one of America’s iconic classic rock bands, and have gone on to sell more than 30 million albums.

Michaels’ performance was his first at Moondance as a solo artist, and his down-to-earth charm showed as he performed songs from his days as the front man of Poison and his solo career. Early in his performance he brought on stage several veterans as a tribute to those who have served their country.

By Friday the weather had greatly improved, and each band did not disappoint. Saliva got it started followed by The Sweet, Fuel and Kid Rock, who performed just over two hours.

Despite packing the fairgrounds, Kid Rock and his entourage’s antics caused quite a few headaches for the Production Crew. The backstage area was closed down and black plastic was hung over the screened deck of the Lazy Moon Saloon so Jammers could not see. Of the three photographers allowed to take photos, each one had to sign a contract giving ownership of the pictures to Kid Rock, which means none will appear in The Pilot-Independent.

The final day was much more relaxed as each band not only met with Jammers backstage but were respectful to the crew.

GB Leighton, a Minnesota-based band, got the day started on a high note and from there the performances just kept getting better. KIX, Jackyl, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts and finally Tesla closed out a successful Jam.

Besides the 14 bands that were on the main stage, another 30 bands or so performed on the smaller stages.

Lenny Dimancari, a Production staffer who is charge of the regional bands, thought there were many bands that really stood out. Arena, Spirit of Jesse Brady, Lipstick Dynamite, Radio Active and Transit Authority, the Chicago tribute band, were just a few bands that put on great performances.

Camping contest

Of the thousands of Jammers who packed the fairgrounds, many dressed up their campsites for the annual Camping Contest with the theme, “Nothin’ but a Good Time.”

About a dozen campsites were visited Friday afternoon, and by the time Saturday rolled around, one was chosen as the winner and another four as runner-ups.

Pirate Party, a group of Jammers from Fargo, Bismarck and Minot, N.D., were the grand prize winners as they were crew members on the Black Pearl with Captain Jack on the mast.

The winners receive six tickets for Jam 28 and get to watch the band of their choice on the Poser Deck Saturday night.

In second place were Camp Destiny, Drunken Monkeys, Rock ‘n Roll Race Track and Moondance Rocks.

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