The 24th installment of Moondance Jam had a little bit of everything, which by the time the four days of rock ‘n’ roll came to an end, Jammers were screaming for more music.
Severe lightning and thunderstorms shut down the fairgrounds Thursday night; but thanks to some creative maneuvering, Sammy Hagar closed the night by performing in the Saloon in front of a packed and enthusiastic crowd.
Over the next two days and nights, there was ideal weather as thousands of Jammers packed the fairgrounds for the likes of The Doobie Brothers, Shinedown, Peter Frampton, Huey Lewis and the News, Finger Eleven and Jefferson Starship.
An estimated crowd of 16,000 took in the show Friday night, which was easily topped Saturday with about 18,000.
Festival promoter and owner Kathy Bieloh was pleased with how the Jam ended and despite closing the main stage for the final two performers the opening night, she was happy with how her team was able to overcome some obstacles and keep the music playing.
“I found out Thursday night what all those people who have outdoor music festivals feel like when they get rained out,” she remarked. “It was tough financially, but I received a lot of encouragement from people who cared about what we were going through.
But the evening wasn’t a total loss as Sammy Hagar turned back the clock a few decades and performed on a much smaller and cramped stage in the Saloon.
“We hard some complaints that people didn’t know Sammy was going to perform, but we couldn’t announce it until it was OK’d by his manager,” Bieloh commented. “To have him perform was about the coolest thing that could happen. He put on a great show!”
About 2,500 people packed into the Saloon and outside, despite all the rain that continued to come down.
Crowds grow after rain
The torrential downpour may have dampened the mood Thursday, but by Friday morning, the gloom was gone as organizers began cleaning up the fairgrounds and got ready for Friday’s show.
Mark Kirchhoff, the production director, said he was happy with the crowds and praised Bieloh’s staff who worked so hard to get not just the fairgrounds, but the entire grounds back in shape.
“People are here for music and camping, and the final two days were beautiful. All the bands were on time, and that makes for enjoyable day for everyone,” he said. “The bands are happy to be here. Most have been here before, so the artists always enjoy performing here.”
Those include The Doobie Brothers, Sammy and Huey Lewis, who were appreciative of the upgrades that have been made since they were last here, Kirchhoff said.
“It all comes back to the people who work here. We have a great crew.”
Something else new this year was the addition of Drone Star Aerial Media Solutions, an aerial photography business from Duluth that operated a drone to take videos and photos of performers, which were uploaded almost immediately on Facebook and their website, which helps to promote the event.
“Every year, there’s an add-on, something to try and make the event better and better, and more enjoyable,” Kirchhoff added.
While Bieloh has no idea who will be performing at the silver anniversary in 2016, she did say it was going to be special.
“I’m very excited to be going into next year. I can’t believe we made it this far,” she reminisced. “Who thought 24 years ago we’d ever get this far, especially after losing Bill back in 2010. We have such a wonderful staff. I just hope people come out for the 25th. We really want to do something special.”
Rain soaks fairgrounds
Weather for the Pre-Jam Party was nearly ideal, as about 7,000 Jammers enjoyed high-octane performances of Hairball, The Fabulous Armadillos and Alive: the Pearl Jam Tribute Band.
On Thursday the Pat Travers Band and Pop Evil performed with no interruptions. Black Stone Cherry got about two-thirds through their set, when rain came and it never let up. Thunderstorms turned into severe lightning and within an hour, four inches of rain fell.
“We always prepare for rain, and we keep an eye on the weather,” Kirchhoff said. “We realized the lightning was a concern, and the rain became so heavy we had to stop the show.”
Unlike in past years, where the rain either let up or passed through, this storm continued to dump water on the fairgrounds and the standing water got deeper and deeper. Then the lightning storms came and continued for a couple of hours.
“We tried waiting it out, but we reached a point where the stage was so waterlogged. The stage has a lot of electrical equipment, and you reach the point where — do you feel comfortable? It came down to a safety standpoint,” Kirchhoff explained.
Besides the fairgrounds and camping areas deluged with water, the main road was also closed down to traffic trying to enter, in order to prevent further damage.
A conversation then started with Sammy Hagar’s management team about performing indoors.
“He wanted to play bad, and it was discussed about performing a couple of songs in the Lazy Moon Saloon. We told him we have a secondary stage in the Saloon that has a full PA system and lights. All the equipment is there, and it’s the same set-up as the main stage.”
After Sammy’s manager looked at the stage, everyone agreed this would work
Once the decision was made about 10:30 p.m., it took about 30 minutes to get the Saloon Stage set up and security in place.
“We’re very appreciative that Sammy’s people were willing to perform, regardless of the conditions,” Kirchhoff said. “They wanted to do it. We all wanted to do it together. It was a win-win.”
Hagar performed for about 70 minutes and besides rocking the house, he split his time making and serving drinks to the Jammers.
“Sammy was happy. We were all thinking about the customer. Out of a tough circumstance, it was the best alternative we could come up with,” Kirchhoff added. “You make the best of a tough day. That’s one of the challenges of having an outdoor rock festival. We’re just glad it ended on a positive note.”
Papa Roach was also approached about performing in the Saloon, but the timing only allowed the setup for one band to perform. It was the first time in 15 years that a band was unable to perform because of the weather. There have been delays, but the show always went on.
Friday was relatively quiet. The humid conditions made it less than ideal, but the Jammers were happy there was no rain, and performers all took the stage and the fairgrounds were full of Jammers.
Honeymoon Suite got the music started and from there, the crowds grew and the music just kept getting better. Vixen, a band made up primarily of Minnesota women, Jefferson Starship, Huey Lewis and the News, and the Doobie Brothers each played at least 70 minutes to an enthusiastic crowd.
Camping contest results
Nine groups of Jammers entered the Back to the Future Camping Contests. Judges toured all campsites Thursday in preliminary judging, with the final judging done Friday.
Camp Hippy, which had the Wizard of Oz theme in South Reserved, easily took the grand prize. The campsite included a Broadway production of how Dorothy and Toto left Kansas and traveled to the Emerald City, only to finally realize “There’s No Place Like Home.”
The two runners-up were Camp Howler in South Reserved and Jukebox Bar in North Reserve.
Each winning campsite receives six tickets for Moondance Jam 25. The grand champion also won passes to the backstage bar and stage box Saturday night to watch Pete Frampton perform.