FROM THE DESK OF THE EDITOR
Moondance Jam 22 was the first Jam I have attended since we lost Jam Founder Bill Bieloh in September of 2010. While Bill’s death is not the only reason I have stayed away, it is the underlying reason, as I just couldn’t fathom the event without seeing his smiling face around what seemed like every corner.
The guy got around the grounds…You would look to your left and see Bill greeting Jammers one minute and then, only a few seconds, later, you would find him on your right, hobnobbing with the Moondance Faithful...always with the big goofy grin on his mug.
Looking back on my relationship with Bill, I have to admit, he always treated me with respect. He wanted my thoughts on the Jam and on music in general and his inquiries were always sincere. While we didn’t hang out, we had a mutual respect and admiration for each other and we were friends.
Bill could tell that, for me, the Moondance Jam is sacred. He knew I got it…I understood the allure and the magic, as Moondance is a place where friendships truly come first. Hell, the friends I have made at MDJ make them more than friends—they are family. I know it sounds odd, as these are people that I only see for a few days a year, yet when on the Moondance grounds, with my Moondance family, something magical happens and time ceases to pass. Everything in the world—in little old Walker, Minnesota—somehow becomes just as it should be for a few short days in July.
While Bill is no longer there it is heartwarming watching his wife, Kathy, run the show with such expertise. His children have stepped up into leadership roles and kept traditions alive. The staff was the same, and they were all sights for these sore eyes, as I truly have a deep level of respect and love for the people who make this event happen.
I am known for being an honest guy who doesn’t mince words, so I will be totally honest with you…for me, Jam 22 was different…It felt different. Not a big difference but a sublime and subtle difference that I had a hard time putting my finger on while I was there. Perhaps I was grieving…Hell, I won’t lie…I know I was grieving. Change is hard and this change was really hard.
This year Moondance was not strictly a classic rock festival. There were newer bands on the bill and that was a tough pill to swallow, as it made me look at my own life and acknowledge that a lot of time has passed and that not even Moondance is going to stay completely frozen in time. It has to change and it has to grow, just as we have to change and grow.
Don’t get me wrong, Moondance will always celebrate the music that made it famous. The Jam saw some of the biggest names of the 1980s show up in Walker, Minnesota in Slash and Motley Crue, the overall lineup spanned multiple generations, more so than ever before. These two truths, the loss of Bill and the loss of my youth, slapped me in the face at MDJ 22. However, I still had a damn good time. This is still the best rock festival on the face of the earth as far as I am concerned. And I learned that not all newer music is bad.
At the end of the day, I went beyond the music and remembered the true spirit of why I fell in love with this place, in the first place. I have a special place in my heart for Walker, Minnesota…all of it, not just the Jam, though it is the most special. The people of Walker are awesome. The lake is cool. I love the downtown area and the eggs at Jimmy’s are just the way I like ‘em.
And I needed to experience the changes. I will be back. Maybe next year…maybe not…REO Speedwagon has already been signed, so I will probably be there. And next year I will be okay, mainly because this year, everything turned out fine. Moondance is thriving and while that means things will change, many things will also stay the same. The important things, the friendships, however, are forever.
So long as the meaning to the following toast, previously given every year by Bill, and this year, at the Staff Party, chanted by all, remains intact, then all will be well at Moondance:
“There are tall ships and small ships, and ships that sail the sea, but there is no ship, like friendship, and that’s what you are to me.”
Oh...and this year, after the main stage was finished, on the final day, Classic Rock Revisited scribe Dan Wall (who writes the review below) got to play drums on a classic David Bowie song with Mountain Ash in the Saloon...It was pretty cool.
I will now always remember Dan Wall with these words….
“AHHHHHH WHAM BAM THANK YOU MAAEM!”
- Jeb Wright, August, 2013
MOONDANCE JAM 22:
WORDS: DAN WALL
PHOTOS: BRAD "PHIL COLLINS" NEVILLE
The 22nd Moondance Jam has finished, and The Offspring’s set is still ringing in my ears. That’s okay, because if it’s too loud, you’re too old, and you shouldn’t come anywhere near this great rock festival. Located in what amounts to the middle of nowhere, Walker, Minnesota, this annual four-day event comes and goes so fast that it can be hard to comprehend it all, but here goes. Stay away if you don’t like beer, meat, half-naked chicks, half-naked men, Jeb Wright (not half-naked, thank God), Al and the radio cult, rock t-shirts, Mountain Ash, Phil Collins, people from Montana, people from Minnesota, people from Iowa, people from Wisconsin, lakes and people who like to be in lakes, concert reviewers from California, loud rock music, camping (or hotel rooms), whiskey, bands that end their set at 1:30 a.m., classic rock, modern rock, old guy rock, chick rock, sound checks, guitar solos, drum solos, piano solos, blown amps (that’s the only way I could get “blown” into this PG review), Marshall stacks, bars, tattoos, going to bed at 3:30 a.m., getting up way before eight hours of sleep get in, great weather (this year anyway), an occasional whiff of marijuana, beer bongs, other bongs, nice thongs, debauchery-damn, do you get this yet. It’s more fun than just about anything, the ol’ Moondance Jam, and this year was no different. But let’s get to the bulk of the reporting, the actual bands that played, and I’ll let your imagination run wild with this other stuff.
Hairball, a wonderful tribute act that features rotating lead singers who dress up as classic rock’s best front men (Gene Simmons, Dee Snider, Jon Bon Jovi, Steven Tyler, David Coverdale, Brett Michaels, Brian Johnson, Prince, etc…), headlines the pre-party and hammers out a slew of great 70’s and 80’s hair band and pop rock hits with a crack unit that can play just about everything from that era. The Fabulous Armadillos appear in the middle spot and wowed the crowd with songs by a wide variety of artists. Bill Scherer, the male lead singer who is blind, aces Joe Cocker and Roger Daltry. Pamela McNeill, the female lead, does a nice rendition of Stevie Nicks and Ann Wilson. And then, the band pulls out “Highway to Hell” and “Whole Lotta Love.” WTF!! The Armadillos can come back anytime… every musician in that ensemble is SOLID. Transit Authority opened the Pre-Jam Party and did a very good job imitating the legendary band Chicago, playing all of that band’s hits from the 70’s and 80’s.
At this point in time, can anything new be said about Motley Crue? The band is talking about retiring, which means this is probably the first of 15 farewell tours. There is no new music aside from the “Sex” single, but that’s okay since no one wants to hear anything written after 1989 except for “Saints of Los Angeles.” The funny thing is that after all of this time (the ‘Behind the Music’, the drug overdoses, car wrecks, arrests, tell-all biographies, and the silliness spelled out in “The Dirt,”) the band is actually acting like responsible, middle-aged men at the moment. I saw Vince Neil and Nikki Sixx standing offstage during a Mick Mars solo spot, drinking water and talking (can you imagine what these two really shared during one of these spots back in the 80’s?). Tommy Lee not only didn’t do a drum solo, he didn’t even speak (thus saving most of the women in the crowd the indignity of showing off their breasts). Is this an older, softer Crue? It appears it is, with Neil singing better nowadays and not doing much else, Mars playing and not doing anything else (he spent 13 hours on the bus before the show and then went straight to his bus after), and Sixx and Lee just hammering away to all of the hits. I don’t know if they are really worth all of the money they command, but not many of the other bands that ask for large sums of money are either, so at this point, I can say that the guys were sober, in tune for the most part and played just about everything you’d want to hear. And the crowd seemed to eat it all right up.
I’ve seen Cheap Trick over 20 times now, and this was the best I’ve seen the band since its heyday. This was the first time in years that Rick Nielsen just played guitar, not wasting his time playing the crowd, throwing out piles of picks and playing five guitars at a time (he did do that shtick, but only a few times). Vocalist Robin Zander looked and acted like the Zander of old, singing all of the bands hits and not looking like a biker refugee from the 60’s. Bassist Tom Petterson and Nielsen’s son Daxx (more relaxed this year on drums with incredible showmanship) happily laid down a heavy backbeat to the band’s biggest songs (“Surrender,” “Dream Police,” “I Want You to Want Me,”) and a number album tracks that still rocked. The crowd reacted accordingly, welcoming back the old CT and not the one that played a bunch of new or unfamiliar stuff, and failed miserably at it, at the 2007 MDJ.
Buckcherry isn’t going to win any awards for originality, but the group’s dead-on Guns N Roses-meets-Aerosmith brand of sleazy rock sure sounds good blasting out of the speakers at your local rock fest. Vocalist Josh Todd has a unique voice, much like Axl Rose and Steven Tyler do, and he is sleazier than six Vivid porn chicks. Covered from head to waistline (and probably beyond) in tattoos, one that reads “chaos” in huge script on his stomach, Todd oversaw the proceedings with a torrent of bad words while he shook up the crowd with non-stop movement. Guitarist Keith Nelson runs the band, alongside Jimmy Amhurst (bass), Stevie D. (guitar) and Xavier Muriel (drums,) guys who play this stuff like they wrote it, and look like the kind of Hollywood sleaze merchants who were more than happy to fill out this line-up when Todd and Nelson put the band back together in 2005. ”Crazy Bitch” is probably the nastiest sing-a-long in rock history, but Buckcherry pulls it off because they look the role. It’s the same, solid show the group always does, and that’s why they get to play at these events so much.
Shooting Star is a band that should have been much bigger than it was or is, and I’m sure leader Van Mclain knows it. With yet another new singer to break in, the band let Todd Pettygrove ease his way into his first set with the band, as Mclain shares some lead vocal duties and is the instrumental star on guitar. Longtime drummer Steve Thomas is rock solid and Dennis Laffoon is impressive as he pulls double duty on keys and bass. “Touch Me Tonight” should have been a number one hit, while most rockers know “Hang On To Your Life,” “Tonight” and “Last Chance” from 70’s and 80’s radio. The band won’t get big now, but there is a renewed interest in the quartet’s music, and the guys do a great job opening a festival gig with a sturdy 60-minute set.
Cain is one of those Midwest bands that make you think it can still save the world with rock music. It can’t, but I’m not sure these guys will ever stop trying. Now looking more like bankers and accountants than the guys did back in the 70’s, the band’s Uriah Heep meets Grand Funk stoner rock is a nice way to open the main stage on Thursday.
Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and the Conspirators is quite a mouthful. That’s okay, because this is the best rock band in the world right now. They look the part, play like champs and rock like a monster. All leather and tats, Slash and his wild bunch look like they just left a Holly wood after-party and haven’t slept since the tour bus pulled out of Denver. The sound, a modern twist on Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver, is made so much better by lead vocalist Myles Kennedy, he of the huge voice and Alter Bridge ties. Big guitars (provided by Slash and touring member Frank Sidoris) mixed with heavy-handed bass (Todd Kerns) and drums (Brent Fitz) present the perfect mix of talent, muscle and sweat. The GNR material (most of “Appetite For Destruction” is aired, including a riveting “Welcome to the Jungle” sung by Kerns, who has an incredible voice as well) and the VR stuff sounds as good as it ever has, and the new solo material is some of the best pure rock music being made today. “Halo” from “Apocalyptic Love” opens things up on a high note, “Ghost” and “Back from Cali” were hits from Slash’s first solo album, and I can hardly describe the reception to “Nightrain,” “Mr. Brownstone,” “Sweet Child O Mine” and “Paradise City”-pure live rock and roll concert bliss, or as my new friend Michelle from Montana claimed, “I was thoroughly rocked.” Quite simply, Slash needs to come back and do this again, and maybe Kennedy can bring Alter Bridge with him.
Bachman and Turner is Randy Bachman and Fred Turner, the two guys from Bachman-Turner Overdrive that did just about everything in that band (writes the songs, sing the songs, play the solos). The duo can’t use the BTO name because the other guys who were in the group and really didn’t do as much or play as well as these guys did own part of the name-well, that’s how the business of rock and roll goes these days. That’s okay, because all of us know who’s up there playing some of the greatest rock songs of the 70’s-“Let It Ride,” “Roll On Down the Highway,” “Rock Is My Life,” “Not Fragile,” “You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet,” “Takin’ Care of Business,” even Bachman’s Guess Who hit “American Woman,” are all played and sung with great aplomb by these two Canadian rock legends and a crack band of seasoned pros. One problem though, and this is going to become more prevalent as time passes and our heroes age-it’s hard watching guys that look like your grandpa up there playing songs that were made famous when they were much younger. It didn’t seem to matter, as the teenage girl in the front row all the way to the guy in the lawn chair in the back of a crowd nearing 20,000 were all singing the lyrics we have come to memorize.
Blue Oyster Cult is one of the most interesting bands of the 70’s, but for some reason, they group’s quirkiness hasn’t translated as well into the 2000’s. The group was basically screwed over in this slot because Johnny Rivers played too long and then an amp blew up, so the group went on late and didn’t play as long as scheduled. But that might have been a good thing if the group had used that to its advantage, which it didn’t. Most classic rock fans know BOC for just three songs-“Godzilla,” “Burning For You” and “Don’t Fear the Reaper,” which put together with some of its best album cuts might have won over the crowd during a shortened set. But the group played a number of songs that hardly anyone, outside of the hardcore following, really know, and even the better songs played that are not part of the big three didn’t really go down as well due to a shoddy sound mix. The group’s live show hasn’t really advanced past the “Let’s play the songs and hope all- is-well” stage, and the advancing age of stars Eric Bloom and Buck Dharma (Donald Roeser) brings up the same concerns that were mentioned in the above BT hold-the-O paragraph. Ultimately, since I am a big fan, I’m going to blame this all on Johnny Rivers and that blown amp. Damn you, Johnny…
When it was first announced that Johnny Rivers was playing in the 5 p.m. slot, there was more than one festival goer who expressed concern that Rivers was playing too high on the bill, or at all. His show, however, was well-received until the biggest gaffe I have ever seen at a rock festival was played out. Rivers did not play his biggest song, “Secret Agent Man,” because his regular set went overtime and he was not allowed back onstage to play an encore. Now imagine Slash not playing “Sweet Child O Mine” or Bachman and Turner not playing “Takin’ Care of Business”-there would have been a riot. There was no riot over this mistake, but more than a few fans expressed concern over the omission and talk was heard backstage about what happened. What happened is quite simple-an act used to playing a 90-minute show without support went out and played that set…in a 75-minute time slot. When the show ran over, there was no one around to point out the problem-it wouldn’t have ruined the night if Rivers was allowed to play his biggest hit and one of the biggest songs of the 60’s, but that didn’t happen. When he did play his hits, like number one single “Poor Side of Town,” the 71-year old guitarist sounded good and his show was a nice surprise-until that big mistake at the end.
The Sweet went on at 3 p.m. and drew the largest early crowd that I have ever seen in Walker. These guys should have played at 7 p.m., if truth be told, because the reception was unbelievable for an early band. Most of the time cover bands play in this time slot, but The Sweet wanted to come back after a huge show here in 2008, and the group didn’t disappoint on its return. For the uneducated, understand that the only original member left in this version of the Sweet is bassist Steve Priest (guitarist Andy Scott runs his own band in England; vocalist Brian Connolly and drummer Mick Tucker have passed) while a bunch of L.A. musicians fill in the other spots. No one is a mega-star but this quintet plays the songs as best they can, but vocalist Joe Retta (Heaven & Earth) and staff absolutely ace the multi-layered harmonies that the group was so famous for. “Ballroom Blitz,” “Fox on the Run,” “Love Is Like Oxygen” and “Little Willy” were all played, and The Sweet ultimately went down as the best opening act this festival has ever seen.
The question over whether The Offspring should have played at Moondance are probably still being debated all over the state of Minnesota. This is a 90’s act that has ties to the Orange County punk scene, and despite a slew of number one hits and a bouncy, fun and very loud show, had a hard time connecting with the older (I mean classic) rock fans that were gathered. Their kids, however, loved it. This is one of those acts that is really hard to categorize. The quartet will celebrate its 30th anniversary together next year, and the youngest member is drummer Pete Parada, who just turned 40. But the group’s music, the classic punk sound out of Southern California that was all over the radio in the 90’s, is the sort of music that many classic rock fans rebelled against when it started to put their heroes out of business during that decade. Not surprisingly, the Offspring’s main influences are the classic punk bands of the 70’s and 80’s (The Ramones, The Damned, Iggy Pop, etc…) that you would figure the older generation might have a special place in its heart for. But those punk bands were the ones that called bullshit on the classic rock bands of the 70’s. Are you seeing a connection here? That’s right: everyone hates the Offspring because of their ties and influences. Not really, but it did seem like those who got it, really got it, and those who didn’t, left for the campsite. Truth be told, the band was great, playing every major hit and a few fast rockers that kept the energy flowing. Vocalist Dexter Holland, guitarist Noodles and bassist Greg K. are still treading the boards and keeping the good times rolling after slowing down for much of the last 10 years. Too bad most of the crowd had seemingly had enough after four days of music.
Theory of a Deadman is a very lucky band. You see, the group had a number one radio hit back in 2008 with “Bad Girlfriend,” and that little ditty will keep the group on the road and at county fairs until 2035. And that’s not to say that the boys don’t have a couple of other great songs, such as “Santa Monica,” “Never Meant to Be” and “So Happy.” But the Canadian quartet does not have the songwriting skills, live show or overall talents of the modern rock’s big acts, such as Shinedown, Five Finger Death Punch, Papa Roach, Disturbed or Halestorm (more to come). Like a solid third line winger (and Canadians will understand this hockey reference, Jeb won’t), the band is very solid and will always have a place to play on any team. At this point, I can’t see the guys becoming huge stars outside of Canada or in select markets of the U.S.
I love Lzzy Hale, the front woman for modern rock juggernaut Halestorm, but judging by the reception the band received and comments from just about every male and female in attendance, I am not alone. The men want to be with her, and the women want to be her. No offense to the other Halestormers, which include her drummer / brother Arejay, guitarist Joe Hottinger and bassist Josh Smith, but Halestorm is her show. She doesn’t act like a star (backstage, she is simply one of the sweetest people you’d ever meet, famous or not), and the boys don’t push her out in front of them, but her talent is so immense , her beauty so great and her look so ravishing that it can’t be any other way. She sings every song in her special way—she can croon like a child and scream like a monster, while every female (especially the younger ones) hold on to her every word. The group has released two killer albums and has had five songs go into the Top 10 of modern rock, including number ones “Freak Like Me” and “Love Bites (So Do I).” But this is a band that will always be judged on the songs, the look and the voice of the amazing Lzzy, and I look forward to many years of watching her (and the band) mature.
Head East is the cockroach of Midwestern rock bands-it cannot be killed, much like Lemmy. Still hanging around after all these years as one of the Midwest’s favored sons, the band is still touring behind original keyboardist Roger Boyd and a rotating cast of characters who play crunchy, melodic rock music very well. It doesn’t hurt to have a song like “Never Been Any Reason” (the “Bad Girlfriend” of the 70’s) to pull out every night, but Head East is much more than that one song. “Elijah” and “Jefftown Creek” are quality hard rockers, and the lovely “Love Me Tonight” still gives me chills. I know it is getting late in the band’s career, but I’d love to see them one more time, just for old time’s sake.
The Atomic Punks are so good that many in the crowd might prefer the tribute act over the real Van Halen (I know the people who sign the MDJ band paychecks do). For one thing, David Lee Roth clone/singer Brian Geller remembers the words most of time and can perform the Cirque Du Soleil gymnastics that Diamond Dave can no longer attempt; guitarist Lance Turner can play “Eruption” note-for-note, which comes in handy at audition time; and bassist Joe Lester and drummer Scott Patterson replicate Michael Anthony and Alex Van Halen like the pros they are. This is one of the best tribute bands in the world and the boys have done the VH legacy well at its last two MDJ appearances.
Once again, thanks must go to Kathy Bieloh, Bernie, Mark Kirkhoff, the Mountain Ash guys (hi Kevin!), the entire MJ staff, Jeb, Brad-Phil, Michelle, Steve, Jeff, the Doctor and all the others who make this such a memorable happening. Hope to see you all again next year!