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the heels of Summerfest, the intrepid GRTR! journeyman and Moondance Vet
Andy Nathan travelled to Walker, Minnesota for the 20th Anniversary
MOONDANCE JAM, Walker, Minnesota, USA
14-16 July 2011
photos by Andy Nathan
America's premier classic rock festivals, Moondance Jam, set among the
lakes and woods of Northern Minnesota, chalked up a notable 20th
this achievement was also tinged with sadness as Bill Bieloh, the man
who built the festival from a small gathering of regional bands to
arguably surpass Rock Fest in neighbouring Wisconsin as the top festival
of its kind in the USA, passed away too young last year.
were paid throughout the weekend and he and widow Kathy were even
commemorated on T-shirts - incidentally part of the best choice of
festival clothing you could wish to see.
must go on however and, as on the previous two years I have attended, it
began with a pre-show party for weekend ticket holders on the Wednesday
night, featuring mainly tribute bands.
grown to the extent that this year four bands played on the main stage,
rather than in the Moondance saloon, which for the whole weekend hosts
regional bands in between the main acts.
that they cannot have toured the UK in 30 years, 38 Special were one of
the main incentives for me to attend. However in America they are
veterans of state fairs and outdoor shows and this showed in a highly
entertaining and professional display...
However, Don's short hair, beard and mirror shades made him look
worryingly like Faith-era George Michael.
Thursday 14th July
away from pure old style classic rock, Moondance has over the past
couple of years booked more bands from the nineties, two of whom opened
this festival to a backdrop of dull weather which thankfully improved.
Cracker were quite staggeringly boring. They were not unpleasant to
listen to, with jangly guitar riffs in the mould of Tom Petty or Soul
Asylum, and some decent songs such as 'Euro Trash Girl', 'Teen Angst'
and their best known, 'Low', but they showed a complete lack of interest
on stage, seemingly without any desire to be there, confirming my worst
fears when singer David Lowery had been interviewed on the big screen,
as all Moondance artists are, beforehand.
Candlebox were better, if only because singer Kevin Martin is an
engaging and chatty frontman, who played to the Moondance crowd with
snippets of his classic rock influences. Considering my dislike of the
whole grunge and post-grunge genres, their music was surprisingly easy
to listen to with good guitar solos.
not even the big hits in the USA in the nineties, which were greeted by
the louder cheers, had the hooks to lodge in my brain, with the best
song being a tribute to his late war veteran father, 'Miss You'.
So it was
left to Great White to kick things up a notch, but with the
handicap of seriously ill singer Jack Russell being absent. With 'Desert
Moon' and 'Lady Red Light' a bit lacklustre, it took me a while to get
used to diminutive former XYZ singer Terry Ilous, whose voice was one
part Jack to one part Tesla's Jeff Keith and Scorpions' Klaus Meine, but
to be fair he did a sterling job.
eclectic set I saw them do in London three years ago, this set
concentrated on their most popular late eighties period with the smoky
'House of Broken Love' with a typically understated sweet solo from Mark
Kendall, the suggestively titled 'Mista Bone' getting into the groove,
and the usual epic, slow burning 'Rock Me'.
Goodbye' from the underrated 'Psycho City' and the title track from
their last album 'Back to the Rhythm' also went down well. Closing with
a singalong to 'Can't Shake It' and of course their cover of 'Once
Bitten Twice Shy', Great White really got the party started.
they cannot have toured the UK in 30 years, 38 Special were one
of the main incentives for me to attend. However in America they are
veterans of state fairs and outdoor shows and this showed in a highly
entertaining and professional display.
Zant, taking advantage of the fact he sings lead on less than half the
songs, acts as an audience cheerleader and messes around with the other
band members, while as befits a southern rock band, there were plenty of
quality lead guitar solos from both Don Barnes and Danny Chauncey.
Don's short hair, beard and mirror shades made him look worryingly like
Faith-era George Michael. More seriously, much of the soulful power in
his voice has disappeared, leaving it thin and reedy almost like Neil
Young. Many of their classic songs in a more AOR direction such as 'If
I'd Been the One', 'Fantasy Girl' and 'Back Where You Belong' suffered
noticeably as a result.
few surprises in a set little changed from their 'Live in Sturgis' album
over a decade ago, with southern rock rabble rousers such as 'Rockin
into the Night' and 'Wild Eyed Southern Boys', a medley of several
songs, and Donnie singing on 'Last Thing I Ever Do' which had a country
honky tonk feel.
highlight though was surely his heartfelt tribute to big brother Ronnie,
'Rebel to Rebel,' not least because of a great closing solo from Danny.
ended with a rare recent song, 'Trooper with an Attitude', coming over
like an 'Eliminator' outtake and featuring a drum solo, and 'Caught Up
in You' with Don singing before soling away.
despite being second on the bill, they still managed to get in three
encores, with the stage shrouded in smoke before a very dramatic 'Chain
Lightning', and US radio favourite 'Hold On Loosely' and a medley of
'Living in the USA' and 'Travelling Band' creating quite a party
atmosphere. The set was a generous hour and a half and in hindsight they
would have been better headliners.
you cannot disagree with the right of fellow southerners 3 Doors Down
to headline if their multi-platinum album sales are anything to go
by. Ever since their debut US smash 'Kryptonite' was played by every
cover band I saw in America, I have gradually got into their music and
indeed enjoyed a recent show back home at the Roundhouse.
lumped in as post-grunge, they instead have a melodic and very
accessible, yet passionate sound which in fact at times could even be
In a brave
move they opened with the title track of their as yet unreleased fifth
album 'Time of My Life' and indeed played around five new songs, all of
which augured well for the new album after a slight dip in quality on
the last two.
their set was an unsatisfying anti-climax after 38 Special. Part of the
problem, at least from my vantage point, was a ridiculously loud and
distorted bass that drowned out the rest of the sound.
is that, despite some well thought out video graphics and
baseball-capped Brad Arnold acting the humble southern country boy, they
lack the dynamism and stage presence to carry off this sort of festival
headline. The lighting was too dark, while one of their guitarists
barely moved six inches from his spot all night.
there were highlights to enjoy, particularly later in the set with 'Its
Not My Time', 'Kryptonite' and a rousing closer, dedicated to American
troops, in 'When I'm Gone'. I will still argue their merits, but this
was not a night when they would have made any new friends.
Money is another American legend who has been playing these festivals
for years, but people didn't know whether to laugh or cry as this
shambling bulk of a man came on, dancing badly in an ill-fitting suit
and looking like a cross between Boris Johnson and JD Wetherspoon owner
doubt the strongest of the three days, Friday nevertheless began in low
key fashion with a Van Morrison tribute, the Belfast Cowboys. I
expected them to make the song Moondance the cornerstone of their set as
a tribute to Bill Bieloh, but they opened with it in rather tame fashion
and from then on I gradually lost interest.
Outlaws initially played to a small crowd and I had my reservations
how they would fill the gap left by the late Hughie Tomasson. The good
news is that their other main man, mulleted Henry Paul, has returned as
lead singer, while lead guitarists Billy Crain and Chris Anderson reeled
off one solo after another, with the four men at the front playing line
astern, showing how they were once nicknamed the Florida guitar army.
As well as
old favourites like 'Hurry Sundown' and 'There Goes Another Love Song'
there were some I was less familiar with, like 'Grey Ghost', with
Billy's fiery lead guitar work something to behold, and even a new song,
'Hanging Out in Tennessee'.
singing in a southern drawl and some rapid fire guitar picking, country
influences were also to the fore, notably on the instrumental
'Waterhole' where I couldn't help being reminded of 'Yakety Sax', the
musical accompaniment to Benny Hill's chases!
highlight though of what for me was a sensational set was 'Green Grass
and High Tides', guitars jamming frantically on the song that sits not
far behind 'Freebird' and alongside 'Highway Song' and a couple of Molly
Hatchet songs in the pantheon of southern rock guitar epics, though it
was kept to a relatively manageable 12 minutes. However the encore of
their cover of 'Ghost Riders in the Sky' actually seemed to draw a
better crowd response.
Money is another American legend who has been playing these
festivals for years, but people didn't know whether to laugh or cry as
this shambling bulk of a man came on, dancing badly in an ill-fitting
suit and looking like a cross between Boris Johnson and JD Wetherspoon
owner Tim Martin.
in terrible shape, and his singing was tired and breathless, yet his
ability to play sax on the likes of 'Wanna Be a Rock n Roll Star'
remains unaffected. A new song, 'One More Soldier Coming Home', still
went down very well, as did the likes of 'I Wanna Go Back' and 'Gimme
guitarist Tommy Girvin in particular, were spot on, and that combined
with the crowd signing along meant that for a closing quartet of hits -
'Take Me Home Tonight', 'Two Tickets to Paradise', 'Think I'm in Love'
and 'Shakin' - the state of him was momentarily forgotten as a fun time
was had. But I fear how much longer he will be able to keep performing
while in this shape.
contrast, Paul Rodgers at 61 looks almost disgustingly fit and
trim. His UK show earlier this year already ranked as my top gig of the
year alongside Night Ranger, and so I was braced for something very
special. From opening with an ace in 'Can't Get Enough', second
guitarist Markus Wolfe duelling with Howard Leese, followed by Honey
Child, I was not disappointed.
is in better shape than ever but what is noticeable over the years is
that he seems to have become more extrovert, adept at the big gestures
and working the crowd to get them to join in. I wonder whether his stay
in Queen brought out that side of his character. His band was also water
tight with Howard in particular sensitively interpreting the songs and
giving them that Bad Company sense of space rather than cluttering them
up by over playing.
to the UK, in America he focuses more on his Bad Company back catalogue,
but Mr Big still saw some virtuoso bass playing from Todd Ronning, then
after 'Ready for Love' and taking to the piano for 'Running with the
Pack', they paid tribute to Jimi Hendrix with a tasteful medley of
'Little Wing' and 'Angel', while 'Seagull 'saw the band belatedly break
in to accompany the acoustic guitars.
the highlight for me was to hear him return to the piano to sing Bad
Company, with the band imbuing the song with exactly the right kind of
atmosphere and menace, as a full moon shone behind the stage and
darkness fell on a warm Minnesota night. It is a memory I will long
of the set saw a series of singalongs to 'Feel Like Making Love' with
Howard playing mandolin, and 'Shooting Star', and the good time grooves
of 'Rock and Roll Fantasy' and 'Movin On', interspersed with 'Fire and
Water' which did seem unfamiliar to most people and most surprisingly,
'Closer' from The Firm, reawakening my interest in that collaboration
with Jimmy Page which had left me cold at the time.
though he encored with the relative Free obscurity of 'Walk in My
Shadow' before the inevitable singalong to 'All Right Now'. The Teesider,
of whom it was once said 'when he sings, God listens' is one of my
favourite artists, but I have no hesitation in saying this was the most
memorable gig of his I have seen.
feather in Moondance's cap for their 20th anniversary was to book Kiss,
probably rivalling Def Leppard as the biggest band to have played the
festival, and they gave the crowd a show to remember.
carp and say that this was not a vintage Kiss performance...But the
sheer theatre and atmosphere meant that this mattered little to an
stage show is never less than spectacular, with the larger than life
image and personality of rock's widow twankey, Paul Stanley and the
lascivious Gene Simmons, but on this occasion the explosions and
pyrotechnics that kept going off were as loud as bombs, the advantage of
holding an outdoor event deep into the countryside!
they opened with new song 'Modern Day Delilah' and also sneaked in 'Say
Yeah', with the simplest singalong chorus imaginable, generally the set
was based around 'Kiss Alive' and all the familiar songs like 'Cold
Gin', 'Deuce', 'Calling Dr Love' and 'God of Thunder' were there.
run of classics to close in 'Love Gun', 'Black Diamond', and 'Detroit
Rock City', there was a surprise in the encore as drummer Eric Singer
came to the front to sing 'Beth', which was less cringe inducing than
Peter Criss' original. Paul Stanley then brought on a war veteran and
got the crowd to recite the pledge of allegiance with hand on heart,
leaving me as a foreigner unsure what to do.
never been a fan of their live treatment of Lick it Up, but on this
occasion as the band stretched out it worked, and was followed by two of
the ultimate rock party anthems in 'Shout it Our Loud' and 'Rock and
Roll All Night', with a confetti explosion of the contents of an entire
forest, and the band members on platforms rising to the top of the
carp and say that this was not a vintage Kiss performance: there was an
awful lot of padding, resulting in a band not known for long songs only
playing 18 of them in a 2 hour set, while adequate would be a kind way
of describing the new 'Ace', Tommy Thayer.
sheer theatre and atmosphere meant that this mattered little to an
enraptured crowd. A guy next to me had been boasting he had attended 19
of the 20 Moondances, and I bet he had never seen such a spectacular
show in that time.
final band was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, with Joan looking in great
physical shape and wearing Rob Halford's leather cast offs from circa
Saturday 16 July
Rodgers and Kiss had given such sensational performances in their
differing ways, the Saturday was frankly a weaker bill, and indeed I
missed Fuel and disappeared before Stone Temple Pilots, who held little
appeal to me. Nevertheless, blessed by the best weather of the Fest
there was plenty to enjoy.
even an unscheduled appearance by rising retro classic rockers Rose
Hill Drive, showcasing their new Americana album. I'm afraid that
despite trying to create a Zeppelin vibe, their songs were rather
contrast all-girl AC/DC band Thundherstruck have become firm
favourites at Moondance and a too-short 45 minute greatest hits style
set went down very well. English guitarist Tina Wood makes a very
convincing 'Angus', and even had ‘Tina' shouted at her during Whole
Cummings was not a name high on my radar but was the lead singer of
the Guess Who, and his set was perfect sunny afternoon chill out
a piano which formed a prominent part of the sound and with a fine band,
he played a set with a fair sprinkling of the Canadians' late sixties
and early seventies hits such as 'Bus Rider', 'Hand Me Down World' and
slightly puzzled by his political leanings - a pro-animal rights song I
thought was a risky choice in this neck of the woods, and yet he sang
the praises of America, while another new song boldly claimed ‘we just
came from the USA'. It may have been a satire in the mould of 'American
Woman', which of course got played, although it was the Byrds-esque No
Time that probably got the best reception of all.
band was Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, with Joan looking in
great physical shape and wearing Rob Halford's leather cast offs from
circa 1982, backed by a tight and punky band.
pleased to see a good sprinkling of Runaways numbers in the set, notably
'Cherry Bomb' and 'I Love Playing with Fire', while she unashamedly
covered Gary Glitter's 'Do You Wanna Touch Me' and I did wonder how many
of the natives singing along were aware of the connotations of this.
did sag in the middle, as people waited for the three big hits which all
came one after another - 'I Love Rock n Roll', 'Crimson and Clover'
which changed pace several times, and 'I Hate Myself For Loving You',
and there was a great atmosphere with everyone singing along.
known to the crowd was the encore, but as a fellow devotee of seventies
British glam rock, I was delighted by a cover of the Sweet's 'AC/DC'.
Then it was time to pop into the saloon to join a rowdy crowd dancing to
more AC/DC classics from Thundherstruck before hitting the road.
enough to have an intimate family atmosphere, but large enough to
support good facilities attract high calibre bands, Moondance once again
felt like the party that never ends. And the great news is that they
have since confirmed that there will be a Moondance 21. Once you go
there, you too may find you are hooked for life.
photos by Andy Nathan
Summerfest, 29 June-11 July