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The crowd begins to gather at the front of the stage Thursday, July 18, 2013, as the band Shooting Star performs at Moondance Jam in Walker, Minn. (Photo by Del Lyren/Special to the Pioneer)

A jammin' good time: Moondance Jam expects record crowds this year

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WALKER -- For Darrell Olson, and many others, Moondance Jam is more than just a classic rock festival.

"You can't explain something like this until you've been here to experience it," Olson said Thursday from his campsite. "I'm not a fan of crowds, but this doesn't feel like a crowd -- you get to know people."

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And this year, organizers expect Olson to get to know a lot more people.

The 22nd annual Moondance Jam expects to set a record attendance. The state's largest hub for classic rock music enthusiasts features more than 50 regional and national musical acts performing on a total of four stages.

Moondance, which continues into the weekend, is prepared to accommodate more than 20,000 people each day, according to Kathy Bieloh, founder of Moondance. She estimated nearly 10,000 people stake out a camping space during the four-day event.

"We're expecting record attendance each night," she said Thursday. Bieloh added that VIP tickets and camping passes have sold out, but that three-day admission tickets are still available.

Top headlining acts at Moondance include Motley Crue, Buckcherry, Slash featuring Miles Kennedy and The Conspirators, The Offspring, Theory of a Deadman and Halestorm.

"It's been going great so far," Bieloh said. "We never would have dreamed this would be the end result of something we started more than 20 years ago."

Bieloh, and her late husband, Bill, organized the first Moondance in 1992 as a way to promote their riding stable. Today, the music event is credited as being one of the country's premier classic rock festivals.

"People always tell me 'I could have/ should have' stopped continuing the festival after his (Bill's) passing, but I refused," Bieloh said. "We're going to keep doing what we're doing; it's their (Moondance fan's) home."

While the entire operation is a full-time job for Bieloh, her son, Jonathan, and a family friend, the 300 acre facility employs more than 200 seasonal staff, not including the other businesses brought in to make the event what it is known for today.

Bieloh said even though the event has grown so much since its opening two decades ago, she still foresees growth in Moondance's future.

"I figure we can accommodate between 5,000 to 8,000 more people before we're done growing," she said. Once the venue reaches Bieloh's quota, she said she does not want to expand anymore, as it would take away from the atmosphere she and the staff of Moondance have worked to create.

"Seventy-five percent of the jammers here have been with us for at least 10 years," she said. "We will always run the whole thing the same as we always have; we have a very nice atmosphere here, and I want to keep it that way."

Bieloh said while hosting some of the greatest classic rockers of all-time is still her main goal, it is becoming harder to achieve with the era of classic rock music slowly dwindling into the pop culture history books.

Even so, Bieloh is hopeful she and the rest of the Moondance staff will be able to bring their "jammers" the best of classic rock, even with other popular music festivals such as WE Fest in the state.

"I'm not worried about the competition," she said. "We have built a reputation here, and our fans know that."

Bieloh announced next year's lineup of Moondance is already in the planning process.

"I'm pleased to say REO Speedwagon will be among Moondance's classic rock lineup next year," Bieloh said. A favorite of her and Bill's, Bieloh said REO Speedwagon is the perfect fit for the kind of atmosphere that makes Moondance so unique.

"I'm glad to announce this show to my campers, and prove to them this is still about classic rock," Bieloh said.

'Happy Moondance'

An event aimed to keep the classic rock genre alive, Moondance has become an important aspect to the definition of family for many campers.

Richie Langseth began attending the festival 21 years ago, which turned into a "multi-generational event."

"The people and the crowd here is always one big, happy bunch," Langseth said. "It's the only time of they year we always know we can get away."

The "grand master" of the family's camping spot, Langseth said the family gathering ranges in age from 20 to 60, and that everyone loves coming together.

Amanda Hood has been coming to the family reunion of sorts for the past 14 years, and said it is one of the highlights of her entire year.

"'Happy Moondance' is what we always say to each other," she said. "You can't put into the words the kind of fun we have here."

A place for "fun," the festival is also a symbol of love for the family, as they planned a surprise wedding for two of "their love birds."

"They didn't know what was happening until we were pulling out the dress," mother of the bride Lee Vicktora said, also known at the campsite as "Momma Bear."

The group of nearly 30 people said this is one family tradition that is worthwhile, and encouraged other families to consider making it one.

Debbie Stevens also has turned Moondance into a family vacation.

Attending the festival since the late 1990s, Stevens said seeing her family grow up and become old enough to be a part of the concert festivities has been one of her fondest memories since her first Moondance, the ninth.

"This is all about family time for us," Stevens said. "It's (Moondance) has gotten bigger and it's just awesome."

The term "family time" has direct ties to Moondance for Stevens' daughter, Brittany.

"It's the best four days of my year,' she said. "I'm glad we've become a new generation of jammers because of this tradition."

Attending the event for a few years, Brittany, and her sister-in-law Hannah, both agree the roots of Moondance is still present, even though they never actually saw first-hand those "ties."

"It's great that Bill's spirit is still alive here," Hannah said. "I was never here before his death, but we still toast to him for what he built here."

Aside from the camping experience, others had a sole desire to see some of their favorite artists.

Makiyah Urban and her father, Carl, staked out a spot in front of the mainstage before noon Thursday to ensure they would get a front row view of their favorite band, Motley Crue.

"I'm a Cruehead," Makiyah Urban, 15, said. "I just want to marry Tommy Lee's son."

Exposing Urban to one of his favorite bands since she was a small child, Carl said Makiyah has become a bigger fan of the band than he is.

"I grew up with them and wanted to share this with her," he said.

The front of the stage was seemingly a hotspot for sharing interests with others, as Derek Klejeski staked out a front row spot with his girlfriend, Hannah Rudeck, so that she could experience her first concert.

"I didn't like them (Motley Crue) at first, but now they are one of my favorite bands," Rudeck said. "Black Widow" is her favorite song.

A long-time fan of the band, Thursday's concert marked Klejeski's 112th overall concert experience.

"I'm going to try to get her (Rudeck) a guitar pick or drumstick to make this special," he said.

In the hopes of making it a special weekend, Mark and Teresa McGough are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary at Moondance.

"There's great entertainment, a great atmosphere and great people here," Mark said. The couple, who hail from Saskatchewan, Canada, have been to the festival three times.

"We traveled 700 miles, but we really enjoy the music and it really caters to a lot of different age groups, which is why we love it," Teresa said.

If you go:

What: Moondance Jam

When: Continues today and Saturday

Where: Walker, MN

Cost: Visit moondancejam.com

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