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​Thousands of people came to the Moondance Jam music festival Thursday to listen to bands Sick Puppies, Sublime, Alter Bridge, Collective Soul, and Seether. The popular music festival near Walker, Minn., continues through Saturday with such bands as Styx, REO Speedwagon, Foreigner, George Thorogood and the Destroyers. (Malachi Petersen | Bemidji Pioneer)

Rock on!: 23rd annual Moondance Jam draws thousands

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WALKER -- For Jim Packard, the annual Moondance Jam is more than just music and camping.

The Watertown, S.D., man has been coming to Moondance Ranch near Walker for the past 11 years. And he’s not alone. Packard, family and friends have formed a camping area dubbed “Camp Hippy.”

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“We started out years ago at a different festival and then we came here,” Packard said. “Every year we get together and camp here. We love the music and we love the people.”

Packard said the group of friends tries to meet a couple of times a year to hang out and reconnect.  “We all sort of became a small little family,” he said.

The 23rd annual Moondance Jam officially kicked off Thursday (there was a pre-show Wednesday night) and more than 50,000 people are expected to take in the four-day music festival, which features new and classic rock bands, as well as area bands on several side stages.

Thursday’s lineup featured more hard and alternative rock bands, including the Sick Puppies, Sublime, Alter Bridge, Collective Soul, and Seether. As the day drew on, more and more people danced and rocked to the music at the front of the stage.

The music wasn’t the only thing that drew people to the festival; however. A recurring theme of friendship and family coming together to reconnect and enjoy music could be seen throughout the day.

Matt Stein, of Warroad, was at the festival for his 15th year. He said he runs a DJ service and as a “Christmas bonus” brought his friends and employees to the festival.

“It’s paradise. You come once, you’re going to want to come every year,” he said. “If you love camping then come for the camping and see the bands you want. If you love music, just come for the bands -- just enjoy the weekend.”

In the camping area, a competition for the best-themed campsite was in full swing. From Animal House to a bait shop to the Playboy Mansion, campers competed to win free tickets to next year’s Moondance Jam.

“We have cheetah lawn chairs, and Christmas lights wrapped in pink netting, and it’s just pink. You can’t miss it,” Theresa Stenstrom, a member of the Playboy Mansion campsite, said.

The festival continues Friday with bands Autograph, Skillet, Don Felder, Foreigner and Styx. On Saturday, Slaughter, Badfinger, The Wallflowers, George Thorogood and the Destroyers, are set to play, with REO Speedwagon closing out the festival.

For more information, visit www.moondancejam.com.

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