Just witnessed your
best live gig?.. send us a review!
Walker, Minnesota, 19-21 July 2012
Now 21 years
old, Moondance Jam had been going from strength to strength as one of
the top festivals in the USA, and certainly the best run and
friendliest. However, still reeling from the untimely death of its
creator Bill Bieloh in 2010, the social networks were full of pessimism
in the run up to this year's festival.
organisers splashed out for Kiss' spectacular headline show in 2011,
many felt disappointed in a scaled down line up this time, with
anticipated headline bands not materialising and others moved to a
higher slot than they had occupied on previous visits.
are a staple of the pre-Jam party and the saloon stage that hosts acts
during the main stage changeovers, but on this occasion there were too
many of them filling main stage slots.
To add to
the gloom, two of the three headliners refused permission for their
names to be included on festival merchandise. However, any such negative
feelings were soon left at the gate as blessed by perfect weather, the
crowds were as big as Moondance has yet seen and the atmosphere eclipsed
even my three previous visits here.
bills itself as the Camping and Jamming event of the summer' and the
dynamic is slightly different from an English festival. Especially given
that most Americans only have two weeks holiday, it becomes a big
occasion for large groups of families and friends who load up their RVs
for a vacation and as much action goes on in the campsites as in the
to whom the music is secondary may rarely leave the campsite, those
present are invariably beered up and in full on party mood. This makes
for a very special vibe and I have tended to enjoy my favourite bands
shows at Moondance more than any other.
KID ROCK, HINDER, SKID ROW, APRIL WINE
recently Moondance was exclusively a classic rock festival but they have
gradually gone for a more mixed bag of veteran and contemporary acts,
resulting in Kid Rock being recruited to headline and attracting a
record 23,000 crowd on the first full day of the jam. However it was a
band harvested from an older vintage, April Wine, who got the
party started in earnest to a larger than expected gathering down the
band members boldly wore all black despite the 90 degree plus heat,
while singer Myles Goodwyn and Brian Greenway, who shares Brian May's
greying shaggy perm, proved an excellent guitar duo.
latter shared some of the vocal duties, his rather raspier, rock n roll
voice providing a contrast on the likes of 'Right Down To It'. Laid back
in a typically Canadian fashion, they gently won the crowd over with
songs like 'Say Hello', 'Enough Is Enough' (apparently a staple of MTV's
early days) and the ballad 'Just Between You and Me', while a trip back to
the seventies for a song written by Elton John, 'Bad Side of the Moon',
turned in to a beautiful twin guitar led jam.
Town' and 'I Like to Rock' reminded the faithful that they penned some
catchy songs in the late seventies and early eighties. Some momentum was
lost with a drum solo and pointless medley of 'Day Tripper' and
'Satisfaction' but picked up again with 'Sign of the Gypsy Queen', twin
guitars again to the fore and the boogie of 'Roller'. Somehow I'd never
managed to see them live before, but they were a perfect tonic for a
warm summer's afternoon.
forward approximately a decade, Skid Row were up next with the
main interest how they perform now that motormouthed frontman Sebastian
Bach is long departed. However it is actually 12 long years since Johnny
Solinger replaced him, and despite being a Texan good ol boy with cowboy
hat to match, he has the glam metal looks and moves and a decent voice
compatible with the old songs, yet comes over as a more humble and
likeable character than his predecessor.
original members including never changing guitarists Dave 'Snake' Szabo
and Scotti Hill, they opened with old favourites 'Big Guns' and 'Piece of
numbers came and went from their more recent albums, with only 'Stop
Reading Me the Riot Act' making a mark but after Rachel Bolan was allowed
to indulge his love of punk during 'Psycho Therapy', from there on it was
hits all the way, starting with 'I Remember You' with Johnny and Snake
playing the first half acoustically,
'Slave to the
Grind' which has grown on me since I initially dismissed it as too heavy
on release, '18 and Life' and 'Youth Gone Wild'. It was ironic to see a
crowd at least half of whom were fortysomethings or older punching the
air to the chorus, but after hearing mixed reviews about modern day Skid
Row, they were the second successive pleasant surprise.
forward in time, Hinder were second on the bill and in my view a
perfect choice, appealing to a younger element but still having the
flair and flamboyance that many po-faced current bands lack.
excellent light show, their high energy set covered all three albums-
mixing sleazy singalongs - 'Up all Night', 'Use Me', 'How Long' - with 'What Ya
Gonna Do', sounding like Poison doing a ballad surrounded by empty whisky
bottles, and the ballads like' Better than Me' and 'Lips of an Angel' with
girls around me singing along every word.
Winkler is a lithe, charismatic front man with elements of a young
Steven Tyler or Buckcherry's Josh Todd, even if his voice can be
unnecessarily grating at times in the live environment.
American Nightmare' veered too close to nu metal territory for my taste,
he got the crowd to jump up and down during '21'. Encores 'Put that Record
On' and 'Get Stoned' are as good a pair of dumb singalong anthems as you
could hope to hear, and as we need some present day bands to become
tomorrow's classics, this set proved Hinder are future festival headline
of Kid Rock, who enjoys superstar status across the pond, was
what drew Moondance's record crowd. I had never been a fan but 'All
Summer Long' brings back many happy personal memories and having heard he
had largely forsaken his hip hop roots for southern rock and country
influences I approached him with an open mind.
surprised how eclectic his set was and that his large band at times went
off into jazzy diversions more suited to Santana or Steely Dan, A black
mark however for having a DJ mixing and scratching on a turntable, which
if I ruled the world would be an instrument banned from rock festivals.
He is something of a renaissance man playing a variety of instruments
including piano and drums on a cover of fellow Michiganite Ted Nugent's
'Cat Scratch Fever', after teasing us with snatches of Tom Sawyer and La
nothing though was one of his albums called Cocky. He is full of self
confidence which on one level makes for a compelling show but the
constant songs about himself proved somewhat tiresome. However 'F***ing
Forty' had hilarious lyrics, striking a chord with those of us who rock
on despite having long passed that milestone. The highlight of the show
was a beautiful version of his country crossover hit 'Picture' with
backing singer Shannon Curfman playing the Sheryl Crow role.
short main set of an hour or so, he encored with 'All Summer Long' but I
felt disappointed as the song seemed rather stripped bare with the 'Sweethome Alabama' and
'Werewolves of London' samples missing. However 'Rock
n Roll Jesus' was more satisfying before 'Born Free' was a great classic
rocker even reminding me of Credeence Clearwater Revival and performed
in front of a giant American flag to the biggest cheers of the night.
As I left
the site an hour later having watched a Tom Petty covers band in the
saloon, there were still massive queues to take the shuttle bus to the
parking lot, and such were the record crowds that my car was among many
blocked in. Thankfully some stewards with expertise in manoeuvring cars
out of impossible spaces came to our rescue, one of the personal touches
that make Moondance such a spirit warming festival.
JOHN FOGERTY, THREE DAYS GRACE, DON FELDER, CAVO
day epitomised Moondance's new approach of mixing old and new, with the
first national band on rising new band Cavo. Heavier live than on
the CD I hastily bought earlier on the trip, they marry the post grunge
of a Shinedown or 3 Doors Down with an almost U2 like seriousness and
sincerity, singer Casey Walker in particular. 'Let it Go' is an excellent
song, and their best known song 'Champagne' closed the set in
uncompromising yet catchy style, although they lacked a special edge to
set them apart from similar acts who are dime a dollar in the States at
tries to avoid too many repeat acts but just two years after his last
appearance, Don Felder returned, opening with a hole in one in
Hotel California, playing his 12 string guitar and exchanging harmony
leads with guitar partner Frank Simes. Once again he drew heavily on his
Eagles past - even telling the same anecdotes to accompany the songs –
with an emphasis on rockier numbers like 'Already Gone' and 'Victim of
Love', showing off his fluent, economical playing.
He has a
decent voice and the absence of his former band mates was not felt too
much, particularly as he had great vocal support from his band, notably
bassist Wade Berry reaching the high notes.
harmonies were shown to particular effect on mellower songs like 'One of
These Nights', 'Peaceful Easy Feeling' and a take on 'Seven Bridges Road'
that left people open mouthed in admiration. However there was a
surprise with two new songs - 'Girls in Black', a hard driving rocker with
a ZZ Top feel and the more restrained 'Wash Away the Pain'.
classic followed another - 'These Shoes' with both guitarists playing talk
boxes, 'The Long Run' as his slide segued effortlessly into a great solo
from Frank , 'Witchy Woman', 'Heartache Tonight' and 'Life in the Fast Lane'.
I had one
eye on the clock as this seemed like a full length set but no curfew was
raised as he encored with the song he said was where it all started,
'Take it Easy'. Equally impressive was the way this southern gentleman
modestly thanked Moondance for allowing him to appear at their party. I
have a feeling he will always be a welcome return guest.
In a total
contrast of style, Canadians Three Days Grace who are massive in
America brought a crowd of a different demographic to the front, with a
sound somewhere between Cavo's post-grunge and the angrier sounds of Godsmack, the latter influence felt on songs like
were mellower moments too including a cover of 'Free Fallin' and the
ballad 'Last to Know'. They were not really my scene yet are obviously
skilled and assured live performers with a big, and loud, show and the
reaction justified their inclusion on the bill.
present day to one of the men who made American rock, headliner John
Fogerty. As singer, songwriter and guitarist with Creedence
Clearwater Revival, his swamp rock set a template of incorporating
traditional country, folk and blues elements into rock n roll to create
a distinctively American sound, without which a whole host of artists
from John Mellencamp to the Black Crowes might never have come into
Now 67 but
looking remarkably unchanged from his heyday in check shirt and a
bouffant head of hair, he showed plenty of vigour in a set largely
composed of Creedence classics, beginning with 'Hey Tonight' and 'Green
River', even if every song seemed to follow the same pattern as after the
first verse, he would charge from one side of the stage to the other as
he played a guitar solo.
'Who'll Stop the Rai'n he told a well rehearsed anecdote about Woodstock,
reminding us that he is one of a diminishing band of still active
artists from the festival that defined an era, while the whole crowd
were singing along to 'Midnight Special'.
the number of songs he crams into a set, this time it seemed some of the
workouts were longer with 'Born on the Bayou' and 'Somebody Help Me'
unexpectedly heavy, I Heard It Through the Grapevine featuring some
extended duels between John and his Hammond organist and 'Long As I Can
See The Light' a showcase for his timeless throaty voice.
with no less than three other guitarists including one who impressed on
lap steel and dobro, were positioned out of the spotlight behind him but
belatedly stepped forward during Keep on 'Chooglin' and one was
introduced as his son Shane. Meantime, from behind a Perspex screen the
legendary drummer Kenny Aronoff drove the beat forward.
'Who'll Stop the Rain' I felt quite emotional, hearing one of the all time
greats perform his classics possibly for the last time. Belatedly he
played a couple of solo songs in 'Rock and Roll Girls' and 'The Old Man
Down the Road', though its similarity to 'Run through the Jungle' reminded
me of that absurd story when his record company sued him for
plagiarising his own work. However many were shocked he omitted his
baseball-themed anthem 'Centerfield', with its classic put me in coach,
I'm ready to play' lyric.
entered the home run of hits like 'Down On the Corner', 'Bad Moon Rising'
did seem a bit rushed (or did it just pass me by as I tried to work out
if he was singing there's a bathroom on the right'? ) but 'Fortunate Son'
rocked brilliantly as he spat out the lyrics with the intensity of a man
the third his age. By this stage his voice seemed to be feeling the
pace, and on first encore 'Up Around the Bend' it fell apart somewhat, but
a lively 'Proud Mary' sent us all away with the Rollin down the river'
chorus ringing in our ears after having the privilege to witness a true
DAY 3 -
HEART, GRAND FUNK RAILROAD, NIGHT RANGER
lacked in quantity (two excellent tribute bands, Motley Inc. and the
Atomic Punks with their set of Van Halen Mark 1, filled the first two of
the five main stage spots), the final day of Moondance more than made up
for in quantity.
a memorable show in London six weeks before, I eagerly anticipated
Night Ranger and was telling anyone who would listen what a treat
they were in for. It was therefore a disappointment that, unusually for
Moondance they were plagued by sound problems with Kelly Keagy's bass
drum ridiculously loud.
the sheer ebullience the band feel in playing transmitted itself to the
crowd - and made them the most enjoyable band to photograph of my whole
US trip - as singer Jack Blades was wisecracking and guitarists Brad
Gillis and Joel Hoekstra pulling classic guitar hero poses as they
duelled on songs like 'Sing Me Away', 'Touch of Madness' and 'Eddie's Coming
were played from new album Growing Up in California but the best
reception seemed to be for songs they had played in other bands - Brad
playing 'Crazy Train' in recognition of his spell with Ozzy Osbourne 30
years ago, and the Damn Yankees favourites 'Coming of Age' which NR have
made their own, and 'High Enough' where some great vocal harmonies
compensated for the absence of Tommy Shaw's helium tones on the
with time at a premium, they skipped the usual acoustic interlude on
which Kelly normally songs some of their hit ballads. Instead two of the
great numbers from the early eighties, 'When You Close Your Eyes' and
'Don't Tell Me You Love Me' ended the set, the latter with a snatch of
Highway Star and some rapid fire swapping of guitar solos.
front of stage to sing the intro to 'Sister Christian' before taking to
his drumkit stage right, and as you would expect from this massive smash
across the Atlantic (though sadly never a hit in the UK), the what's
your price for flight' chorus was marked by a sea of waving arms and
beer tankards held aloft, before they ended the set with 'You Can Still
Rock in America', which the Minnesota crowd were intent on proving.
grumblings when Grand Funk Railroad were, in some people's eyes,
over promoted to the second top slot. But their impact on American music
history is secure as one of the few US acts who threatened the dominance
of our own Zeppelin, Purple and Sabbath in the formative years of heavy
they are somewhat mellower and the emphasis is on the more commercial
numbers that brought them hit singles, such as 'Rock n Roll Soul' and 'Footstompin Music', both given a soulful feel by prominent Hammond organ,
their cover of - gulp! - 'The Locomotion' which had people singing along,
and 'Walk Like a Man', with an excellent solo from ex Kiss guitarist Bruce Kulick who was exemplary throughout.
There was a
nice balance in the way vocals were shared between the soulful Max Carl,
notably on his old 38 Special ballad 'Second Chance', and the more rough
and ready tones of drummer Don Brewer, founder member along with bassist
Mel Shacher and sporting a spectacular silver mullet.
Unfortunately the momentum of the set was totally killed by a long drum
solo followed by the band all playing percussion, but things picked up
with another crowd pleasing cover 'Some Kind of Wonderful' and after a nod
to their earlier days in the lengthy epic 'Closer to Home', as at every GFR set Don came out front in an outsized Uncle Sam hat to whip up the
crowd before 'We're An American Band'.
was that this limey' was singing along lustily, waving a souvenir
tankard just presented to me by the bar staff after a three day running
gag of them trying and failing to understand my English accent!
earlier a Heart tribute band, Bad Animals, had got this whole party
started in fine fashion. Now it was the turn of the real McCoy in Ann
and Nancy Wilson, the doyennes of women in rock, and their band to close
Don't Bring Me Down was played immediately before and had the whole
place singing, Heart pooped the party by opening with the title
track of their forthcoming album Fanatic. But after this rather false
start the set settled with 'Magic Man', including a fine guitar solo from
Craig Bartok who nevertheless takes a low profile in a rather anonymous
band and synths from Debbie Shaer, and Heartless, both faithful to the
originals, and the classic power ballad 'What About Love'. I was pleased
to see this in the set given the ambivalent relationship the sisters
have with their big selling but externally penned eighties AOR hits.
favourites in 'Even it Up' and 'Straight On' were followed by Nancy singing
a beautiful version of 'These Dreams', then their other big 80's ballad
hit 'Alone' was given a sparse haunting treatment that only served to
accentuate the phenomenal way Ann, now in her sixties, can still belt
out a tune, full of emotion.
those highlights were bookended by some new songs - one of which with
Nancy singing and Ann playing flute, harked back to their folky
tendencies in the seventies, the other 'Dear Old America', a heavier,
almost discordant number that summed up my feeling that they have lost
the knack of writing good tunes.
no time we were into the home stretch as Nancy, who seems to have the
elixir of eternal beauty, played the 'Silver Wheels' instrumental then
power chorded and high kicked her way through 'Crazy On You', followed by
'Barracuda' as Heart saved their pair of signature songs till last.
A new song,
'59 Crunch', for an encore suggested I will not be first in the queue for
the album, while Heart sets always end with a cover, usually a Led Zep
number but on this occasion The Who's 'Love Reign O'er Me', perfectly
suited to Ann's dramatic vocal treatment, which was rapturously
minutes for a headline set (with no Dreamboat Annie, Love Alive and Dog
and Butterfly among others), and little interaction with the crowd
including leaving without saying goodbye, I did feel a little short
changed by Heart compared to other bands that had gone the extra mile to
put on a great show. But as I heard few other complaints, perhaps I had
been spoiled by a vintage year for gigs, and another excellent Moondance
more good news with the Bieloh family confirming that after Moondance
2012 was such a huge success, the festival was definitely continuing
into 2013 and tickets were on sale already.
everyone who enjoyed three days of bands, sun and partying in this
beautiful part of the American heartland is surely planning a further
foray to this friendliest of festivals where the fun never fades.
use the direction keys on your keyboard to navigate easily through the
photo gallery. If using Windows, you can flick between photos
using your mouse wheel
Summerfest, 3-8 July
Loopfest, 13 July
Rockfest, 21 July
|Print this page in printer-friendly format