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Moondance Jam has grown from humble roots to major festival

90s reincarnation Sublime With Rome play to the Moondance Jam crowd on Thursday, July 17

By Nick Longworth

Moondance Jam has long been a sought-after event that has captivated classic rock enthusiasts in an area dominated by a country, up-north culture.

Over its two-plus decade run, Moondance has become an event different than a typical concert, or classic rock festival.

In every sense, it has blossomed from its humble beginnings in 1992 - conceived as a way to promote the riding stables that its organizers owned - to an event that people from all over flock to, not only for the music itself, but also for the experience that accompanies it.

Since Moondance’s opening lineup dawned the stage 22 years ago - one that featured regional bands, cost $7 to attend (the ticket also being good for $5 in tokens at the nearby Northern Lights Casino) and drew a modest, although successful, 5,000 fans - Moondance Jam has continued to build upon its success with each passing year.

In the years that followed its inception, improvements were made in an effort to improve lighting and sound. Extra parking space and complimentary shuttle services were added to and from the Northern Lights Casino to ease traffic congestion.

Moondance began to gain steam, and became more efficient.

Word spread throughout the 90s and in 1998 the once 5,000 people in attendance must have told their friends, because the attendance was record-setting - becoming the largest rock festival in the state at the time, with an attendance of over 50,000.

Now in its 23rd straight production, the main stage of Moondance Jam throughout the years has brought nationally known classic rock acts such as Kansas, Boston, Guess Who, Grand Funk Railroad, America, Steve Miller Band, REO Speedwagon, George Thorogood & the Destroyers, Styx, ZZ Top, The Beach Boys, Alice Cooper, Rick Springfield, Foreigner, Cheap Trick, Joan Jett, Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Scorpions, Ted Nugent, Starship and Three Dog Night among many more. 

The Moondance Jam Saloon regional stage also premiers regional talent throughout the entire weekend event.

The festival and conjoining campground now spreads out for hundreds of acres across the Moondance Jam Fairgrounds in order to accommodate the tens of thousands that park their RVs or pitch a tent for the weekend ahead.

Food vendors are available until late, with many open past midnight. Portable restrooms are abundant and often conveniently located – even at peak hours one rarely encounters a line longer than five minutes.

Groups of friends, families and friendly acquaintances all mesh together in the campground areas, freely flowing together as a sea of good natured attitudes and excessive alcohol consumption.

Camping officially began for “Moondance 23” at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, July 16 and remained in use until Sunday morning,

Quickly throughout the campground on Wednesday volleyball, Frisbees and other leisurely games became as common as a hotdog or a foul ball at a baseball game; by Thursday, you couldn’t go ten feet without running into one.

Regional band Hairball offered their “celebration of arena rock” to headline the opening night, and ensure eager crowds that there would be more to come in the following days.

Throughout the entire campground, there remains the distinct feeling of an authoritative presence, with Cass County Sheriffs occasionally patrolling the area.

One group of people comes from St. Cloud, another group from Fargo.

In the coming days eager classic rock fans would see the likes of Styx, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon, George Thorogood & The Destroyers, and Don Felder.

But the congregation that religiously flocks to Moondance year after year seems to be changing.

The festival that was once almost solely dominated by a classic rock appeal is aging, and with its age is trying to adapt to stay relevant among an increasingly younger crowd. At today’s Moondance you will find just as many attendees who are in their late 20s as you will those in their late 40s.

When you walk through the campgrounds you are just as likely to hear as much rap as you are rock. You hear "Fancy" as much as you do Foreigner; more John Legend than John Lennon.

Over the years Moondance has already subtly begun the transition to infuse their classic rock-based lineup with more “modern classics” such as The Gin Blossoms, Blues Traveler, Stone Temple Pilots, Kid Rock and Three Doors Down.

This year’s lineup produced possibly the most drastic shift towards modern mainstream alternative rock in the festival’s history with Seether, Skillet, Alter Bridge, Sick Puppies, Collective Soul, Sublime with Rome and The Wallflowers headlining prime slots throughout Friday and Saturday.

The question beckons as to whether this subtle shift towards modern rock is a trend, or if Moondance Jam will insistently maintain its “classic” appeal of old.

For now it would seem as if one thing is certain: the secret of Moondance Jam is out.

Crowds are getting larger, younger and more energetic. They are slowly taking over the very same festival that once required their parents to secure babysitters so they could attend.

Moondance Jam itself is becoming the classic now.

Nick Longworth
A graduate from St. Cloud State University, Nick photographs and writes a variety of stories for nearly every section of The Park Rapids Enterprise. His duties also include section layouts and online content submission.
(218) 732-3364