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Ryan Johnson, Published July 18 2013

Moondance Jam evolves as newer acts join classic rock lineup

WALKER, Minn. – Nothing can keep Kim and Curt Nelson from attending the annual Moondance Jam near here.

So when Kim’s brother told her in February his wedding was set for this Saturday – the final day of the 22nd annual classic rock festival – she decided a toast from the festival grounds would have to do.

“We already had the tickets and room reserved, the whole nine yards,” she said. “My brother told me the date of his wedding and I said, ‘You’re kidding me. I love you, bro, but I have things going on.’ ”

The Nelsons first attended Moondance Jam, billed as the state’s largest rock festival, in 2010 when she won tickets from a Brainerd radio station.

Kim Nelson said there was something about that experience – the “awe” she felt as she first walked in, the way strangers welcomed them and made them feel like family – and they were hooked.

They have since bought tickets early, as much as a year in advance and long before the band lineup is announced, to reserve their spot among the thousands who attend.

The Nelsons and other attendees will notice the festival that started Wednesday with a pre-jam party isn’t the same every year.

Media coordinator Bernie Schumacher said it’s undergone a deliberate “evolution” in recent years that’s mirrored the rapidly changing music industry.

Look no further than the lineup for an example – bands like Buckcherry and The Offspring, hit makers in the 1990s and 2000s, are now grouped with 1980s legends Motley Crue and Slash.

Now in her 50s, Schumacher said she thinks of classic rock as 1970s groups like Cheap Trick and REO Speedwagon. But a radio announcer recently told her Buckcherry is his classic rock.

“It has to shift – slowly, with a little bit of a fight,” she said. “But you don’t have any choice.”

Eric and Lisa Heap are at the festival this weekend for the 14th consecutive year, and said they’ve noticed that shift.

But while they prefer the music of their youth – especially 1980s hairbands like Motley Crue and Poison – they said it makes sense to change.

“A lot of the old classic rockers from the ’60s and ’70s, they are either 70 years old or a lot of the bands have one member who’s like the original drummer’s cousin’s son or something,” Lisa Heap said, laughing. “Those guys need to go into the retirement years and it needs to evolve. We need to keep it going, so we’ve got to bring new talent so that the younger generations will come, too.”

Eric Heap said despite the changing lineups, the Fargo couple have learned they’ll be just fine buying early bird tickets well before next year’s headliners are announced.

“We just have the faith that they will bring in good bands, and they’ve never let us down yet,” he said. “Besides that, our friends keep coming back with us year after year and we’re making new friends and seeing old friends.”

The 22nd annual Moondance Jam features Slash, Blue Oyster Cult and Johnny Rivers tonight, and The Offspring, Theory of a Deadman and Head East Saturday night.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587