Moondance Jam’s Final Day Proves You Can Still Rock In America
The last day of Minnesota’s biggest rock festival featured three American bands belting out three power chord anthems with America at their center. West Coast rockers Night Ranger, Flint, Michigan’s Grand Funk Railroad and Seattle’s Heart all broke out their well-honed radio hits and some new tunes that felt familiar on Saturday night at Moondance Jam just outside of Walker.
However, amazingly talented musicians weren’t just confined to the main stage this day, as a St. Cloud band made a late morning Moondance Jam debut in The Lazy Moon Saloon. As most campers and overnighters were finishing their eggs and bacon from the buffet, their bleary eyes slowly became riveted on the band selected to start the day in the bar and grill; Seazon Of The Fly.
A quartet made up of guys from distinctly different musical backgrounds, Seazon made a noticeable impression on the breakfast buffet crowd. Their stripped down acoustic set included two guitars and bass, along with an interesting drum that the lead singer and percussionist, mysteriously only known as The Junt, rhythmically tapped, slapped and sat on at the same time. Mixing tight acoustic versions of several highly recognizable 90’s grunge hits with a selection of fittingly composed tunes from their two albums, the crowd responded by staying later than they had on previous days.
The applause offered at each song was not only loud and long, but genuine. It was clear the breakfast collection of campers, road crew and Moondance employees had stumbled onto a polished gem. Not only had most of the buffet patrons returned to their seat after their meal for more of the show, but new folks through the door were immediately captured by this band’s unique sound.
The first two bands on the main stage bill were tribute bands, Motley, Inc. (Motley Crue) and The Atomic Punks, a mock Van Halen. The songs were familiar and well executed. Several partiers in the crowd mentioned that the Crue doppelgangers sounded better than the real thing. The Punks gave us a taste of what VH was in their 80’s heyday.
With the good-natured imposters off the stage, the crowd quickly swelled in anticipation of Night Ranger. The band, still sporting three of it’s original members, dug into their library of rock radio mainstays, playing with the energy of their younger days. I had the opportunity to see them at the height of their career in 1984 at the Iowa Jam, and seeing them Saturday night nearly 30 years later was a treat. The set list was similar from my first experience with them, playing old favorites that were all over rock radio at the time; Sing Me Away, Don’t Tell Me You Love Me and Sister Christian all had the fans singing every word.
Bassist and vocalist Jack Blades reminded the crowd of guitarist Brad Gillis’ virtuosity by relaying the story of how, when Ozzy Osbourne’s guitar genius Randy Rhodes was tragically killed, they tapped Brad to fill in until they found a permanent replacement. With that set-up they fired off Crazy Train to a surprised and appreciative crowd. The closer, You Can Still Rock In America, brought shrieks and fist pumps after the final note.
Next up was Michigan legend Grand Funk Railroad. Original members drummer Don Brewer and bassist Mel Schacher have showed no signs of slowing down after grinding out one live performance after another. In the past decade Grand Funk has toured frequently and solidified it’s current line-up with the addition of former .38 Special singer Max Carl and former KISS member Bruce Kulick. Brewer told me in an interview prior to the show, that “they love playing Moondance,” because, “…it reminds them of Michigan.”, and that playing the greatest songs they’ve ever written is ‘satisfying.’
The set contained their biggest hit songs, like Loco-Motion and Some Kind of Wonderful, but they also had a few surprises for us; including the rare gem Walk Like A Man and letting Max Carl showcase the #1 hit he wrote for .38 Special: Second Chance. Adding in Shinin’ On and the long form jam I’m Your Captian/Closer To Home had the Jammers ready for the finale. As Don popped his red, white and blue Uncle Sam chapeau on, the crowd exploded to the first cowbell of the night as GFR slammed out We’re An American Band.
The air cooled down as the night progressed and the grounds became even more crowded in anticipation of the night’s headliner; Heart. The Wilson Sisters made it to the stage about 15 minutes late, but it was well worth the wait. They cruelly teased us with the keyboard opening of Led Zeppelin’s ‘In The Light‘. Most of the older fans in the crowd half expected them to open with a Zep song anyway, as they have been described for so many years as a female Led Zep. But to no avail, as they opened with the song ‘Fanatic’ the title track from their upcoming October new release.
Ann and Nancy came bounding out, powering through the new song, which had a distinct classic Heart edge to it. Cliche as it may be when describing them, Nancy’s playing DOES have a slight Jimmy Page feel to it, especially in this new song. The hard-core riffs she fired off really had the crowd feeling it. They also played another new song halfway into the set, Dear Old America, (unknowingly completing the patriotic trifecta started with Night Ranger’s You Can Still Rock In America and Grand Funk’s We’re An American Band). Nancy showed no signs of taking it easy after 40 years of performing, jumping, kicking her boots out and throwing her hair around thrash-metal style. Ann’s voice was obviously liking the fresh, cool Northwoods air as every note was hit.
They brought each fan’s favorite to the stage, delving into their 80’s synthesizer years with Alone, What About Love, and Nancy taking her vocal turn on These Dreams, which she has nicely added mandolin as the main instrument in place of the tacky 80’s keyboard.
Their 70’s list was well represented, Nancy’s acoustic guitar work gave Crazy On You a brilliant intro, with hints of Zep’s Battle Of Evermore thrown in. The opening power chords to Barracuda blew up the crowd and after heading backstage for a quick break, they came back with an encore that left the crowd stunned; covering The Who’s Love, Reign O-er Me beautifully. The grounds of Moondance were silent for a split second as Ann launched her final note and Nancy crunched the last chord of the song into the night sky.
Murmurs of ‘spiritual experience’ and ‘best concert I’ve seen in along time’ were overheard as the long trudge toward the campsites got underway, another Moondance Jam completed.