WALKER -- Moondance Jam's faithful can breathe a sigh of relief: The popular outdoor rock and roll festival is here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future.
Jam founder and owner Bill Bieloh this week nixed any ideas of selling or dissolving the festival, which broke attendance records this year and made money for only the second time in its 10-year history.
An unexpected surge at the gate Friday and Saturday of this year's Jam forced the company to cut off ticket sales for the first time, Bieloh said, as sales exceeded 19,000 on July 13 and 20,000 on July 14.
Bieloh attributed the sales increase to the quality and popularity of the headliners. George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers closed out Friday's performances and Pat Benatar and Ted Nugent attracted a record crowd with their Saturday night appearances.
"We made it perfectly clear from the beginning that we (he and wife Kathy) would take it for 10 years," Bieloh said in an interview. "Then we'd look at it and decide whether to get rid of it."
In the days since the festival wrapped July 14 the Bielohs -- spurred on by the 10th annual Jam's financial success -- have decided to commit to an additional three years, he said.
The Bielohs and their staff members will be gathering over the next couple of weeks to develop a three-year plan that will include several minor changes to the festival's format, including a shift in focus on the music lineup, he said.
Instead of signing several performers for each day of the festival -- the Jam's featured bands typically have cost from $60,000 to $100,000 each -- Bieloh hopes in the future to book two to three major acts each day, such as a Tom Petty or John Mellencamp who cost about twice as
"We will go for bigger names, like a Petty or a Mellencamp, and use good regional bands to fill in the afternoon schedule," Bieloh said. "It's hard to put five or six national acts into the lineup each day, so we will start putting most of our money into a couple of major headliners for our evening performances."
Bielow pointed to a fall off of attendance during the afternoon performances as one reason for the change in strategy.
The cost of this year's Jam exceeded $2 million, including about $700,000 for the talent. Nugent received $100,000 for his 90-minute performance that closed the Jam on July 14.
"At some point we had to start making money," Bieloh said, "or either let it go or sell it. At Jam 8 we started making money and should have made money last year but we didn't. This year we made money and we are now committed to go at least three more years."
The Bielohs have turned down offers to purchase the festival in the past, he said.
"It started out as a fun time and grew into a major headache," he chuckled.
Over the years, the Bielohs have invested heavily in improvements to the 200-acre festival site east of Walker. They have upgraded roads, campsites and other infrastructure, employing hundreds of people both before and during the four-day festival.
Security and insurance represent other big-ticket items in promoting the event, he said. Rising costs this year forced the Bielohs to cancel their annual Cajun Fest, rolling the festival into this year's Moondance Jam for the first time.
"We pulled out of the Cajun Fest because it wasn't economically feasible because of disappointing ticket sales and rising costs," Bieloh said. "Our goal was to hold three festivals at the site each year but we have scaled back.
"And we'd be thinking about liquidating all of it now if this year's Jam had not been so successful," he said.
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