Taste, Moondance widows keep Minnesota rock fests alive

Taste of Minnesota and Moondance Jam carry on under the care of their late founders’ hard-working wives.

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Atmosphere played Taste of Minnesota in 2010, but its then-owners filed bankruptcy. Linda Maddox is reviving the fest.

Photo: TOM WALLACE • twallace@startribune.com,

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Linda Maddox was quite literally flooded with memories of her husband last week, when she found out Taste of Minnesota had to relocate because Harriet Island was underwater.

Ron Maddox’s name came up after someone floated the seemingly preposterous idea of moving St. Paul’s July 4th festival to Somerset Amphitheater. That would mean Taste of Minnesota — which Linda revived this year in tribute to her late husband, its co-founder — would actually happen in Wisconsin.

“Ron might have been able to put his own kind of spin on that one,” she said, laughing, as she and her crew frantically looked for a new location. “I know Ron would have wanted to keep the festival in St. Paul, but I’m not sure we’re going to be able to do that.”

She eventually settled on a site to the west: the Carver County Fairgrounds in Waconia.

Similar tough decisions have been made without the principal founder of another resilient rock fest, Moondance Jam, in the northern Minnesota resort community of Walker. It didn’t miss a beat after Bill Bieloh died in 2010, thanks to his widow, Kathy Bieloh.

“I did strongly consider ending it, but I thought, ‘We have to at least make it through the 20th year,’ ” Kathy recounted of the 2011 season. “That anniversary just meant so much to Bill, and was a symbol to all the hard work he put in.”

Three years later, “The Jam” is still in full swing, with a July 16-19 lineup that includes REO Speedwagon, Styx, George Thorogood and the Wallflowers. Advance ticket sales have Bieloh believing it’s going to be the festival’s best year yet.

Back from the brink

Both women worked side-by-side with their husbands for two decades on the festivals, so taking the reins was not too daunting. However, Ron and Bill were the ones who did the schmoozing and glad-handing.

“I was never that good a promoter — Bill was — so I definitely had to step way outside my comfort zone,” said Bieloh.

She was hardly the silent partner, however, as the Jam grew into two big festivals with the 2006 addition of the Moondance Jammin’ Country festival (held again last weekend).

“I was the one who was more hard-headed and tough on the business end,” she said. “Bill was too nice of a guy. He’d give and give and give, which isn’t a great way of running a successful business. But it is one of the reasons he was so well-liked by so many people.”

Bieloh talked candidly about their business being in dire financial straits when Bill died suddenly of a heart attack at 51. They came close to filing bankruptcy.

“I do believe the stress of it is what killed Bill,” she said, noting the rising costs that every festival producer has faced, plus the economic turmoil of the late-’00s.

But the goodwill he built up bought time for Moondance, and with her shrewd business eye, Bieloh cut expenses by about a third.

Bouncing back, however, has been bittersweet.

“I cry every time we have a good weekend, thinking about how much Bill would’ve loved it,” she said.

‘It would’ve broke his heart’

  • related content

  • Linda Maddox scrambled to relocate Taste of Minnesota after flooding on Harriet Island.

  • Moondance Jam hasn’t missed a beat under Kathy Bieloh.

  • TASTE of MINNESOTA

    When: Thursday-next Sun., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.

    Where: Carver County Fairgrounds, 501 W. 3rd St., Waconia.

    With: Soul Asylum (July 3), Starship (July 4), Halestorm (July 5), Joe Nichols (July 6) and more.

    Tickets: Free before 3 p.m., $10 after (includes $5 in food tickets), ATasteofMN.com.

    MOONDANCE JAM

    When: July 16-19.

    Where: Moondance Ranch near Walker, Minn.

    With: Seether (July 17), Styx and Foreigner (July 18), REO Speedwagon and George Thorogood (July 19) and more.

    Tickets: $120 per day, $200 for all, MoondanceJam.com.

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