Friday, August 9, 2013

Halfway Jam - The Tenth Annual Family Reunion

Summertime is one of the most highly anticipated times of the year for families as well as those of the single persuasion.  Between softball games, trips to the swimming pool, fireworks and barbeque's on the deck it always seems like the summer is completely full.  It seems that between all of those things that upon learning about a "family reunion" schedules can be rearranged and subsequently trips can be planned.  This summer I did just that, I planned a trip to a "family reunion", but why is that on a music blog?  Well...

Family reunions are one of those events that can be approached with excitement and trepidation.  They can be a chance to reunite or open old wounds, and they can be a place of entertainment and fun.  I really like family reunions, its fun to see what is happening in the lives of our extended families.  Each reunion is different but the common point of every family reunion is the food.

That statement is really true if you think about it.  More often than not we subject ourselves to the typical potluck food that is easy to make, cheap, and looks freaking scary.  When the covers begin to come off of the plastic bowls, and the clear wrap starts to be peeled off we see the "bounty" set before us on the dirty folding card tables, our anticipation crashes the minute the "bounty" is revealed.  With the strange aroma wafting forth from Aunt Freida's "Chicken Florentine with marshmallows" and the terrifying sight of Aunt Bernice's "pistachio, green pea concoction" that appears to be mixed into a vile foam-like special form of evil, we pick the safest foods we see.

Soon after we have thrown away the concoction that Aunt Bernice created, by strategically mixing the concoction amongst the boxed mashed potato's together with some type of Taco casserole simply to hide the fact that we couldn't stomach it further, we toss it into a garbage can and run off to avoid the immediate danger of Aunt Bernice.  As small children belonging to distant cousins begin to run wildly much like a wildebeest chasing a screaming tourist, and the teenagers sit off to the side texting the person sitting right beside them, we begin throwing things at one another.  Not in a malicious way but in a playful "catch - this - Frisbee - baseball" way.  Ironically those of us that are at a "responsible" age usually toss the football / Frisbee / softball for a few minutes before faking that old "sports injury" that flares up usually when you look bad in the attempt.

As the day strings along, we watch the family begin trickling away and despite those few "hangers-on" that remain until the last dingy light bulb is turned off.  Yes in order to see that last light bulb turn off you had to still be there but isn't that what makes it all worth it?  Being there as the last light bulb is turned off is almost a badge of honor, it means that you saw the whole thing through and that my friends is an accomplishment.  Watching that last aunt leave, or helping your vet uncle into his car makes you feel good.

Recently I attended my family reunion, of sorts.  I made the 420+ mile trip to Royalton, Minnesota to attend the TENTH annual "Halfway Jam" nestled into a tidy three days (July 25, 26, 27th).  My first exposure to Halfway Jam came from a friend that I had met at a concert and he vowed that if they ever got in the area he'd get us tickets.  Much to our surprise was that we had "All Access" passes and we had no idea what we could do with them.  Despite the intermittent showers that day we had a great time and a desire to come back again and again was born.

The parcel of land in which the three day event occurs is owned by Bill and Sandy Henry encompassing 80 acres of freshly cut alfalfa.  As I ventured into the venue the first thing you are greeted with is a highly competent and incredibly friendly staff guiding you to parking based on your ticket.  It really is fascinating when you go past several different people that are helping you get to the right spot and if an errant driver should get confused, the staff will help with getting them where they belong.  Last year (2012) there was a young man that despite the time of his shift, the temperature and the glare of the sun made drivers laugh as he guided them.

On that first visit to Halfway Jam (2011) I noticed all of these campers and the smell of campfires wafted through the air.  It seemed that adjacent to the parking area was a wooded area that housed a small campground.  This year I was taken on an impromptu tour of the campground by Jeff Vee (President of "Rockhouse Productions") where I was introduced to the "family-like culture".  As Jeff drove through it became apparent why that culture was born.  Tucked inside 20 - 30 acres of wooded ground lays a big family reunion the likes of which I hadn't a clue existed.

There are several things support the campground being a family reunion and the first being something I was told by Denise, the person many within the campground know as "Mom".  Denise mentioned that as "Mom" she becomes the sounding board of the campground, the person whom is aware of everything happening in the campground and the one that is the "disciplinarian".  That sounds like a Mom to me.  The festival starts on Thursday but the campground opens at 11:30A on Wednesday and Denise mentioned the fact that at 6:30A there is a line of traffic waiting for spots among the woods.  That really is a continuation of a "family reunion" isn't it?  People flowing into the location, trying to get the spot that they will put down their lawn chairs and coolers supports that argument.

Between the trees lie campsites that can accommodate 500 campers / RV's / tent campers, and hot showers.  Not to be forgotten are the men, women and children just enjoying themselves among the campsites.  The gentle smell of campfires, footballs tossed about and the games of bean-bag toss really does support itself into that reunion feel.  Interestingly I was introduced to a gentleman that was at the front gate of the campground, Gary Berg, and Mr. Berg was the epitome of the staff at this event.  He was friendly, outgoing, funny, good at his job and very professional.

Entering the festival grounds the enormity of the location becomes quite the eye opener.  In talking with Jeff he said that the site holds 10,000 people and as the venue opened that first day I sat and watched as people began to
fill up the parking lot and began streaming into the venue. 

The crowd was as diversified as any reunion could ever hope to be and having been present for the last three years many of the same people are present as in festivals past.  Its fun getting see the same people every year, it simply shows the quality of music that Halfway Jam brings to the table.  The people are partially why this festival is so fun.  When you enter an environment that is friendly and people are there just to have fun you must go.

The "Good Doctor" and Cuz' Eddie
"Cousin Eddie"

The "Good Doctor" when asked if he was "Dr. Feelgood" he said no, he was actually... I can't repeat it here, there are some younger types that read this.

"Cousin Eddie" is so named because he was reminiscent of the character of the same name in "National Lampoons Vacation.

Within any event of this duration and the length of the day those present usually get hungry and thirsty and Halfway Jam is more than accommodating.  Since "Aunt Bernice" isn't at the event, that means her "pistachio, green pea concoction" isn't either but what is available is much, much better.  Within the confines of the event Halfway has quality purveyors of food and drink.

Obviously there is more to Halfway Jam then just the crowd and food, there is some really spectacular entertainment.  I asked Jeff Vee about the process of obtaining the talent and the answer he gave made perfect sense.  Within any event of any size there is a budget and within that budget are many, many variables.  Even before the talent is selected they must hire the companies for security, vendors (food, clothing, etc.), amenities (restroom facilities, utilities) and crews to erect and take down the stage to name a few.

Obviously talent is the mainstay of this music festival but with a finite budget there are bands that are just too far above of the realm of reason.  Bands such as "Journey", "Motley Crue", "Black Sabbath", etc. are just far too expensive.  Of course the resolution to that problem would be to buy tickets for the event and to use a movie quote (or at least some bastardized form of it), "if you build it, they will come".  If Halfway Jam were to sign one of those bands then ticket prices could make, what concert go'ers may consider, an unreasonable jump thus taking away one of the key components to a successful event.  I asked Jeff if they were going to do "theme nights" such as a '90's night or a "southern rock night" and he told me that simply wasn't something that interested them.

I agree with Jeff regarding "theme nights" but the entire event does have a perceived theme, that being an '80's rock festival.  That really is a personal opinion but from the people I talked to at the venue they agree.  While booking talent obviously the first priority is fitting the bands into the budget but just as important is the schedule of the band.  Schedules can be a bit messy for example assume for a moment "Lynyrd Skynyrd" has a gap in their schedule and that gap fits somewhere into the schedule with Halfway Jam.  Even if the band fit within budget, lets assume that they (Lynyrd Skynyrd") performed the night before Halfway Jam in Tallahassee and then they have have two days that are open but then the next show is in Charleston, South Carolina that becomes a logistical nightmare.

Often times bands don't travel the way the used to.  The days of tour buses, large semis with their trailers full of gear have met their demise for many an '80's band.  Now many of the bands travel by air, with their gear (i.e. guitars) so criss-crossing the country would be far from comfortable.  Travel can be a greater headache than just trying to find the band itself.  Patience is a virtue, at least that is what I'm told but Jeff and the other management associated with the venue have patience.  Inasmuch as travel can be a nightmare for a band, it can work in the favor of the venue if the band might be in the area close enough and they want to fill a "void" in their schedule.

The schedule that Halfway Jam had for those three days was great (i.e., Loverboy, RATT, Tesla, Survivor, Pop Evil, Great White feat. Jack Russell, Saliva).  Everything within the confines of those three days in the fact that with two stages, one band can finish a set and another band will start on the other stage.  The system in place works great, and understanding the rationale of why certain acts are selected is very important.  There are two things that we as Halfway Jam fans can do to help get huge names would be first of all buy tickets.  A family reunion is far from possible without people attending, that is where the ticket comes in.

That ticket can be General Admission, it can be VIP for that matter, the music is the same wherever you are at Halfway Jam.  There truly isn't a bad place to be anywhere in the venue so consider the ticket as your RSVP.  With that RSVP you'll have a great time in the sun, with good food, friendly people and great entertainment.  Within the realm of entertainment, consider your voiced opinion of who to book as you telling Uncle Frank you would like to do something different instead of "Jarts".  Your voice can matter if you let it.

Family reunions have a significance in our lives that can be from time to time scary.  The experience can be macabre in a sense when you feel obligated to go because Aunt Gertrude is 98 and she might be gone soon.  A reunion can be cherished much like taking your small children to be able to play with the children of your family and continue a family bond.  A reunion can be fun, it does have the ability to do so while at the same time being entertained and becoming a kid again.  Of the three scenarios listed the reunion I experienced this summer was fun.

Isn't that what summertime is supposed to be though?  Of course it is, so it should be of no surprise that when I attended Halfway Jam in Royalton, Minnesota I had a blast.  Sitting in the sun, eating good food and listening to some great bands from my younger years can be nothing other than joyful.  There is more to it, much more actually but it is hard to explain.  Its difficult to express why something is enjoyable to another person because you may not describe it well enough for it to come through in translation.  You may not be able to describe the smell of the fresh french fries as it wafts through the air or explain the the feeling of that first hard chord slamming into your body like a semi.  Trying to vocalize why is subjective but what fun is for one person really can be only described by the person having it.

Halfway Jam - 2013 was fun, in fact it was a blast.  I loved the music, met a couple of bands and performers, and reacquainted myself with those in my extended Halfway Jam family.  I drove nearly EIGHT hours to get there and the only reason why I would do something like that was to forget the world for three days and nights.  For some of the attendees eight hours was far from impressive, I met people from Florida and Canada that also made the trek, yearly.  I can only recommend to you that you go and discover for yourself what Halfway Jam is.  I'd bet that you might come back with some new family too.


  1. seems like HJ has less star power in 2014.

  2. $49 for a one-day ticket to see Jackyl as the headliner? No thanks!