Again this year on Harriet Island across from downtown St. Paul, the Taste of Minnesota is happening July 2 - 5. It is under new ownership and management. They are aiming to erase some of the problems that have come up in the past. With more music, food and family fun, the idea is to make the festival a safe and fun time.
When it started 28 years ago, Taste of Minnesota was a totally open festival on the front grounds of the State Capitol. People came to hang out, and the attraction was the many restaurants offering a taste of their fare. You had to buy tickets to use to buy the food, which was always annoying (leftover tickets, anyone?). There were vendors and a little carnival with rides set up. There was free music in the evenings in front of the Capitol, with the bands tending towards the "they're still around?" sort. But bands such as America and Three Dog Night sure put on a good show.
Now the idea is to keep it open, but only to those paying - to see more music with more current bands. And the music is decidedly more current. There will be four stages, with music starting daily at 11am. Some of the stages are sponsored by radio stations, so you can get an idea of what type of music will be playing if you are familiar wtih the station. For instance, you can hear Sammy Hagar at the KQ stage on July 3, the Counting Crowes at the Cities97 stage on July 4, or The Offspring at the 93X stage on July 5. Other bands of note appearing are John Waite, Ipso Facto, Gin Blossoms, and The New Standards, to name just a few. There are multiple bands each day on each stage, so it all adds up to a great smorgasboard of music. "Over 100 hours," according to the website.
In addition to the music, there is an emphasis on Family Fun (yes, capital Fs), with a new Family Entertainment Village. Activities and shows from Creative Kidstuff, the Raptor Center, Circus Juventas, and NBA stars at the NBA Nation will keep kids busy. There are activities from 11am to 10pm daily in this area. Musical performances here will tend towards the elementary set. A great variety of entertainment is scheduled.
But the food, ah, the food! In some past years, the food has taken a backseat and not lived up to the original ideal. But this year, there will be a renewed emphasis on the 'Taste' part, with over 40 vendors and a new take on combining "food, music, and outdoor relaxation": the Party in the Park, with food demonstrations from local celebs and chefs from around the country, accompanied by music from local musicians.
All this, and more, can be yours for the purchase of a wristband. That's right. You need to purchase a wristband in order to enter the grounds. Last year's $10 charge is being upped, and this year does not include food tickets. The cost is $20 per person in advance or before 4pm any day, or $30 at the gate after 4pm. Kids 12 and under get in free with a paid adult. You can buy advance tickets online or at the Electric Fetus or Fifth Element.
While it may be a far cry from the thought that spawned it, the Taste of Minnesota shows just how much Minnesotans love their outdoor summer parties, with food, music and entertainment for all - though it's a pity that "all" now have to pay at least $20 simply to get in. Let's hope that this experiement takes care of the bad apples that were threatening to take it over in recent years.
Gates open at 11am on each day, from July 2 to July 5. The Taste is open until 10pm, with fireworks on the Fourth of July. There will be shuttles running from many downtown ramp locations. See the website for a pdf of the routes.