'Taste of Chicago' Begins Quietly

Chicago Tribune: The thousands of visitors to the first day of Taste of Chicago on Friday found the famed fare that their taste buds have come to expect — roasted corn, falafel, pierogi and fried catfish. But what stood out to many was how different the city's biggest festival is this year.

For instance, instead of hearing such marquee acts as Elvis Costello, as in years past, those arriving later Friday caught Los Horoscopos de Durango, and other lesser-known bands that drew smaller crowds.

On Columbus Drive, the street appeared noticeably less cluttered, and cleaner. Instead of high-energy rap and rock concerts, there were kids and parents watching a female acrobat performing high-altitude stunts as part of a newly introduced "Midnight Circus."

All those and other changes were part of what the Chicago Park District hopes will be a more relaxed Taste this year, after taking over the 10-day event for the first time from the Mayor's Office of Special Events.

As the crowds began trickling in Friday morning, the early results appeared promising. "People are happier, not as hot and sweaty," marveled Roselle Monsalud of Tinley Park, while she and her 12-year-old daughter shared a plate piled high with homemade potato chips. "We don't usually come to the Taste; we avoid the crowds."

Following a recent series of Near North Side beatings and robberies that led to anxieties about safety downtown, city officials also employed another fundamental change: more cops. Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said earlier this week that there would be more plainclothes officers in and around the Taste this year, working at train stations and other areas with high pedestrian traffic.

In addition, police officials positioned uniformed officers and private security guards around the festival to promote a quieter experience than in years past, when some Taste events ended with violence erupting on nearby streets.

That change was apparent, though not unnerving for those who appreciated that the festival launched in 1980 was returning to its roots, away from large-scale entertainment events and back to family-oriented activities.

"We got here right at 11 o'clock, and there were more police walking around than regular people," Dave Eddy, of Valparaiso, Ind., said appreciatively. "It seems like there is more police presence this year."

Summer nights at the Taste will go by without many big-name musical acts, instead merging entertainment from four of the city's smaller festivals. To some, that is a bittersweet change to swallow.

Uche Omoniyi remembers the excitement of seeing Stevie Wonder in concert at the 2008 Taste. "I remember the fireworks too," said Omoniyi, recalling the happy nights sitting on the lawn in Grant Park amid throngs of other Taste-goers. "There would be a million people here."

Omoniyi, who lives on the South Side, has also been a faithful patron of the city's Gospel Festival, usually held a few weeks before the Taste in June. Omoniyi said he will miss the event, which was incorporated into the Taste this year.

But, he added begrudgingly, "I'm glad they kept it free."


Post a Comment