A Taste of Minnesota—St. Paul’s four-day food and music festival over the July 4 weekend—is back after a four-year hiatus, and it seems determined to recapture the peculiar magic that made it a success for more than 25 years.
For starters, it’s free again. In 2009 and 2010, the last two years of Taste, a new band of organizers tried charging people to get in, but that didn’t sit well with folks who have become accustomed to thinking that a holiday celebrating American freedom should itself be free. After all, what good is freedom if you have to pay for it?
Next, organizers have revived one of the event’s most beloved traditions: performances by bands so old and cheesy that they have to be teleported from their dungeon in 1970s–’80s FM hell—which, as everyone knows, is quite expensive. This year, organizers didn’t just return Taste to its roots; they dug deep into the dinosaur sludge to retrieve Starship featuring Mickey Thomas, whose hit song “We Built This City” (on rock ’n’ roll) poisoned the airwaves for so many years during the Reagan administration. Starship will headline on July 4, after the youngsters from Badfinger and the Marshall Tucker Band have whipped the crowd into a warm frenzy of nostalgia.
OK, I admit it—I do not get A Taste of Minnesota. In 2010, the festival was organized the way I thought it should be: with a heavy emphasis on local acts that showcased the amazing talent and diversity of the Twin Cities music scene. The food was also upgraded to include offerings from premium local restaurants such as Crave and Barrio. Great ideas, all. Unfortunately, people didn’t like these “improvements,” and the whole enterprise swiftly went bankrupt.
So what do I know?
To me, the apparent winning formula for Taste is a bizarre mix of pseudo-nostalgia and mediocrity. Give them pop music, Pronto Pups, and fireworks, and they’ll come—as long as they don’t have to pay for a place to lay out their blanket. It makes no sense to me. The only people it makes sense to are the 200,000-plus people who actually go.
The other person who intuitively understands Taste’s secret formula is Linda Maddox, wife of the late Ron Maddox, who started and ran the festival during its heyday. She is back as the event’s general manager, under the auspices of a new management group called 10K Lakes Inc. And her first priority, clearly, is returning A Taste of Minnesota to the format that made it not-all-that-great for so many years.
She can’t do it all at once, of course. This year, you can still see local luminaries Soul Asylum and Tina and the B-Sides headline on July 3, and a few metal fans might come out to see the female-led, Grammy-winning shred band Halestorm on July 5. July 6 is the day for country fans. The headliner for the boots-and-beer crowd is Joe Nichols, whose tasteful ballad “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off” was a number one hit early in the 21st century.
Personally, none of these acts will coax me down to the Carver County Fairgrounds. But mark my words, this will be the most successful Taste in years. And it will be successful, paradoxically, because it will be far less interesting and ambitious. That, evidently, is what Minnesotans want on July 4—and that is what they are going to get.