Taste of Chicago ticket prices not a ‘bargain’

By Editorial Board

The annual Taste of Chicago food festival is one of the most popular summer events in the city. In past years, the festival stretched across Grant Park and lasted almost a week, treating residents and visitors to both simple and fancy foodie fare. Next to the food, the free Taste of Chicago concert is a main attraction. But this year the Taste faced drastic cuts and tickets for the concert will cost $25.

Taste of Chicago’s schedule has already been cut to five days, so the City Council-approved price has rubbed many past attendees the wrong way, and they can’t be blamed. Even with bigger names in the lineup than past years, switching from free entry to a $25 ticket is more than a little ridiculous, especially for casual festival visitors who are merely looking for something to do on a summer day. Because the rest of the festival is free, many attendees will probably save their money and skip the concert. After all, the Taste is about the food. The music is meant to be secondary.

In fact, it’s safe to say that fans of the performing artists will make up most of the concert’s audience. Twitter, Facebook and fans of headliner Jennifer Hudson were abuzz when the lineup was announced April 19. Fans of Hudson, Death Cab for Cutie, Dierks Bentley, Chaka Khan and other mid-level artists will no doubt be ecstatic to pay such a low price to see their favorite bands. This goes double for Chicagoans who happen to be fans of multiple performers.

But this small bright spot for these fans is not enough to justify such an abrupt and drastic increase.

One particularly irked attendee of the 2010 Taste recently said in a Chicago Sun-Times Letter to the Editor that her experience was unpleasant and dramatic when she was blocked from entering the concert multiple times by police and horses in riot gear. “Now, they want to charge a fee, shorten the event and have fewer restaurants,” the attendee wrote about this year’s Taste. “Thanks for the memories.”

Either way, the $25 tickets are not “a bargain,” which is what Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Director Michelle Boone called it. The new ticket prices should instead be referred to as “a revenue-raising method.”

This isn’t to say the Taste won’t be a success by the city’s standards, but it certainly won’t compare to past years in size, scope and popularity. The City Council would probably have been better off charging $10–$15 to help audiences adapt to a new Taste of Chicago.