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Going from free admission to as much as $30 in two short years hardly sounds like a good deal. Taste of Minnesota's new organizers, however, believe their new entry fees are just that.
"It's a new festival, but it's still the best value of the summer," boasted Andy Faris, one of three partners who took over Taste last year.
Faris and his team nudged toward their goal of revitalizing St. Paul's dated July 4th weekend bash in 2009, when they began charging an entry fee after 26 years of free admission. They charged $10 last year but offset the price with $10 worth of food tickets and the excuse (a legitimate one) that such a fee was necessary to maintain security, i.e., keep out the riffraff.
This year, the changes are much more abrupt. Admission to all four nights of Taste -- which kicks off Friday and continues through July 5 -- will cost $20 for ages 13-64 if you buy tickets in advance or show up at the gate before 4 p.m. After 4, it's $30. That's a 100 to 200 percent markup, for anyone who's into such figures.
For folks who are into live music, the new Taste of Minnesota owners have updated, expanded and diversified the lineup. Instead of four nights of whitewashed rock headliners who pre-date the Reagan administration, this year's lineup only has one who's that old (three date back to the Clinton era, though). Plus, a smorgasbord of current and/or timeless hip-hop, blues, indie-rock, alt-country, R&B and Latin music is on tap over four stages.
Faris and his partners believe Taste will now rival the Twin Cities' three most popular summer music soirees, all of which cost more: the July 9-10 Basilica Block Party ($35-$45 per day), last weekend's Rock the Garden concert ($40 per ticket) and the Minnesota State Fair ($9-$11 admission, plus $22-$70 for grandstand tickets).
They also emphasize that they're spending a lot more to improve Taste's non-musical menu. The concessions will now include such well known local restaurants as Crave, Barrio, Seven Sushi and Holy Land, and there will be a new "back-yard barbecue"-style cooking/music tent hosted by Cities 97 DJ Brian Turner. Family entertainment includes daily Circus Juventas performances, an NBA Nation attraction, a skateboard demo area and live acts (but no carnival rides, and fireworks only on the 4th).
It's hard at this point to judge the value of these other facets, but it's pretty easy to add up the music in dollar terms. Here's how we quantify the lineup each day, based on either the average ticket price each act is charging for other current gigs, or what they charged the last time in town.FRIDAY
Radio sponsor: Current 89.3 (indie-rock, hip-hop, Americana, etc.)
Headliner: Last seen playing to 17,000 fans atop the Soundset fest lineup on Memorial Day weekend, Atmosphere is the first hip-hop act to top the bill at Taste, and the festival's first locally reared headliner in more than a decade. The kingpins of the spry Twin Cities hip-hop scene have been lying low this year, welcoming rapper Slug's new son and working on a new album with the same live band as 2008's No. 5-charting album "If Life Gives You Lemons..." (Atmosphere's average ticket price: $26.29, based on figures at concert industry trade site Pollstar.com and Ticketmaster.com.)
Also on main stage: Atmosphere's punk-weaned rapping labelmate P.O.S. is fresh off a gig at the prestigious Coachella fest ($11.99 average ticket). Dylan-esque New York indie-rock band the Walkmen, who replaced Janelle Monae on the lineup, have been a critics darling and Current favorite for years ($17.30). Seattle rock experimentalists Minus the Bear are pals of P.O.S. ($18.41).
Side-stage highlights: Local R&B/blues legend Willie Murphy and his full band headline the new Red House Records/KFAI Stage (last gig: $10). British retro-soul-rocker James Hunter has played here with Susan Tedeschi and Chris Isaak and on his own at the Fine Line ($15 for the latter). Two of the brightest new stars in alt-country, Justin Townes Earle is Steve Earle's more old-school-sounding son ($12.81), and L.A. harmonizers Dawes wowed a First Ave crowd as part of a double bill three weeks ago (half of that ticket: $10). Rock the Garden standout Retribution Gospel Choir ($10 for its last club gig) joins a cast of local club favorites that often charge $5 for shows, including Communist Daughter, Haley Bonar and Alison Scott.Total value: $146.80 SATURDAY
Radio sponsor: KQRS 92.5 (classic rock)
Headliner: Last seen in town with the not-so-superbly received supergroup Chickenfoot -- and before that it was a truly red-rocking private party at First Ave during the Republican National Convention -- Sammy Hagar is also opening for Aerosmith with his tequila-branded band the Wabos this summer. He typically mines his solo catalog as well as his Van Halen hits and even a Montrose oldie or two. (Average ticket price for his non-Aerosmith shows: $45.75.)
Also on main stage: Ex-Foreigner singer Lou Gramm and "Missing You" '80s one-hitter John Waite guarantee at least a couple hundred Bic lighters will be waving in power-ballad glory Saturday night. Each singer is also doing a lot of county fairs and city street fests this summer (average admission is about $5).
Side stages: Chicago's soulful blues vet Otis Clay played for Obama in 2008 and was at the Dakota last year ($10). More local club favorites include sporadically reuniting reggae/soul vets Ipso Facto, revered acoustic bluesmen the Brass Kings and Charlie Parr, Brit-rocky quintet the Alarmists and Tom Petty tribute band Free Fallin' (typically a $5 cover).Total value: $90.75 JULY 4 Radio sponsor: Cities 97 (adult pop/rock)
Headliner: Last seen playing to a sea of drunken fans clamoring to hear "Mr. Jones" at the 2009 Basilica Block Party, '90s Americana pop-rockers Counting Crows may not be landing the hits anymore, but they still have a dedicated fan base and are more solid as a live band than they were in their erratic heyday. (Average ticket: $47.31.)
Also on main stage: South Carolina's Needtobreathe have recently landed contemporary Christian radio hits such as "You Are Here" ($14.76 average). "Hey Jealousy" hitmakers the Gin Blossoms, also early-'90s MTV favorites, played the Aquatennial Block Party last summer (free).
Side stages: Two Louisiana roots music favorites who are highly recommended, the hard-blowing and unstoppably funky Dirty Dozen Brass Band and piano boogie queen Marcia Ball have each played the Dakota on recent stops ($22-$35 Dakota prices). Jazzy pop reinventionists the New Standards, led by the Suburbs' Chan Poling and Semisonic's John Munson, also frequent the Dakota (last time: $15-$20). Out of the weekly club rotations are salsa dance hosts Sensacion Latina, blues/R&B stalwart Big George Jackson, alt-twangers Molly Maher & Her Disbelievers, troops-touring rockers Catchpenny and bluegrassy folkie Eliza Blue ($5 each).Total value: $161.57 JULY 5 Radio sponsor: 93X (alt-rock/metal)
Co-headliners: Last seen in separate headlining gigs at St. Paul's Roy Wilkins Auditorium, Omaha-reared rock/reggae duds 311 and Californian gnarly punks the Offspring are touring together all summer. They both amassed quite a few massively played and equally loved/hated radio hits in the '90s, including "Amber" and "All Mixed Up" by 311 (average tickets: $27.08), and "Come Out and Play" and "Self Esteem" by the Offspring ($31.76).
Also on main stage: Hawaiian trio Pepper is another half-baked, feel-good rock/reggae band à la 311 ($19.76).
Side stages: St. Paul's pioneering hip-hop live band Heiruspecs have been playing less and charging a bit more ($10). Red House Records wheels out a few of its rootsy favorites, including Bostonian country-folk picker Ray Bonneville and acclaimed heartland duo the Pines ($10 each). Other favorites from the club scene include piano-climbing madman Mark Mallman, bluesy Southern ensemble Davina & the Vagabonds, costumed metal tribute band Hairball and the Parisian-styled Cafe Accordion Orchestra ($5 each).Total value: $128.60
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658