Get ready for some new flavor at the Taste of Minnesota.
The annual Fourth of July bash in downtown St. Paul has new owners who promise to revamp it -- but not relocate it. "You might still see Herman's Hermits on the Fourth of July for a family-friendly option, but I can guarantee that you won't see Greg Brady," promised Andy Faris, one of the three new owners in a deal announced Thursday.
Taste's founder and verbose ringleader for all of its 27 years, Ron Maddox -- who will stay on as general manager -- said he likes Faris and his partners because they promised to keep the event in St. Paul.
"Everyone else wanted to move it to another city, and I wouldn't have that," he said.
One major difference will be a $10 ticket price instead of the usual free admission, but the tickets will include a voucher for $10 worth of food once inside. The main reason for the admission price, the new owners said, is to improve security at the event.
Faris and his two partners, whose new company is called International Event Management, live in the Twin Cities but do not have a background in the entertainment business.
Faris is president of networking company Zycko U.S.A. in Minneapolis. His partner Dan Hare is vice president of sales and marketing at the Bloomington promotional products company Kelly Promotions, while the third Taste owner, Terry Moore, is a founding partner of the Minneapolis law firm Steingart, McGrath & Moore.
"We placed a priority on keeping it local," said Faris, who is an Edina native and said he regularly attends concerts at First Avenue and other rock venues. He believes Taste could be more like Milwaukee's popular Fourth of July music festival, Summerfest.
Since its inception, but especially over the past decade, Maddox's team relied heavily on faded classic-rock acts, oldies singers and many B-list names for their entertainment lineup (such as TV star Barry Williams, aka Greg Brady, a much-maligned booking at last summer's Taste).
The new owners say they will be going for more current and credible acts, namely in the rock and country realm but also including hip-hop and R&B, genres that Maddox's crew repeatedly ignored despite their popularity with listeners of color and under age 40.
"We're keeping an eye on the tradition of the event, but we definitely plan to move forward with a lot more current bands," Faris added, mentioning one of the hottest indie-rock bands of 2008. "Wouldn't it be great to have Vampire Weekend on our weekend?"
Mayor offers support
St. Paul's city leaders said they approve of the deal.
"Harriet Island is one of the best music and festival sites around, and it deserves to be filled with great entertainment," Mayor Chris Coleman said.
He and his staff met with the new owners and "made sure they're dedicated to keeping it a family-friendly event." He believes the $10 admission will not detract from the traditional Taste recipe.
"The critical piece for me was that [the $10 charge] was not about making a buck, it's about keeping it a safe, clean place where people will always want to go," he said.
City Council member David Thune, whose district includes the festival site, agreed the event could use new life. But Thune also believes that keeping Maddox as general manager will help ensure that Taste does not cause trouble with nearby neighborhoods.
"Anytime there was a problem -- and there almost never was -- Ron was there to make sure the neighbors were kept happy," Thune said.
Maddox said he is happy to turn over the reins. He and the festival's ownership group since 1996, Capital City Partnership, talked to many prospective buyers last year and came close to a deal with a local entertainment company that fell through.
"We've spent the last year and a half trying to put a new face on Taste, and I think we found the right face," Maddox said. "Everyone has their opinions about how the event should be run, and that's a good thing. But the fact of the matter is, I kept it going for 26 years and made it the largest event of its kind in the Midwest, so I'm very proud of what we accomplished."
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658