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Fans OK with shelling out $25 to see Jennifer Hudson at Taste, but some opt for free seats

Jennifer Hudsperforms Petrillo BShell first night taste Chicago Wednesday July 11 2012. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

Jennifer Hudson performs at the Petrillo Band Shell on the first night of taste of Chicago Wednesday July 11, 2012. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: August 13, 2012 2:08PM

Sitting side by side in their canopied lawn chairs, best friends Renee Perry and LaWanda Cribbs looked like VIPs Wednesday evening as they sipped iced drinks and waited for Jennifer Hudson to take the stage at the Petrillo Music Shell.

Except that Perry and Cribbs were in the cheap seats — free seats, to be more precise. Perry and Cribbs, both 54, have been coming to the Taste of Chicago for years and, although they could have afforded the $25 each for the up-close general admission seating, on principle they weren’t going to pay it.

“It was free for so long, and now they’re charging,” said Cribbs, who lives on the West Side. “It’s not bad to pay $25 for a concert. We’re just used to having a free, good time and now it’s changed.”

Charging for Taste concerts — for 3,000 seats directly in front of the stage — is part of a new City Council plan to cut costs and trim annual loses sustained by the city’s summer festivals. The great swath of green space beyond the fenced-off seats remains free.

On Wednesday, as Hudson — a South Side native — took to the stage, there appeared to be several dozen empty seats.

“A smarter move would have been [to charge] $12.50, not $25, because you’re already spending money out here at the Taste,” said John Nelson, 45, of Calumet City. “$25 is not cute if you’re spending money for the food.”

For die-hard Hudson fans, $25 was a small price to pay to see the Academy Award-winning actress/singer live.

“I want to see Jennifer Hudson up close and personal, and this is her home town,” said Nicole Vinci, 33 of Homewood. “I want to give her respect and show her that she’s worth it.”

Hudson opened her pop-oriented concert with Chaka Khan bravado and Pointer Sister sass, pumping her fist to the rock beat of “Night of Your Life,” the track she sang for French DJ David Guetta.

After showcasing every dynamic of her vocal instrument over the course of “Where You At,” Hudson took time to say hello to a lot of friends and family in the audience. “I’m so damn glad to be home,” she said.

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