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New twists for Taste  fine for this fest fan

Updated: April 19, 2012 8:17AM

It was the Italian ice quest last summer that made me realize Taste of Chicago was in trouble.

A friend and I had just watched Loretta Lynn perform. Maybe we were perspiring in sympathy for the country queen, who was dressed in a long-sleeved sequined gown with a high neck and full skirt. All I know is that we were hot, hot, hot.

We needed something cool — and fast. And we got it. That was the problem.

See, as a veteran of more Tastes than I can count, I knew what the crowd should have been like after that concert. People should have poured out of the park, back along where the restaurant booths were stationed along Columbus Drive. The booth with the Italian ice should have drawn a big crowd.

Instead, we were able to walk right up and get our cool treats. No lines, no waiting. It would have been easy to get food from any one of the neighboring booths, too. It was a sparse crowd.

While that sure made it convenient, I knew it meant the vendors weren’t making money and the city would have to pony up for the deficit. Not good, not good at all.

I once thought the Taste without superstar performers would still draw crowds. Even wrote a column saying so. I was wrong.

After what I saw last summer, I worried the Taste was going to become a thing of the past, and boy, would that make me sad. Naysayers like to talk about the rowdy young crowds and knock the event, but I always have a good time.

I love going there to munch on some classic Chicago food treat, with the sleek buildings of the city on one side, the lakefront on the other. Unless you live downtown — and I don’t — you don’t get to see the city from such a gorgeous angle very often.

I enjoy people-watching (even, or maybe especially, the characters who show up) and there’s something about the Taste that always has me — your typical, standoffiish urban animal — chatting up complete strangers.

A couple of months back, there was talk of making the food a little more upscale and that, too, had me concerned.

I have nothing against the finer meals of Chicago, but when you’re walking and eating, you have to be practical about what’s on the menu. That’s why those barbecued turkey legs are so popular.

So when word came down this week on the changes being considered for the Taste, I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not going to become a party just for the privileged.

I like the proposal to set up a tent where, for $40, you could get a great sit-down meal from a different celebrity chef each day. And then that same chef would create something to be sold at a booth, where anyone could sample it. See, everyone could participate!

The proposal to charge $25 for the 3,000 seats in Petrillo Band Shell doesn’t bother me, either. There are 30,000 more seats on the lawn, all free. Take it from one who knows: It’s a lot easier dancing out on the lawn.

Now all the Taste needs to be a success is for people to show up.

I know I’m going to be there. How about you?

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