The real loss with a shorter Taste

January 3, 2012

In a press release issued on the sleepy date of Dec. 28th, the city Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events officially announced the scaling-down of Taste of Chicago and the removal of music as a major component in the festival, both cost-cutting moves that have been bandied about for the last few months.

Most of the media coverage focused on the shortened schedule—five days instead of ten; the new all-foodie emphasis, and the shift away from the July 4th holiday: The shindig now will take place in Grant Park from July 11 to 15. (Here’s the Sun-Times, and here’s the Trib.) But generally missed was the bigger loss to music fans.

For 23 years, up through the 2011 bill headlined by the Jayhawks, the annual Independence Day concert at the Petrillo Bandshell sponsored by that aging Baby Boomer radio institution WXRT was the musical highlight of Taste (which, granted, isn’t saying much).

With the bookings predicated upon whom the corporate AOR giant could glad-hand/strong-arm into performing with the promise of more airplay (or, in the case of especially creaky acts like the Smithereens and the BoDeans, the pressure of guilt to repay debts from the past), the concert wasn’t always an artistic triumph. (John Mayer? Ugh.)

On occasion, though, the show not only provided a gorgeous setting for a great musical experience, it made history: Wilco’s 2001 set was its last appearance with Jay Bennett and a triumphant celebration of the brilliance of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot at a time when its label wouldn’t release the album, and the members of the Replacements famously declared their independence and broke up onstage in front of XRT’s microphones in 1991.

Eliminating the big free July 4th concert leaves the very-much not-free Lollapalooza as the only major rock concert taking place in Grant Park. And, given its cheerful support of the Emanuel administration, it comes as a slap in the face to the radio station.

Does XRT have any plans to continue its event separate from the aegis of Taste, or to otherwise replace the concert? Notoriously uncommunicative majordomo Norm Winer did not respond to a request for comment.