This summer's Taste of Chicago won't be silent, but it won't have any big-name headliners, either (if you can call the usual Taste acts "big-name"). In a move designed to settle the matter and get things rolling ahead of festival season, the city has decided to redesign Chicago's annual lakefront smorgasbord and its six other free festivals.
Taste of Chicago, on the books for June 24-July 3, will remain free and will be run by the Park District. (The lone bid to privatize the event is history.) Four of the city's previously stand-alone festivals -- the Country Music Festival, the Gospel Festival, the Celtic Music Festival and the Viva Chicago Latin Music Festival -- will be folded into Taste, each one becoming a daily programming theme. There won't be any national booking, either. It's going to be all local.
Two fests will remain separate events: the Blues Festival, June 10-12, and the Jazz Festival, Sept. 2-4. Those two will remain in the operation of the Mayor's Office of Special Events, which was recently gutted by budget-cut layoffs.
Through all this confusion, Mayor Daley and his minions have argued that Taste is called that because its primary focus is food. Understandable, but even Steve Miller drew people to the park who wouldn't be lured in by turkey legs alone. Will the absence of recognizable bookings -- or just the lingering confusion among the public -- tamp down the attendance numbers? At this point, the city doesn't care if 13 people show up, as long as the festival breaks even.
There's a good side to this, of course, in that more local talent will have an opportunity to be heard by people who do not routinely seek out local music. But the overhead being saved by the city in this redesign won't translate into many dividends for the bands who wind up on stage. In the end, the event will just wind up looking like something that should be happening in, say, Lansing instead of Chicago.
Where are the arts agendas for the mayoral hopefuls?