For the first time, the new owners of Taste of Minnesota charged an admission fee to attend the annual festival, and they promised a broader range of food and music.
Food for every palate, music of nearly every variety is what Taste of Minnesota co-owner Andy Faris wanted to offer in his second year of operating the event. To do that, Faris and his team charged people $20 who arrived before 4 p.m., and $30 for those that arrived after. That's in addition to the cost of food.
The increase came as a shock to those who were still accustomed to well over two decades of free admission. Faris said he had no other choice.
"There is no free lunch," he said. "You can't put on an event and not charge something to it, but I'm very pleased with the elements we've put in."
Those include five stages offering more than 100 hours of music, 50 restaurants and food vendors and a family entertainment village featuring everything from a Twin Cities youth circus and skateboard demonstrations to storytelling and ballet. However there are no more rides.
"That's where we're headed," he said. "A little more of a festival and not so much fair."
Attendance at 'Taste' has fluctuated over the four days of the event. Faris characterized turnout Friday and Sunday as strong, but said Saturday was disappointing. Faris said mainly because the steamy heat kept everyone home or by the pool.
"Nothing more to say," he said. "It was just so oppressively hot."
Faris said he doesn't have a handle yet on what final attendance figures will be, but he expects it will be close to 80,000 or more, which is about what they had last year.
In the blogosphere, the admission fee increases and the cost and selection of food generated gripes. But on Monday, it was hard to find dissatisfied customers at "Taste." Brich Drew came all the way from Fargo to see the headliner and his favorite band, The Offspring. Drew thought the cover was more than reasonable.
"To see three bands at one venue is $50 for just one person, whereas here it's $20 to see a bunch of different bands, a bunch of different food and exhibits," Drew said. "It's a much better deal."
Some of the vendors gave a more mixed reaction. Nick Nguyen, owner of The Tea Garden in Minneapolis, said the event has been a good marketing opportunity, but Nguyen said many vendors are disappointed by the turnout.
"A common complaint among the vendors is that there haven't been as many people here," Nguyen said. "And I think overall, business has been slow in general."
Nguyen wishes organizers had kept admission fees lower and wouldn't have gotten rid of nightly fireworks displays. This year there were fireworks only on the Fourth of July. He's not sure if the Tea Garden will come back next year. Meanwhile, Andy Faris said Taste of Minnesota is in transition, and festival goers are probably going through an attitude adjustment.
"I've likened it to a river barge that doesn't turn all that quickly," he said.
What to expect next year? Faris said more of the more food, more music more choices approach, but he hasn't decided if he'll raise the cover charge.