Is the Taste of Minnesota about to offer an encore?

A photo of a person performing at an event
Elvis Costello performing at the Taste of Minnesota on July 3, 2009.
Courtesy of Jeremy Noble | Flickr

The Taste of Minnesota food and music festival that seemed as if it simply could not die – and then did – may be about to rise from its charcoal grill ashes. 

And its resurrection could come with the help of state taxpayers through a subsidy that showed up in a budget bill this week, despite having never been vetted by a legislative committee. The entities behind the effort are saying little publicly for now. 

The event bounced over the years from the State Capitol grounds to the St. Paul riverfront and then to Waconia, until it was last held in 2015. 

Records show the Secretary of State’s office recently issued an official Certificate of Organization for Taste of Minnesota LLC to an executive associated with the Rhymesayers entertainment group, the Minneapolis-based hip-hop collective known as the home for stars like Atmosphere, Brother Ali and the late Eyedea. 

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An executive with the organization told MPR News in response to an inquiry that he had been working on the idea before the pandemic, but he passed it off to another organizer and is planning to dissolve his dormant business. 

But a recently released budget bill before the Legislature includes a telltale provision:  

“$1,846,500 in fiscal year 2024 is appropriated from the general fund to the commissioner of employment and economic development for a grant to the Minneapolis Downtown Council for infrastructure and associated costs for the Taste of Minnesota event, including but not limited to buildout, permits, garbage services, staffing, security, equipment rentals, signage and insurance. This is a onetime appropriation.” 

The wider budget bill was released just ahead of its first hearing on Wednesday. The Taste of Minnesota line-item got a mere five-second mention by committee staff as they outlined the budget bill’s provision. 

The same bill has about $5 million to help pull off a bid for the 2027 World Expo, which would be held in Bloomington. There are also various grants for film and TV projects, and other potential tourism related events. 

The Taste of Minnesota measure was introduced earlier this week by Rep. Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, and Sens. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlain and Jim Abeler, R-Anoka.

It moved with unusual speed to be inserted in a broader budget package in the Senate Jobs and Economic Development Committee that will be voted on in a few weeks. Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis is scheduled to be added as a co-author on Thursday, according to a Senate action log. 

The Minneapolis Downtown Council did not immediately respond to inquiries about the event, although a spokesperson later said that the group was not ready to offer any details and planned to announce something “in a couple of days.”

The original Taste of Minnesota started in 1983. It was the brainchild of former St. Paul City Council member and impresario Ron Maddox. It was a free-admission 4th of July holiday fixture at the Capitol, initially including a wide array of Twin Cities restaurants and food outlets, as well as a wildly popular fireworks display. It later became a collection of fair and carnival food vendors and a showcase for rock bands on Harriet Island in St. Paul. 

Still, the food, fireworks and entertainment made it a beloved summer destination for a generation of Minnesotans who couldn’t get away to vacation property for the Independence Day holiday. Organizers said it drew 200,000 people a year at its peak. 

Maddox and his wife, Linda sold the event in 2010, the same year Ron Maddox died. New owners tried to juice up the entertainment offerings for a 2011 version in St. Paul, with Sammy Hagar, Counting Crows, Gin Blossoms and 311, as well as a $20 minimum entry fee.  

But the festival flopped.  

An attempted revival again in 2014 was forced out of St. Paul to Waconia by flooding, and ended again in 2015, after a second year in Waconia. 

A revived Taste of Minnesota might come as three other major outdoor summer Twin Cities events, Rock the Garden, the TC Summer Jam and the Basilica Block Party have also gone dark.