A Different Taste: A Guide to the New Taste of Chicago 2012.

A Different Taste: A Guide to the New Taste of Chicago 2012.
Billy Croft & The 5-Alarm will be appearing at this years' Taste of Chicago on the Bud Light stage.

CHICAGO, Wednesday, July 11, 2012. Taste of Chicago 2012 returns today for its 32nd annual appearance sporting a new look. The re-imagined Taste is a little thinner, a little trimmer. Instead of the usual 10 days surrounding the frenzied Fourth of July, the Taste has been cut to 5 days and moved to the slightly more laid back middle of July.

The number of vendors has been sliced by 20, making it a little easier to sample everything but also losing some of the long time favorites.

A first this year is a $25 charge for tickets for non-reserved seats inside the Petrillo Music Shell to see the big name musical acts appearing on their stage.  If you don't want to pony up $25 for a seat, there are lawn spaces outside the shell, so fans can still listen to the music for free.  So far, ticket sales have been slow and tickets are still available for all five nights through Groupon.  Headliners include: Wednesday, Jennifer Hudson; Thursday, Death Cab for Cutie; Friday, Michael Franti & Spearhead; Saturday, Chaka Khan and Sunday Dierks Bentley.

The Bud Light Stage is still free and features an impressive musical line-up including the Waco Brothers, Mucca Pazza, Robbie Fulks, Las Guitarras de Espana, The 92s, Billy Croft and the 5-Alarm (above) and more with music all day long from noon to 9p.m.

Another first, this year, that seems to be faring better ticket-wise is The Celebrity Chef du Jour that offers a three-course meal prepared by a different celebrity Chicago chef each day for $40. The first four days featuring Mexique's Carlos Gaytan, Spiaggia's Tony Mantuano, Graham Elliot of Graham Elliot's, Grahamwich and g.e.b. and Stephanie Izard from the Girl and The Goat are already sold out. A limited number of tickets are still available for Sunday's luncheon being prepared by Jimmy Bannos of Heaven on Seven.

Also new this year is an inviting array of pop-up restaurants. Three different restaurants will pop-up each day with some interesting choices including: Beat Kitchen on Wednesday; Riva on Thursday; Café Trinidad on Friday; Arun's on Saturday and West Town Tavern on Sunday.

Taste of Chicago is in a rebuilding year not unlike our Chicago Cubs. With Taste attendance trending downward since 2006 when 3.25 million attended, it is time for some changes.

Many locals have been staying away from the Taste and some crime outside the gates has also deterred visitors. Perhaps it is time to re-visit the Taste. This year's  lower-key more manageable Taste along with its beefed up musical line-up plus good weather might be just the facelift it needed.  Time will tell if Taste 2012 will be pointing the way to the future...or if it's time for something different.

Opening ceremony takes place today at 11a.m. at Buckingham Fountain.  Taste of Chicago runs today through Sunday, July 15, 2012 in Grant Park (Jackson & Columbus) from 11a.m. to 9p.m. each day.

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