Chicago, Tuesday, July 3, 2012. In the northern climes of the Midwest, the natives get a little festival crazy when summer rolls around. It's somewhat like packing an entire wardrobe of California weekends into that small suitcase we Midwesterners call summer--the 90-something days between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
There are literally hundreds of fests from neighborhood fests and suburban fests to gourmet fests and art fests. Three of the biggest and best known of the summer bashes are the Taste, Lolla and Summerfest. Taste of Chicago calls itself a food fest, but it has music. Nearby, Milwaukee's Summerfest is the World's Largest Music Fest, but it has food. Lollapalooza is a music fest first but has a great selection of food--maybe even the best of the fests. Die-hard fest-goers will want to attend all three fests. More selective fest-goers may want to match the fest to their budget, musical tastes, food cravings or special activities.
Here's the breakdown for the popular fests, by the numbers.
TASTE OF CHICAGO. (July 11 through July 15, 2012)
Born in 1980 with a budget of $150,000 and hopes of attracting 75,000 people, Taste of Chicago was held in a three-block area of Michigan Avenue bordered by the Chicago River. That one-day wonder actually attracted 250,000 attendees proving that Chicago likes to eat. Taste continued to grow and changed locations to Grant Park to accommodate its increasing girth. In 2006, Taste reached its pinnacle with 3.6 million attendees. Slowly since that time the attendance has been dwindling. This year the dates and duration of Taste have also shrunk. The huge 3rd of July fireworks went by the wayside two years ago and now the festival dates have been pushed forward from the days surrounding July 4 to later in the month. Even with all the changes Taste remains the largest by far of the 3 fests.
Admission: Free, food and entertainment extra. Attendees will be able to purchase an advance ticket to the seats for the evening concerts for $25 and the dining experience for $40. Tickets can be purchased in person at the gate, or in advance at the Taste website. Ticket strips for the food vendors are sold in strips of 12 for $8 in advance (and discounted) at all Dominick's stores and regular price on the Taste grounds.
Attendance: 2.35 million (2011), declining.
Number of Days: 5.
Location: Grant Park.
Food: 38, five-day restaurants, plus 15 one-day pop-ups--3 a day. Some unusual menu items will include: Tortilla Encrusted Tiliapia Taco from Carbon; Jolloff Rice with Sauteed Goat from Vee-Vee’s African Cuisine; Deep Fried Chinese Bread from Lao Sze Chuan; Pork-filled Banana Dumpling from Sabor Latino and Mustard Fried Catfish from B.J.’s Market & Bakery.
New this year: Celebrity Chef du Jour, will offer a three-course, sit-down meal for $40 per person; beverages other than water are available for purchase. Meals will be prepared by noted local chefs who will mingle with patrons.
Those participating are:
Wednesday Carlos Gaytan of Mexique
Thursday Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia
Friday Graham Elliot of Graham Elliot
Saturday Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat
Sunday Jimmy Bannos Sr. of Heaven on Seven
Food Vendors, Same old, same old: Crowd favorites including Billy Goat Inn, Connie's, Eli's, Harold's Chicken, Lou Malnati's Pizzeria, Original Rainbow Cone, Robinson's No. 1 Ribs will be returning for summer 2012.
# of Stages: 2.
Entertainment: The Taste lineup has kicked it up a notch this year with Grammy Award-winning recording artist, Jennifer Hudson, indie-rock band Death Cab for Cutie and other big names at the Petrillo Music Shell--but they have also added a $25 ticket charge to sit in the 3,000 seat pavilion. The Bud Light Stage is still free and will feature a top-notch line-up with the Waco Brothers, Mucca Pazza, Robbie Fulks, Las Guitarras de Espana, The 92s and more.
MILWAUKEE SUMMERFEST. (June 27 through July 1 and July 3 through July 8, 2012)
The granddaddy of the three fests is Milwaukee’s Summerfest clocking in at 45 years this summer. Following its 1968 debut, Summerfest evolved into what is now recognized as “The World’s Largest Music Festival”.
Admission: Tickets are $16 and weekday tickets (valid for entry prior to 4:00 pm) are $9; a 3 for $36 multi-day pass is valid for one general admission per day on three different days of the festival.
Attendance: 900,000 holding steady.
Number of Days: 11.
Location: The music festival takes place at Henry Maier Festival Park, a 75-acre permanent setting on Milwaukee’s downtown Lake Michigan shoreline.
Food: 45 food vendors. Expect the usual Wisconsin favorites from Wisconsin Brats to deep fried Cheese Curds. Other highlights include: La Coppa, serving Spaghetti Gelato, made up of whipped cream, gelato, an Italian style ice cream, strawberry topping and shaved hazel nuts. Saz’s Dockside Barbecue with seating along Lake Michigan and wait staff service, food choices include chopped brisket, pulled pork, baby back ribs, sour cream and chive fries, battered fish fry and more along with premium wine and beer selections. Sil’s Mini Donuts will feature freshly made mini donuts. Customers can watch their donuts being made fresh to order. Martino’s is offering the double-dare winner--a 22-inch, 1lb. Chicago Style hot dog.
Who: In 2012, the 23,000-seat Marcus Amphitheater will feature Rascal Flatts with special guests Little Big Town, Eli Young Band and Eden’s Edge, Train and Kelly Clarkson with special guest Brett Dennen, Lady Antebellum with Darius Rucker and special guest Thompson Square, The Beach Boys 50th Anniversary Tour, Tiёsto with special guests Steve Aoki, Zedd, R3hab, Tommy Trash and Pierce Fulton, Iron Maiden with special guest Alice Cooper, Zac Brown Band with special guest Blackberry Smoke and Sonia Leigh, Big Time Rush with special guests Cody Simpson and Rachel Crow, Aerosmith with special guest Cheap Trick and Neil Diamond. Summerfest offers a large variety of musical entertainment with its general admission ticket where fest-goers can sit inside the pavillions of most stages and see emerging talent, national alternative rock, country, R&B, Top 40, Hip Hop, Reggae headliners and more.
# of Bands: 700 plus bands.
# of Stages: 11.
Special perks: Real bathrooms instead of porta potties.
LOLLAPALOOZA (August 3 through August 5, 2012)
Lolla, the baby of the three fests, has been around off and on since 1991. It was a huge hit in its inaugural year of 1991 when the flannel-clad grunge rockers cleared out mosh pits for bands like Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. It continued to play a crucial role in the ’90s emergence of alternative rock but went through a bit of a dry spell in the late '90's and early 2000's. It has come back strong since 2005--making its first profit in 2009 and seemingly now the sky's the limit with where it is headed. Lollapalooza set down roots in Grant Park in 2005 and now has a contract through at least 2021.
Admission: Lollapalooza tickets for 2012 range from $95 for a single day to $230 for a three-day pass to $6,399 for a 3 night VIP Premium Travel Package for 2 at the James Chicago Hotel--all sold-out. A limited number of other Travel packages are still available ranging from !,679 for 2 at the Marriott to $3,329 for 2 at the James.
Number of Days: 3.
Location: 115 acres in Grant Park.
# of Bands: 130. The line-up includes: Red Hot Chili Peppers The Black Keys, Jack White, Black Sabbath, Florence + The Machine, At the Drive-In, The Shins, Passion Pit--and approximately 122 others--you get the idea.
# of Stages: 8.
Food Vendors: 35 plus "The Farmers Market" 6. Some of Chicago's best including: Gibsons, Kuma's Corner, Grahamwich, Franks N Dawgs, The Smoke Daddy, Wow Bao, Lou Malnati's, Goose Island Brewpub, Connie's Pizza, Robinson's No. 1 Ribs, Burrito Beach, Mercat a la Planxa, MBurger and The Australian Truffle.
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