Taste starts off stormy, crowds come back
By Jaime Angio and Brian Stanley Bstanley@stmedianetwork.com June 30, 2012 7:40PM
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Updated: August 2, 2012 10:44AM
JOLIET — This time, REO Speedwagon wasn’t able to ride the storm out.
The band took center stage Friday night at Joliet Memorial Stadium on the first day of the park district’s annual Taste of Joliet. But after playing for nearly an hour, lightning and tornado warnings forced the festival to shut down and everyone had to evacuate.
“All I could think about was the Sugarland concert, you know, when (the stage) came down,” said REO fan Patty Gould, of Naperville, referring to the incident last August at the Indiana State Fair.
She said the storm was brewing about 10 p.m., when an announcement was made for everyone to leave the grounds. The stadium speaker kept repeating, “Please exit the stadium and go directly to your car or under the stands.”
“It was like a wild mad dash,” Gould said. “People were holding babies, and it was just pretty scary because it was so quick. The music stopped and the lights went out. People started grabbing onto their children, and it was just pretty scary.”
Before the weather took a sudden turn, everything had been going well. Vendor Susan Siegel of Cottonwood Farms said Friday had seemed like the busiest day and best crowd for a concert since the food fest was resurrected in 2006.
“We were setting up to catch everyone as they walked out (from the concert) and everything just blew over. They made the announcement and the crowd started running. It looked a little dicey,” she said.
But no one was injured during the evacuation and although “just a few people had to be told what to do twice, no one came close to getting arrested either,” Police Chief Mike Trafton said. The police, fire department and park district staff made a joint-decision to shut down the show shortly after 10 p.m.
The storm swept in and blew a large inflatable creature free of the stadium for parts unknown. His giant ape and Tyrannosarus companions maintained their silent vigil near the entryway Saturday afternoon.
A park district employee got “slightly banged up” colliding with a police officer trying to keep another display from becoming airborne, but did not require medical treatment.
James Eddington, of Crest Hill, said he was walking around when it started storming.
“All of a sudden, the wind picked up and started blowing everything around, the electricity went out and everybody was just trying to get out of the stadium, so we’re lucky we made it to our car,” he said.
Luckier than the 50 turkey legs Siegel was preparing for post-concert tasting, which ended up in the trash Saturday morning.
An unofficial estimate put the crowd at more than 12,000 Friday night, with REO Speedwagon the big draw.
“We have sold more tickets than we have ever sold pre-sale to any event here at the Taste of Joliet, so we are pretty pleased with the response,” Joliet Park District special events coordinator Donna Gale said.
The Taste opened at noon Saturday and the hottest seller seemed to be cold bottled water.
Kevin Duchene, 18, and Michael Kurtz, 18, both of Joliet, ran a lap around the track before ducking into the shade of a tent to eat grilled chicken on a stick for lunch.
“I’ve been coming for a couple of years just to find something to eat. This looks like the best thing,” Duchene said. “The deep-fried Oreo looks pretty unique but I might have to do another lap to burn off the calories.”
Rachel Neumayer, of New Lenox, had previously enjoyed a deep-fried Oreo and Twinkie, but a Snickers covered in cooked batter had eluded her until Saturday afternoon.
“It’s heavenly. Deep-frying really brings out the nuts and caramel. Something you must try before death,” she said.
“There’s health-food everywhere around here,” Gina Plut, of Shorewood, joked before offering that eating junk food at a fair is “just a part of summer.”
Plut spent Friday at the area’s other big weekend event, the NHRA drag races at Route 66 Raceway.
“We were sitting in the stands and baking like barbecue chickens,” she said while the smell of barbecue chicken wafted around her.
On Saturday, she accompanied her grandchildren to the Taste where they opted for corn dogs and a slice of pizza.
Josh Turner was scheduled to perform Saturday night, and five people stood in front of the crowd at 3 p.m. to participate in the watermelon-eating contest.
Megan Williams was given the spot next to her son, Jonathan, 12, and said her competitive nature would trump her maternal streak and she would try to out-eat him. Next to them, Richard Coppola Jr., 12, and his uncle Adam Darlin leaned in as quartered watermelons were placed on the table in front of them.
“We have to keep him away from the fruit salad at any party,” Coppola Sr. said of the smallest competitor. “I think he’s got a good chance.”
Keeping their hands behind their backs, the contestants had to eat their way through four melon quarters down to the rind.
Lonnie LaShore, of Bourbonnais, had been unaware of the contest but was sitting nearby with two buddies from work when he saw it being setting up. The last-minute entry ended up getting through his four pieces the fastest and taking home four free passes to the Splash Station waterpark.
Lockdown, a heavy metal band, finished their set just before the watermelon eating contest began and the speakers switched to recorded musice. A victorious LaShore walked away from the seed-covered table as Queen’s “Another One Bites The Dust” began to play through the stadium.
The food fest, which features 23 local vendors, runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Sunday. Radio Disney star Shane Harper and country artists Little Big Town will perform. There’s also a carnival and The Kid Zone, which has a variety of activities for children.
For more information on the Taste of Joliet visit: http://tasteofjoliet.com/