Changes becoming clearer for Taste Edmonds

No classic rock, food truck debut – and no admission charge?
By Brian Soergel | Mar 22, 2018

In January, the Edmonds Chamber of Commerce announced it would “blow up” one of the city’s largest events: A Taste of Edmonds. Details were scarce, other than a name change to “Taste Edmonds.”

Details are coming fast now.

The way chamber President Greg Urban and Development and Community Engagement manager Jan Nicholas see it, there is no option but change. Attendance for the three-day event has been slipping, from a peak of about 50,000-plus in 2014 to about 40,000 last year, Urban said.

The Taste is a fundraiser for the chamber, with proceeds helping fund community events like An Edmonds Kind of Fourth, the Classic Car Show, Halloween Trick-or-Treat and the Holiday Tree Lighting. In 2014, it was able to contribute $100,000 to those events – but last year, the number fell to $60,000. In addition, Urban said, the chamber gives back over $24,000 each year to nonprofits and service clubs.

Some changes for the 36th annual event are happening behind the scenes. All volunteers who help plan and run the festival are new this year, for example.

“It is a big job to put this on, and I can’t say enough about the people who have done it over and over again,” Nicholas said. “They have been there all three days, and we appreciate them.”

Urban said he’s already secured new community members, and is looking for volunteer committee chairs, responsible for different areas of the Taste, attending monthly meetings and conducting planning and outreach.

Here’s a look at some of the changes for this year’s festival, Aug. 10-12 at Civic Field:

New name, branding: It’s not much of a change, but “Taste Edmonds” is part of a fresh branding. The chamber contacted Edmonds’ Ten Gun Design to work on a refreshed look – a new logo “incorporates a classic look and brings in elements that connect us with Puget Sound,” Urban said. “Many of the graphic elements are done in a pen-sketch style and will bring a fresh new aesthetic to the event.”

The idea is for more consistent signage. “And we want to make it visually appealing,” Nicholas said, “so you’re wondering what’s around the corner.”

New entertainment: The Beatniks are not part of this year’s Taste. The Seattle band has been a mainstay for years, always closing out the first night’s entertainment in the beer garden. No Night Fever or Afrodisiacs, either.

There’s nothing wrong with those bands, Urban said. “The Taste entertainment has really been about ’60s and ’70s genres. The ’80s was the most modern that we would get to. But Edmonds is getting younger. And we’re not attracting that audience – we haven’t been accommodating them. It’s not going to be a classic-rock festival.”

In addition, the money the chamber spent on attracting those bands was getting to be prohibitive to drawing enough people to make it work. The plan is for a renewed emphasis on local bands, at least on the main stage, outside the beer and wine garden.

Gone are stilt walkers, belly dancers and 10-foot chickens, which Urban said also did not justify the expense. The plan is for certain areas to feature buskers.

The food: Ah, the food. A common complaint is there are too few “tastes” of actual Edmonds eateries, and it’s an issue the Beacon and the chamber have addressed previously.

There are several reasons: Restaurants don’t have the staff to operate a booth and the restaurant at the same time; they don’t have a mobile kitchen to prepare food away from the restaurant; they often can’t prepare a signature dish to their standards; they can’t store all the food and supplies they would need for the Taste; and there are all the other items needed – tent, insurance, tables and signs.

In addition, food vendors who make the summer fair circuit are better able to secure three days in Edmonds, as they have necessary equipment and staff.

And many consider the Taste an annual stop for – admit it – grub like elephant ears and fried Snicker bars, others want something healthier. For example, Nicholas said one food vendor who makes the summer circuit said his type of “fair food” does better in cities other than Edmonds.

In an effort to possibly satisfy both camps, the Taste will enforce a new food-vendor rule for 2018: All vendors must provide an actual “taste” of their food. The thinking is that visitors can spread their money out on various food groups, instead of blowing it all on one meal (that still will be an option, however).

Still, Nicholas hopes more local eateries will eventually join the Taste. She pointed to one longtime vendor, Kafe Neo, which has multiple locations, including in Edmonds. A booth is $2,200 for three days, and the restaurant would not return every year if it were unable to make a profit. Helping is the fact that the Taste does not take a percentage of the vendors’ proceeds, as other festivals do.

Nicholas said she’s also hoping for more involvement from local businesses not centered on food. “The idea is to drive business from the Taste to local businesses,” she said. “We want the community involved. We want their ideas and their energy.”

New 21-plus garden: The Taste is expanding the adult area to include both the beer and wine gardens. There will be exclusive activities in the area, such as craft beer tasting and meet-the-winemaker sessions, as well as the popular cornhole tournament, which debuted last year, and possibly, cooking demonstrations. The area will also have three food trucks.

The beer tent will be moved to the area where the stage was previously. The beer stage will be at the far north of the area, with the wine tent to the east.

New layout: Urban promises no more wandering around the dusty 400-meter track at Civic Field. Unlike previous years, vendors now will be placed on the southern side of the area, allowing visitors to stroll around the larger grass infield area.

The main stage, which faced the now-demolished grandstands, will be replaced by a smaller stage level to the ground, with more intimate, local music – such as jazz quartets, a cappella groups and acoustic trios.

The kids’ area will expand, with more options for the kids, Urban said.

Sponsors, admission price: Urban said the chamber is willing to allow free admission to the Taste, but only if corporate sponsors help with their support. For example, he would like to see sponsorships of each of the three main entrance points (a fourth is being considered, on the north end of Sixth Avenue North), as well as for certain areas – think “Alaska Airlines Beer Stage.”

Admission is currently $5.

Other vendors: The Taste will still have room for commercial and nonprofit vendors. But Nicholas said she wants the commercial space to be more interesting for visitors, not just a place to avoid.

One idea she’s considering is requiring all commercial vendors – those who are not selling items on site, such as hot tubs – to have a hands-on experience for kids, such as demonstrations or activities. The goal is to get visitors engaged, she said.

“It’ll be like going to Costco and getting a sample,” she said.

The Beacon will provide more information on the new Taste Edmonds as it becomes available. You can also go to TasteEdmonds.com and facebook.com/TasteEdmonds to watch for more announcements.

 

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