Saturday, July 31, 2010

Sugar, Leather & The Nail (unedited)

For the first time in 15 years I saw Dangerous Toys in concert.

To see a Dangerous Toys concert in the 21st century requires a major commitment, disposable income or really good luck.

The band was a minor success during the hairband era. They weren't Tesla, they weren't Queensryche, they weren't Poison and they weren't Warrant. They were unglamorous, unsophisticated rockers from Austin, Texas. Sure, they had a few songs you'd file under slow/sappy, but not in the "Every Rose has its Thorn" or "I Saw Red" style that Poison and Warrant, respectively, made famous.

Dangerous Toys were loud, obnoxious, unapologetic and disassociated...disassociated with the trappings of the Sunset Strip. That's why they didn't come off like the acid washed rockers so many hair bands were. They were genuine southern rockers from Texas.

They had a couple of major label successes, but the bloom was off the rose by the time disc two hit the streets. They continued into the 1990s, working with smaller labels and playing to the few rock fans who hadn't bought into the mystique of Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and Nine Inch Nails. All of those bands made some great music, but they lacked what some of their hair band predecessors had. I'll never understand why, but somehow the thousands of rock fans across the United States that loved hard rock seemed to disappear. They quit enjoying music they had loved, or they traded it in to appease their more sophisticated Foo Fighters sensibility. That's sarcasm, but it's also true.

By the late 1990s there wasn't really a Dangerous Toys any more. The band didn't break up, the guys just started doing different things at a time when the demand for Dangerous Toys had dropped off significantly.

I can't say how many times Dangerous Toys found its way to Minneapolis back in the day, but I know I saw them play a couple of times circa 1995. My guess is that the first show was in the summer of '94. My hunch is that the next show was in the fall of 1995.

Jason McMaster, the lead singer of the band, spoke about both of those shows on Friday night. He doubted any of us in the room were at that 1995 show when he polled the audience, but chances are that there were a couple handfuls of us who had indeed reconvened 15 years later to see Dangerous Toys at Pickle Park in 2010.

McMaster has gone on to front a variety of bands during the past 15 years, performing periodically in Texas and occasionally elsewhere. Even though Dangerous Toys never disbanded, there was no talk of new music or much else since that last, ill-fated attempt at writing new material in 1995. (The fourth and final CD was a bit of a departure from the loud, raucous Texas rock and roll we had grown to love. Honestly, I don't think it would have mattered what they recorded, there weren't enough fans that cared enough one way or another.)

In recent years there has been an occasional reunion show in Austin and a few shows in Japan, where aging American rockers (and pro wrestlers) always seem to do well. There have been a few festival appearances along the way, as well, but opportunities to see guys who sold 1 million copies of their debut CD are few and far between in the 21st century.

That's what made Friday night all the more curious.

A few months ago I was at the oddly-named Pickle Park in Fridley, Minn., to see another D-level hair band, Trixter. (I rate bands by success, and I'd say both Trixter and Dangerous Toys never graduated from D level, which isn't anything to be embarrassed about, D level means you succeeded at a level far higher than 99.5 percent of aspiring rock bands back in the day.) Trixter has been doing the occasional reunion show during the past few years, and inexplicably they ended up doing a show May 1 at Pickle Park. It was that night at Pickle Park that I learned of another upcoming show, a rare performance by Dangerous Toys. (Why Minneapolis is blessed with such concerts, instead of Chicago or Los Angeles, I'll never know.)

After 15 years, and few concerts during their absence, Dangerous Toys were returning to Minneapolis.

How fortunate were we here in Minnesota? Dangerous Toys appear to be playing two shows this summer, neither as part of a rock festival. They were booked in Minneapolis on Friday night, Kansas City on Saturday night. There's nothing else on their schedule, and I doubt there's another Dangerous Toys concert anywhere in the United States in the near future. Somehow we were the benefactors of a very rare opportunity.

Dangerous Toys may never command a grand audience again, but for the few hundred that attended Friday night, it was as if it was 1994 all over again.

The band played music from its first three albums, and plenty from that debut, of course. McMaster can still hit the high notes, and still wail like an injured cat. The sound was a bit off during the first few songs, but I find that's typical of most club shows I attend. McMaster's banter between songs wasn't anything special. He preached a little, bitched a little and reminisced a lot. He never mentioned his other bands or why Dangerous Toys hasn't been anywhere near Minnesota for 15 years. He did, however, suggest the band will be back next year. I'll believe it when I see it, but I'm all for it.

McMaster looks a lot like he did 15 years ago, remarkably so. I wouldn't be surprised if he came out after the show to sign CDs and other memorabilia. (I didn't hang around to find out.) He has done that in the past. He has always been very accessible to the fans, I know this firsthand from the 1990s. Before the days of e-mail I wrote a letter to him, and got a personal response. He may not have been receiving thousands of letters a week, but the fact he responded personally to a fan was impressive to me.

The crowd was decent, I thought. Better than the BulletBoys more than a year ago, and better than Trixter three months ago, but nothing overwhelming.

Two notes:

• One of the opening acts was a band called Beatallica, a fusion of the Beatles and Metallica. It was not good. It wasn't horrible, but it wasn't nearly as clever or entertaining as you would hope.

• I have no doubt about the authenticity of the comment regarding the July 21 BulletBoys concert that reportedly drew approximately 25 people. I received a comment from a guy named Seastorm. How do I know it was a guy? Through dumb luck I stumbled upon his MySpace profile, and it turns out that he works for a local promotions company that was affiliated with the BulletBoys show last month. I still have no idea how he found my blog, but now I know his comment about the attendance was legit. I can't verify that he attended the Dangerous Toys concert, but that same dumb luck suggested that he planned to. I bet he can answer my questions about the local concert business. I'd love to have the opportunity to ask.

Monday, July 26, 2010

10 years of Facebook (unedited)

While watching co-workers/acquaintances question/debate the merits of a financial appeal via Facebook, I vowed to track the evolution of my relationships with 10 people during the next 10 years. Here were the rules I set three months ago, when I dreamed up this idea:

In the coming weeks I'll detail my experiences with Facebook and attempt to track 20 people I'm connected to via Facebook. Every spring I will compare and contrast my Facebook experiences and the acquaintances I have made, assuming:
A. doesn't crash and burn, taking my blog postings with it
B. Facebook doesn't become as passe as Myspace
C I live another 10 years
D. I don't get so lazy I stop blogging

I thought I wanted to track 20 people, but I changed my mind. I'm already getting lazy. Instead I will track 10 people, nine chosen by me, one at random, sort of. I won't track people I'm related to or close friends I've known for a long time. Here's the list, the first nine are alphabetical by first name. The random person is in position 10.

1. Anne: Chip's co-worker in Stinktown. We met once, in 2007, and it was a short meeting. She was dating another of Chip's co-workers at the time. Not sure why we connected via Facebook, other than she had to have initiated it. I almost never send friend requests. She is divorced, no children, in her mid 30s and no longer dating the co-worker. We trade occasional online quips.

2. Caleb: A former manager at the Halloween attraction I have worked at during the past four years, we cross paths a few times per year at group get togethers. He left the amusement park that operates the haunted attraction this year, so I won't see him this fall. He is in his late 20s, never married, no children and owns a home. He has political sensibilities and studied environmental issues in college. Despite his age, he isn't an internet junkie. He rarely posts updates or information on Facebook.

3. Chris: A newspaper colleague who is leaving my prestigious company at the end of the week, for a better gig at a small Florida newspaper. He digs journalism, use to work in construction and seems to like the "new media" facets of journalism. (I hate the term new media. It's bullshit.) Despite his love of new media, he doesn't seem to be a regular via Facebook. I predict I will see him again after he leaves for Florida, but maybe just once. He and his longtime girlfriend have a daughter.

4. Erin: my girlfriend's former neighbor, the two are friends. As I recall, they knew each other prior to being neighbors, so that's how they wound up living in the same duplex. Erin is a waitress/bartender, has career aspirations in the medical profession, is going to school to achieve those, is in her late 20s and never married, to the best of my knowledge. If she has children, that's news to me, too. I use to see her periodically, but that ain't happening now. She doesn't seem to be Facebooking as much these days.

5. Heidi: She was a colleague at the newspaper, in ad sales. I've written about her in this blog, most notably about her divorce during the past year. She has family in Minnesota, but lives in Los Angeles now. She's in her 40s and has no children. I was the lone editorial person on the big charter boat cruise she had five or so years ago to celebrate that 40th birthday. Man, time flies.

6. Natalie: I couldn't resist picking somebody I know through my old newspaper beat. She's a busy person, a bit of a socialite, married and a parent of three. She turns 40 in September. Her Facebook postings chronicle a busy, colorful life, and I wouldn't expect that to change in the next decade.

7. Rachel: She will represent my years at the bingo hall. She has worked there for several years, is in her mid 20s, is easy to get along with and liked by everybody. She has worked in banking in the past and took classes for nursing, but she's still not sure where her career path will lead her. She doesn't use Facebook a lot, so I may not be privy to many details of her life unless I continue to return to the bingo hall in the winters. Never married, no kids.

8. Scott: He's a young kid who loves photography, joined me at the haunted house last year, seemed to flake out on the job at the end of the season and is now pursuing some sort of photo/video career. In the meantime he's celebrating a new job he landed today, with Staples. He's quite young to be developing his own visual arts business, but if he's good enough at the craft, why not build his own business instead of working for someone else. Not sure if I'll be crossing paths with him again. Safe bet that he has never been married and has no children -- he's 21 years old -- but I can't guarantee it.

9. Taylor: He rose from the ranks of "actor" like me to become a manager at the haunted attraction. It's a demanding job that isn't nearly as much fun as screaming at teenage girls, but it probably pays better and you get to spend a lot of the night socializing when you're not putting out a metaphorical fire. He is in his late 20s, has never been married and has no children. He works in a warehouse, which is a bit disappointing, because he went to school for computer design or something like that and isn't using his degree for a paycheck, obviously. Perhaps he's happy with that, I don't know. He also loves photography and had or has a small photography business. I think he and an ex-girlfriend started a business. I'm not sure if he pursues gigs now. He has ties to Minnesota, but is not tied to Minnesota, it seems. He has a girlfriend at the moment, so maybe he is tied to Minnesota.

10. Larry: After my Facebook method randomly chose my niece and my cousin, it chose Larry, a classmate who I don't think I've seen since my high school days. If I saw him at the 10-year high school reunion, I don't remember it. If I saw him at the Catholic school five years later, I don't remember it. I didn't go to the 20-year reunion in 2008 and doubt I'm going to any further reunions. I'm bored with them. Larry recently got married. I'm not sure if it's his first marriage or not, but it appears both he and his wife have children from previous relationships. We were friends back in our school days, but not great friends, and he turned 40 earlier this year. I don't know what he does for a living.

There they are, my Facebook 10. There were a few interesting people that I would have liked to include, but 10 is enough.

Next summer I'll try to revisit the 10 of them and determine what has changed in their lives.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

BulletBoys firing blanks?

Just when I thought I had written my last blog about the Bulletboys (this one) I find myself writing about flamboyant Marq Torien again.

That's because my previous BulletBoys blog entry was the benefactor of a comment. (I need to blog about the BulletBoys more often, that's the only topic that seems to generate traffic to this otherwise anonymous/unknown blog.)

As I noted about a 2009 BulletBoys blog comment, I have no idea if a comment is legitimate, but I assume it is. Who's going to search out a blog with almost zero web traffic and then post a fake comment on it, especially when the topic is the BulletBoys? As I have said before, even I am not that bored.

The comment I received this past week was a report about the recent BulletBoys concert here in the Twin Cities. I have no idea how the writer found my blog, but nonetheless s/he did, and here's her/his comment:

I went to the show in Burnsville this last week. Unfortunately, there were only about 25 people there. Based on his comments, Marq seemed annoyed at the low turnout (understandably). This was confirmed when they called it a night after I think only 5 songs.

Shortest concert of my life, but still a good show. Given that they were playing to essentially nobody (Primetime is a huge room for only 25 people), I give them an A for energy and showmanship.

- Seastorm

When I saw the BulletBoys in early 2009 it was on a Friday night, and it was winter. If there's a blizzard that night, nobody is going to drive five miles to see the show. There was no blizzard that night, and my crowd estimate was about 200.

It's summer, so weather is not a problem, but a weeknight show might be, especially for those who have any sort of normal job. If you're a band in huge demand and/or appeal to a young demographic, you will draw a crowd. The 2010 Bulletboys on a Wednesday night, likely not a hot ticket in any city.

I have no idea how well the Burnsville show was promoted. I assume there was an ad in the weekly alternative publication, that's where all the bars offering live music advertise. Beyond that there was probably little more that the bar could do. The local rock station barely acknowledges 80s rock acts that aren't Motley Crue or Metallica, so there wasn't going to be any radio station promotion for the show.

Ad or no ad, the bar certainly didn't seem to be trying very hard to promote the show online. The bar has a website, but it did little as far as promotion for a national act. (I have no idea what was being charged to get in, and the website wasn't helping me.) If I was some 20-something dude who stumbled across the website one night and saw the list of live shows, I'd look at it and say "who the hell are the BulletBoys?" There was nothing to tell you the band hails from the 80s, or that its lead singer had a few videos on MTV back in the day.

According to Seastorm, there was a crowd of 25. I'm not surprised.

I've wondered, how much do 80s bands get paid to play in Minneapolis? Specifically those who are playing to a few hundred hardcore fans who aren't paying much to see the show.

As I've noted in the past, an 80s band with a minor fan base will draw a few hundred in the Twin Cities, and I'll usually pay $10 to $15 at the door. That's what I would have paid to see these bands playing at a club in the early 1990s, and probably more. In the hair band heyday, bands would sell out a club, probably at $20 a ticket.

The fraudulent Bret Michaels is getting $30 a ticket for most of his 59-minute solo shows these days, but people think he's a hot commodity, for reasons unbeknown to me. He's the exception to the rule, his ticket prices are actually going up in the 21st century, and it has nothing to do with the quality of his shows or material.

I e-mailed the alternative weekly newspaper a year or two ago, suggesting a story about how bands such as L.A. Guns, BulletBoys, Firehouse and Faster Pussycat make money when they come to Minneapolis. (I'm sure those details are closely guarded industry secrets, even if 99.5 percent of the Twin Cities couldn't care less about one detail.) Such bands will draw a few hundred fans under the right circumstances, but the venue isn't charging much for a ticket, and I can guarantee venues are providing several comps during those shows. I can't help but wonder who is making money, and how much.

Do the bands get a flat rate, leaving it up to the venue to fill the bar in order to make money? Do the bands get paid strictly by a cut of the door?

If it's the latter, then it would make sense why the BulletBoys would be pissed that the bar was nearly empty and opt not to play for 60 minutes, although they'd risk alienating what fans they have left.

Nobody wants to play for an empty house, even if their paycheck is guaranteed. When it comes to national acts, that's what I have always assumed, they get a guaranteed paycheck. If that was the case Wednesday then it makes no sense why Marq and his faux BulletBoys would quit after five songs if they had a guaranteed paycheck, as I'd expect there's some clause in the contract promising a minimum number of minutes on stage.

Regardless of the financial arrangement, if I had paid even $10 to see the band, and they quit after five songs, I'd be pissed. I have thrown away a lot more than $10 in my lifetime, but if I'm making a conscious decision to show up and spend money to see a show, and that's all I get, there's no chance you'll get another dime out of me ever again. All the showmanship and energy in the world is worth nothing to me if a band plays only five songs at a club concert they're headlining.

I had already determined I wasn't going to pay to see the BulletBoys again. But if somebody had wanted to provide me a free "ticket" to the show last week, I would have went, by myself, purchased a couple of drinks and given Marq a shot at redeeming himself for the last show I went to. Had I driven 25 minutes to see a five-song performance for free, I'd have been pissed. Even if you would have offered me free drinks and free admission, yet all I got was five songs, I'd have been pissed.

If Seastorm's report is true, then it's unquestionably time to hang it up, Marq.

Friday, July 9, 2010

All that glitters (unedited)

Another copy and paste blog entry, this one in response to Vegas Rex's post about being Vegas burn out.

I don't know a lot about Rex, but I do know he has lived in Vegas for a few years, and blogs almost daily. Most of his blog entries are about life in Vegas, but occasionally he branches out. He shoots photos, offers opinions, gathers a bit of Vegas information or history and presents it all in a blog that's not going to endear him to the visitors/convention bureau.

His blog recently migrated to a different gambling-oriented website, but it's the same old Rex. The man is quite entertaining.

I cobbled together a stream of consciousness response, and of course hate to see it lost forever amongst the many blog entries and comments Rex will accumulate for his new host. You can read Rex's blog entry and the many comments it generated right here. My response is also copied below.

Last fall I spent six nights in Vegas, by myself. I loved it, it was an escape after working another season at my Minnesota haunted house. The airfare was cheap, the off-strip time share was cheap. It worked out pretty well, although I didn't get picked for Let's Make a Deal, dammit.

I'm hearing airfare is up this year. Perhaps so, but rooms are ridiculously cheap. I spent a few hours at the Orleans last fall and they keep offering me two free weeknights. That's not great, but I didn't spend much money there, or many hours. I spent as much time watching minor league hockey as I did at the blackjack table, mostly because I had no luck whatsoever when I sat down.

I'm going to make my first ever summer appearance in Vegas next week. My girlfriend scored us another free trip to Laughlin, and we're renting a car and spending two nights in Vegas. She also got us two free nights at Sam's Town. Again, not great, but she got those mostly for staying there on business last fall.

In preparation for my trip, and three days of decadence (buffets and booze) that I will indulge in, I've been hitting the bike extra ambitiously every night during the two-week run up to departure. During the past 12 days I have biked 11 of them, and with the exception of one tough 28-mile night, I've been logging 30 miles per night.

I once thought I wanted to live in Vegas. I have no use for winter. I tolerate it, I've put up with plenty of subzero days. I lived in Canada for a few winters, the coldest day I experienced was -40F. No wind chill, just cold. I use to run a lot back then. I'd run 3 miles after work that week, when it was -15 to -20F each night.

But I melt quickly under the heat. I wear wristbands when I bicycle because I'm old school, and I sweat a lot. We don't get dry heat here in Minnesota. If it's hot, it's humid. I can wring a puddle out of my wristbands after a 30-mile ride on a hot day in Minnesota.

I often wait until two hours before sunset to begin biking. Perhaps I'd do better in the waning daylight hours of Vegas than I think. I don't love summer, I'd be fine with it never getting much past 70 degrees in the summer, as long as we got a long fall. The only good thing about summer in Minnesota, besides the fact there area a billion outdoor things going on to compensate for the 6 months its too cold and/or wet to enjoy outdoor activities, is that the sun sets just after 9 p.m. at the start of summer. When sunset creeps back below 8 p.m. at the end of summer, I'm not a happy man.

Next Monday and Tuesday night I'll be in Vegas, not to mention Laughlin on Sunday and Wednesday night, where it's always a few degrees hotter. I'm going to feel what it's like, for the first time ever, to inhale a steady diet of 105-degree weather.

In Minnesota we spend our winter running from our heated cars to heated buildings. Some of us go nuts for skiing, snowmobiling, ice fishing or other activities. There's something to be said for enduring a steady diet of subzero temperatures, but I no longer need the street cred.

I've heard it said that summer in the south is like winter in Minnesota. You run from air conditioned cars to air conditioned buildings. I haven't experienced the latter, but I won't give up 9 p.m. sunsets in the summer for crisp January days where the sun sets before 5 p.m.

I have no idea what you do for a living besides blogging, Rex, and it's unclear where you come from, since you've referenced living a few different places. But if you're like me, you need to reap the benefits from summer, not hibernate for three months. That's what winter is for.

Good luck wherever you go. I may never leave Minnesota, but if I do, next week should convince me that Vegas ain't my destination.

Here's hoping they have good air conditioning at the Pinball Hall of Fame. I'll be pumping quarters into those machines for 3 or 4 hours next Monday evening.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Distaste in Minnesota

The people have spoken. The fresh, new and exciting Taste of Minnesota failed.

This blog entry follows up chapter two of my Taste of Minnesota observations, found here.

Today I read that the "festival" lost money. The face of the ownership group, Andy, put an unsurprising spin on it. He was very satisfied with the progress made in turning the event into a festival. The concerts were amazing, he said. I kept hearing how amazing it was to have national acts playing outdoors at Harriet Island. I didn't see the concerts, so I can't speak to how amazing they were, but somehow I doubt people were amazed by 62-year-old Sammy Hagar singing that he can't drive 55 for the millionth time in his life. I know Counting Crows have managed to maintain a following, but could a 2010 rendition of "Mr. Jones" be that amazing, even on the Fourth of July?

Other positive rhetoric I read was that the riff-raff indeed stayed away, there were zero, or one, arrests during the event, depending upon what you read. Yeah, that's definitely good news, but somehow I doubt that will pay the bills.

I have no idea how much money the event lost, but Andy promises to revisit his business plan and tweak the 2011 festival.

I'm not surprised the festival failed to make Andy rich. I predicted it would get the cold shoulder. It didn't take a genius to figure that out, either.

But it seems that it's not the "improved" festival that caused the drop in attendance. No, not that. It was the weather. To succeed the festival needed perfect weather, evidently, which is foolish to bank upon if you're holding an outdoor event in almost any city in this country.

The attendance is being reported at 64,000 over the four days, down from 80,000 a year ago. The Friday and Sunday attendance figures were estimated at 20,000, the Saturday and Monday figures at 12,000.

I wouldn't doubt weather was a factor. It has been quite humid, and relatively hot, for the past several days. Anyone who thought it was a good idea to be hanging out at the festival on Saturday afternoon, overpaying for food, was nuts. Would attendance have jumped to 20,000 on Saturday had the weather been perfect? Would thousands more have flocked to see the Red Rocker, Sammy Hagar, sing "Mas Tequila?"

Monday night's concert featured Offspring and 311. I would have expected that show to draw a larger, younger crowd. It rained a few times during the day on Monday, and that was being blamed for only 12,000 parading through the gate that day. I'm sure rain was a factor. How much of one we can only speculate.

So I'll give the festival the benefit of the doubt. Weather put a dent in the overall attendance. But how many patrons did the festival need in order to break even?

Honestly, I'm impressed the festival drew 64,000 this year if last year's total with the mandatory $10 food ticket purchase at the gate drew 80,000. I may have underestimated Andy's ability to turn an outdoor food fair into a music festival bearing the same name.

From what I have read, it sounds like the gate admissions were absorbed by the cost of the talent. That being the case, Andy and company needed a major source of revenue to cover all their other costs. That source was the food vendors.

Not to my surprise I learned that the festival takes a cut of food sales. It's unclear if the cut is the same from every vendor, who had to pay to be there, or if it fluctuates. But it was clear from one article I read that one proprietor had to give the festival a 20-percent cut of its sales. That's why the festival has that inconvenient ticket policy. Vendors have to turn in their tickets for reimbursement, and they get less than the value of the ticket in return.

Let's say that the tickets are valued at $1 each. A vendor collects eight of them for a plate of food, that's $8 the customer paid for the food. The vendor then gets $6.40 from the festival in exchange for the tickets he collected.

The local restaurant cited in the article said that after paying its fee to be there and charging more for its food than it charges in its Minneapolis restaurant, it barely made enough money to pay its employees for four days at the festival. You've got a real problem there, Andy.

As I noted previously, expanding food choices at an event where you're now charging people a significant cover charge is a fool's formula for success. I bet a lot of vendors walked away very unhappy that they wasted their holiday weekend at the festival.

So revenue from those vendors had to pay for all the portable toilets, festival employees and marketing costs of the event. (Those marketing costs included a prominent local public relations firm, whose primary mouthpiece was running around all weekend talking up the festival on any local TV station that would have her. (I'm sure she doesn't come cheap.) She kept telling everyone how "phenomenal" the entertainment was this year. Somebody get her a dictionary, or at least a thesaurus.)

End result: Andy and company lost money. I'm not surprised.

This was their second year as owners of the festival. Andy and company bought an established event and decided to mold it to fit their vision of an outdoor festival, presumably one that is better than what they bought. What Andy has failed to explain is what was broken in the first place.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

A bad taste in Minnesota? (unedited)

It's over, the holiday celebration known as Taste of Minnesota.

I haven't been to this "festival" since the early 1990s, as best as I can recall. Given its location in St. Paul, I've been less than interested in visiting it. Given it now charges a significant gate admission for access to the precious festival, I'm even less interested. Sound familiar? Perhaps you remember reading this.

Despite my lack of interest in attending, I've been highly interested in how the new and improved festival would be received this year. I know the festival dates back more than two decades. And I know it use to be free to attend. Last year they started forcing those attending to buy $10 worth of food tickets at the gate, thereby keeping the riff raff out of the festival grounds.

I don't know who owned the event, or how it was run in the past, but for the past couple of years it has had new ownership. One of the owners has been the face of media interviews in recent days. His argument for charging $20 to $30 per person for admission to the festival has been multi-faceted.

There's no such thing as a free lunch, he said in one interview. The festival has tried to shift from being a "fair" to a festival, he said. In the past the festival had amusement park rides as well as music stages. The emphasis on the past couple of years has definitely been on main stage entertainment. This year's four day festival, July 2-5, featured headliners each night that would have commanded $20 a ticket at a local venue, if not more.

Here's my look at the pros and cons of the fresh, new and exciting Taste of Minnesota.

• Admission charge discourages riff raff from hanging out at the festival, and there was more room to roam for those who attended.
• Food vendors, the reason the Taste was created, were increased this year, and many local restaurants offering unique foods participated.
• Big name acts performed each night, creating a legitimate music outlet that parallels Milwaukee's much bigger, better produced Summerfest. It's a good time to be booking big shows in Minnesota if acts are appearing in Milwaukee around the same time.
• A variety of entertainment was planned throughout each day.

• Tickets were $20 before 4 p.m., $30 after. If you don't value the daily entertainment, or aren't a fan of main stage entertainment each night, the cover charge is highly discouraging, considering food and beverages don't come cheap by all accounts.
• In order to buy an overpriced beer you had to pay another $3 for a wristband that granted you permission.
• Vendors accept coupons only in exchange for their product. This is not new, and proves to be problematic because beers, for example, cost more than $5 each, but tickets had to be pushed in $5 increments.
• The nightly fireworks display that capped off each night was reduced to one night, Independence Day.

You could argue there are as many pros as cons, at least according to my list. But when you weigh the factors, the 2010 Taste was a failure.

From what I could tell via media reports, those who deemed the Taste worth the price of admission were delighted with it. The lines weren't long for food, it wasn't crowded, and the main stage entertainment was a good deal. A couple of weeks ago the Star Tribune newspaper looked at what the cost of each day's entertainment would be if you paid to see each act. The flaw with the logic is that even if you're getting more than $100 worth of entertainment in a day, you're not going to take it all in, and chances are plenty of it had little appeal to you, if any, were you to be asked to pay for it.

Let's look at the final night of the festival. The main stage acts included 311 and Offspring, two bands that made it big in the 1990s. I'm not a big fan of either, but if I my friend invited me to join her at the concert, and it was free, I might indulge her, but probably not. If I'm not highly motivated to see live music from bands I'm not a fan of, I'm not paying $20 or $30 to see them, which means there's no chance I'm overpaying for food, the reason dozens of vendors were in St. Paul in the first place.

If you're a fan of the bands playing on the main stage, then $30 is a fair price for a live show. By most accounts, the evening entertainment drew plenty of people, but during the day business was rather slow, I read. And if I'm going to a concert for a few hours, I'm not that concerned with tasting local cuisine before, during or after the concert. Vendors were not pleased with the new format. Some said they did less than half the business they did last year and questioned if they'll bother to participate in 2011.

This isn't surprising. The festival brought in more food vendors, then expected people to spend $20 for access to them. The more competition you have, the fewer dollars each vendor will net, especially when you limit access to their food with a cover charge.

Festival ownership claims to be happy with the progress they made in shifting the festival from a free event to something else.

Perhaps so, but I noticed that the festival's Facebook news feed kept telling people they could buy the $20 pre-sale tickets at a local music store each day, even after the festival started, and pre-sale tickets could be ordered each morning through the festival's website. The festival smelled a bit desperate to draw attendees.

One thing they appeared to do that made a lot of sense, they didn't charge for kids 12 and under, or something like that, evidently. Initially I saw no indication that there was a discount of any kind for children, but it appears they didn't charge parents for dragging their children to the festival, a festival that was stinking hot during its first two days. The stifling heat of day 2 was blamed for the lackluster attendance on Saturday, July 3.

What was the biggest flaw in their marketing and execution this year? In my opinion they shouldn't have been selling the event as Taste of Minnesota. If they had marketed the festival as a replacement event that emphasized music and entertainment, it would have been easier to swallow. If they had marketed it as a music festival with a great variety of culinary delights, instead of as the Taste of Minnesota, perhaps they would have sold the idea better.

If they wanted to change the event, the should have changed the name. The outcome may have been the same, but they wouldn't have faced the stigma of charging for an event that use to be free, and nobody who cared would have been confused by the death of Taste of Minnesota or the birth of Minnesota's Freedom Festival.