JOLIET – They came and got it.
A large crowd packed into Memorial Stadium on Friday for the Taste of Joliet, and clear skies Saturday afternoon left Joliet Park District staff optimistic for another big turnout.
“It was wall-to-wall people on the field, but the staff was well-prepared, and everything went smoothly,” Executive Director Tom Carstens said.
The Taste of Joliet started at the stadium on Memorial Day weekend in 1987. After being held downtown and morphing into “June Fest,” where the carnival games were emphasized over local cuisine, the event stopped in 1996. The festival returned to the stadium in 2006 and has remained the park district’s largest event.
An estimated 26,000 people were in attendance as classic rock band Styx performed Friday night. Country artists, including Trace Adkins, were scheduled Saturday. Sunday’s lineup features Skinny Williams, New Orleans Beau, Big Dog Mercer, Tynan, and Princesses and Super Heroes.
“(Friday) was one of the biggest crowds they’ve ever had, and they were incredibly well-behaved,” Joliet police Capt. Bruce Larson said. “One guy acting disorderly was ejected from the premises for sneaking backstage, and there were some lost-property reports. That was all.”
Larson agreed with Carstens that weather has the biggest impact on attendance and behavior. Sunday’s forecast called for thunderstorms and a high of 88 degrees.
The Taste setup was different this year, with the beer tent at the north end of the field instead of being closer to the stage at the south end.
“It seems like the flow of traffic works better,” Carstens said.
That allowed attendees to spread out to the 14 food vendors lining each side of the stadium. Signs along the eastern row hawked ribs, burgers, pork, piña coladas, shaved ice, burritos, sausage and doughnuts, while frozen lemonade, pizza, funnel cakes, corn, hot dogs, cheese curds and ice cream were being sold on the western side.
“Everything smelled good,” said Jason Hedden of Joliet. Hedden came Saturday and split “Buffalo Chicken Fries” with his wife, Michelle, and son, Ethan.
“I wanted to try something different, and they were better than expected,” he said.
Anthony Smith of Joliet stopped in at lunchtime “to see what was going on” and devoured a sausage-and-beef combo.
“It’s my first time [at the Taste],” Smith said. “I expected it would be more crowded, but I guess it’s still early. I think I’m going to come back tonight and try something else.”
Jim and Jan Lootens of West Chicago had been to the Taste about 25 years ago and decided to come out and enjoy Saturday’s weather.
“I remember getting a porkchop on a stick [the first time], and I’m having it again,” Jan said.
Jim Lootens said the Italian sausage he bought was tasty enough that he asked the vendor for a business card so he can order more. The Lootens also said the tents and picnic tables set up across from the food stands made it one of the nicer food festivals they’ve attended.
Nick and Sara Herring of Chicago came for the food and expected to stick around for the music Saturday night. He had a porkburger and she a pulled pork sandwich, but they each shared one bite of their selections.
“They’re pretty close, but I like what I ordered,” Sara said.
Sara grew up downstate and said the Taste of Joliet can be compared with county fairs and festivals in the city.
“I wasn’t sure what to expect,” she said. “This is right about in the middle.”