First Posted: 6/20/2012 12:10:07 PM | Last Updated: 6/20/2012 12:19:57 PM
BY SAMANTHA K. REISS, OURTOWN.COM
LAFAYETTE -- Unlike many of the festivals held downtown so far this spring and summer, it was not the sound of one of our talented local bands playing at the popular Taste of Tippecanoe, but it was the various smells.
Although some were a little disappointed that the unpredictable Indiana weather kept many of the 22 slated performers from the stages, most people were not deterred by the rain. They came for the food.
Conversations and laughter between patrons mingled with the backdrop of music coming from strategically-placed speakers throughout downtown Lafayette, the pedestrian bridge over the Wabash River, and West Lafayette's Tapawingo Drive, to create an upbeat atmosphere where people were happy to support both the arts and the area's restaurants.
Some with umbrellas, some just walking in the rain, thousands of people perused more than 60 food choices amongst more than 36 restaurants. One dollar gets a patron one food ticket, which can be used to buy sample – or larger – sizes of dishes ranging from Adelino's Old World Kitchen's jumbo dill pickle for a single ticket to a four-ticket serving of beef brisket from West Point Steak House.
People over 21 enjoyed washing it all down with pints of beer, both local and commercial, for five tickets. Katie and Bob Kleinschnitz, of West Lafayette, thought their kids Zoe, 2 ½, and Ben, 10 weeks, were enjoying themselves, too.
“Zoe already has chocolate on her dress and pizza in her hair,” Katie said, watching her toddler pour tiny sips of water into a water bottle lid. Ben, most out of all of them, seemed grateful for the rain. “The rain was actually a blessing. It was way too hot for him at the Farmers' Market this morning.”
Like many other Tastegoers lately, the Kleinschnitzes checked out the Taste website, http://www.tasteoftippecanoe.org/ , to get an idea of what tastes they might want to experience during their second year at the event.
Bob, a vegetarian, found that once they'd arrived, vendors had more meat-free fare available than it appeared on the site. He sampled some vegetable samosas from Sharma's Kitchen and the risotto from Baja Peninsula.
Though they are Indian food fans, the couple had never tried Sharma's Kitchen. Katie said coming across it at the Taste was a good opportunity to learn about newer, local options.
“I drive by Baja Peninsula every day on my way to work and have always wanted to try it,” she said. Now that she's tasted it, she said she would definitely eat at the restaurant.
The Kleinschnitz family was stationed near the Crossroads stage, one of the event's six stages, holding out to hear some live jazz music as soon as the stormy weather would allow. The rain cleared up just in time for them to catch The Green Room Rockers performing at the Market stage at 9 p.m.
Though a little loud for baby Ben, Zoe danced circles around her dad to the reggae/ska beat. The local band's performance closed just as the famous “Lights Over the Wabash” fireworks display began at 10:05, drawing crowds to watch from the scenic pedestrian bridge. Some say the traditional Taste fireworks show is better than the ones on the Fourth of July.
It's not just about the food and entertainment, though. The behind-the-scenes benefactor is art education in and around Tippecanoe County. According to Scott Freeman, the Taste of Tippecanoe event director for the Tippecanoe Arts Federation, 100 percent of the night's proceeds goes to hundreds of local programs.
“ Over the past 10 years, the Taste has generated over 1.5 million dollars to fund community art, music and education programs,” Freeman said.
The event may be the backbone of funding for the strong art community we have in the area, whether the people know it or not. Regardless, it is a major undertaking, with preparation for next year's event beginning only two weeks after this one is over, said Freeman. Between looking for new ways to be “on the cutting edge of cool” and planning the logistics of setup, police support, and volunteer coordination, there is plenty for the committee to do to prepare.
“It's a huge volunteer effort,” said Gale Charlotte, a 10- to 15-year Taste volunteer veteran and former volunteer overseer. Charlotte said she started out volunteering because she wanted the free admission and t-shirt, but has continued to give two or more hours of her time at the event as a volunteer because she supports the cause and loves the feeling of community the Taste inspires.
“You just see everyone you know [when you're working at a ticket booth],” she said. Now her kids even put in their time as volunteers before enjoying the party. Charlotte said she thought there were over 1,000 people stepping up to volunteer this year, and that the committee never had to tell anyone there wasn't room for another volunteer. From the ticket booths to the gates, the electricians to the setup personnel, there is something for everyone in the community to help with.
Residents can visit the Taste website or the TAF website ( http://www.tippecanoearts.org/index.html ) to find more information about the Taste of Tippecanoe or to sign up as a volunteer for next year's event. Whether we don our sunglasses or our raincoats, we know we'll keep coming down to one of the most popular, much-anticipated festivals that our town has to offer.