A Brief History Of XRT’s Taste Of Chicago Concerts

The Taste of Chicago is still a ways away — well, only a month away and time seems to fly by even faster in the summer. So to help prepare for the upcoming XRT Taste of Chicago concert, we asked some of our DJs to share their favorite memories from years past. From the infamous Replacements show to the unfortunate cancellation of Wilco, these DJs have been there through it all. Read their stories below:

Johnny Mars

I’m sure I won’t be the only one submitting this show, but the Replacements performance on July 4th 1991 is my all time favorite moment in Taste of Chicago live XRT shows.

I was a huge fan and I was also allowed to bring them on as emcee. NRBQ was the middle act in a bill that also included Chicago’s Material Issue. I said something along the lines of NRBQ are such a legendary band who have been playing together for so long they belong in an institution. And then I turned to the Replacements and said, “Speaking of bands that belong in an institution…”

Paul Westerberg of the band came on and said, “That’s enough out of you Mars with that institution stuff…” I watched a few songs. They sounded fine. I had to leave and get to the radio station for my show that night at 8, so I rode my bike home and got my car. When I turned on the radio they had disintegrated and were flaming out on stage, at one point trying to hand their instruments to Frank E Lee and Tom Marker. Pretty weird, but not out of the realm of possibility with this bunch, if you knew their history.

What we did not know was that this was their final show for 22 years. We ended up being part of Rock & Roll History. So there you have it!

Terri Hemmert

The year we got Buddy Guy as a headliner, one of the opening acts was Booker T. Jones. I knew Mavis and Yvonne Staples were friends of Booker’s, going back to the Stax Records days in Memphis when the Staple Singers and Booker T & the M.G.’s were putting out some amazing records. So I invited Mavis and Yvonne to come hang out in the XRT tent. What a day!!! I got the Staples gals to tell the story of how Bob Dylan wanted to marry Mavis back in the 60’s, but asked everyone in the family but Mavis (too shy). The XRT interns were hanging on every word.

Then I brought them backstage for a fine reunion with Booker, who was also holding court with his Midwest family members. That was great fun. Then we were sitting close to the stage watching Buddy’s set. Buddy spotted Mavis in the audience and called her up. She asked me to walk her out on stage. What an honor!!! Buddy introduced Mavis and they went into a great version of “Sweet Home Chicago.” So great that one of the newspaper critics said it was the highlight of the concert! Way to go Mavis! Mavis, Yvonne and Buddy — three good reasons to love sweet home Chicago.

Jason Thomas

The set that jumps into my mind more than any other when I think of the XRT Taste concerts over the years is Passion Pit’s 2010 performance. They had only one full-length album under their belt at that point, but they were able to draw a young, energetic, massive crowd to the Petrillo Music Shell.

I was lucky enough to be taking it all in from the side of the stage during their set, so I was pretty much able to see the crowd enjoying songs like “Sleepyhead” and “Little Secrets” just as the band was on that day. A rock star’s view without any of the pressure to perform… Not a bad deal.

Emma Mac

My favorite memory of the XRT Taste of Chicago Concert was long before I began working at the station. In fact, it’s from a show I didn’t even attend. In 2004 the Counting Crows were playing along with They Might Be Giants and The Old 97’s. I was 15 at the time, heading into my sophomore year of high school, and doing what little I could to support my best friend Caileen as she battled bone cancer.

Fast forward to the present day, Caileen is healthy, strong, and conquering the world, currently teaching in Turkey — but that year was tough, and I remember that Sunday evening so vividly. Towards the late afternoon the temperature was cooling off after an insanely hot day, and Caileen and I were hanging out in her Mom’s room as she was still recovering from surgery. We were taking in whatever mild breeze would come through the windows, and listening to the live broadcast of the Counting Crows playing in Grant Park.

I think they had it playing on a few radios throughout the house because I remember the chatter of the crowd and the crisp, live guitars filling the space around us. It felt like we were at the show. I need to ask her if she remembers this like I do, because I remember being in awe of the presence that that radio broadcast was able to bring to us, when we weren’t in a position to experience the show first hand.

Ryan Arnold

My favorite memory comes from an XRT Taste concert that never happened! In 2014, Tweedy was slated to play with Lucinda Williams. You might remember it was the first time in Taste history where Taste of Chicago was closed for the day. Epic rain knocked power out and there was standing water from Monroe to Congress. Our concert was cancelled, but Lucinda Williams still wanted to play.

The story goes that Lucinda called around to a few clubs offering to play a free show. Reggie’s to the rescue! Word spread through social media and word of mouth. I swear to God, it was absolutely one of the best live music experiences of my life.

She played well past midnight and the joint was hot. I mean like really hot — just the atmosphere and the attitude that made for an incredible concert. She ripped through most of her catalog, played a few new tunes, and closed the show with Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In The Free World.”

More from Lyndsey Havens
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