Jun 142011
Authors: Justin Rampy

Where heavy rains, low attendance and sparse vendor participation categorized the 2010 Taste of Fort Collins festival, this year’s 15th annual celebration was marked by sunny skies, sold-out vendor slots and record one-day attendance of roughly 35,000 people on Saturday.

“The weather, to us, really couldn’t be more perfect this year,” Emily Salberg, event associate producer, said Saturday. “The clouds come in every once in a while and give people a break from the sunshine, but otherwise it’s been very warm and very sunny.”

The warm weather and attendance certainly seemed to influence the sale of alcoholic beverages as mountains of cases and cardboard boxes provided the backdrop for each of the highly popular booze tents.

Josh Leeman of Odell Brewing Co. noted a mixed demographic of ages buying beer from his tent.

“I mean, just look at the line right now — we’ve got anyone from 21 to 85 right here alone,” he said.

Vendors at the festival ranged from artists to restaurateurs and from brewing companies to craftsmen.

Hai Nguyen, owner of Hibachi Steakhouse & Sushi, was one of about 15 original Fort Collins restaurants that participated in the festival this year. His grilled New York ribeye and fried rice was a festival favorite.

Nguyen said this was the first year in the last five that Hibachi reserved a spot at Taste of Fort Collins.

“We needed the exposure and it’s worked; we’ve been selling a lot,” Nguyen said.

His Vietnamese heritage doesn’t deter him from serving some of the self-proclaimed “best Japanese cuisine in town,” and his restaurant has plenty of bottles and beers on tap. “You name it, I’ve got it,” he said.

The Hibachi Steakhouse was just one of the many local restaurants represented at the event this year.

Ballu Singh, who owns the local restaurant Taj Mahal, has vended traditional Indian cuisine at the festival since it began 15 years ago.

Soon-to-open Fort Collins restaurant Jax Fish House had employees at the festival selling oysters and other fresh seafood. One said the plan for Jax, when it opens later this month in Old Town, is to serve trout, tilapia and salmon — all harvested locally and sustainably.

The large area dedicated to art vendors included guys like Steve Brown and Bruce White.

Brown, a metal-medium artist, came to display the work he does right out of Fort Collins, while White travelled from Littleton to display his lifelike acrylic watercolor paintings.

Saturday was capped with a performance by Third Eye Blind, and Sunday brought former Bare Naked Ladies front-man Steven Page to the stage.

“We chose specific bands we thought would resonate with the population in Fort Collins,” Salberg said.
With twilight turning to moonlight, Third Eye Blind played classics like “Semi-Charmed Life,” “Jumper,” “God of Wine” and, the college-fan favorite, “Graduate.”

Next to towering blow-up bottles of Southern Comfort and Coors Light, both performances received enough praise to bring the groups out for an encore.

“More families were here earlier, and now — well, you can see for yourself,” said Fort Collins Police Services officer Mark Larkin, pointing to the sea of cheering college-aged students.

And, as countless young people came out to support their favorite older-generation bands, both groups cordially thanked Fort Collins for hosting them.

Staff writer Justin Rampy can be reached at news@collegian.com.

Taste of Foco Highlights

  • Special Olympics of Fort Collins sponsored the festival and had almost 250 volunteers.
  • By 8 p.m. Saturday, Odell’s Brewing Co. had gone through 35 kegs (about 4,300 14 ounce cups).
  • At a single Coors Light tent, festival-goers went through eight kegs in five hours, about 100 beers per hour.
  • The Southern Comfort and Jack Daniel’s tent reported selling nearly 5,000 drinks all day. Tips were raised for local child advocacy.
  • Jax Fish House is set to open June 23.
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