photo: courtesy of Ravinia
and Taste of Chicago
. When it comes to festival bills full of legends, Ravinia may have them all beat; the Highland Park outdoor amphitheater just stretches things out over the course of the entire summer. While that means you get to hear more of each individual artist, it also makes it difficult (not to mention expensive) to see everyone. So when you do go, you'd better make it count. Consult our handy guide to find the shows best-suited to your needs, then grab a blanket, pack a picnic and hop on the Metra. Oh yeah, buy tickets, too; you can get them online
or by phone.
Want to spend all summer at Ravinia? Submit photos of your Ravinia picnic experience to raviniawines.com and you could win a season pass for 2009.
The 5 Browns (August 13)
Sick of hearing "High School Musical" in the house every weekend? Maybe you just need to present an alternative. These musical siblings (ranging in age from 22 to 29) are certainly some good role models, all having studied classical piano from the age of three. It may be too late for your kids to get on the same path, but anything that steers them away from Zac Efron is alright in our book.
Tony Bennett (July 22-23)
If someone in your family is dreading retirement, envisioning boring days spent in some impossibly humid climate, we say take a look at this 81-year-old Italian crooner. Bennett's golden years have been some of his most successful; his recent albums have garnered Grammy awards, and he's been a guest on "American Idol" and "Saturday Night Live." He even got married last summer! Our point: Life doesn't end at 65—especially if you can sing really, really well.
Chances for Romance
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, T-Bone Burnett (June 18)
She's really country; he's a whole lotta rock 'n' roll. Somehow, Alison Krauss and Robert Plant made it work in a big way on their stellar folk-blues collaboration, Raising Sand. The musical marriage of these two talented artists offers proof positive that opposites can attract, something you’ll want to remind yourself of when your partner starts snoring on the train ride home. With producer T-Bone Burnett making an appearance, this show's worth a go even if you're all by your lonesome.
Isaac Hayes, Roberta Flack (June 13)
"If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want To Be Right)." "Killing Me Softly." "Feel Like Making Love." If these songs don't get you going, well, you may want to visit a doctor. These R&B giants can't help but turn you on, from Flack's soulful ballads to Hayes' funky meditations (including, if you're lucky, the theme from "Shaft"). Just don't mention Scientology, or you might kill the mood.
A Prairie Home Companion (July 5)
If you're not going to be able to see Garrison Keillor and his crew put on their old-time revue, you might as well be at home listening to the live national radio broadcast. Splurge on a seat up front, and watch how the melange of jokes, folksy tunes and more comes together on stage. (They should have it down by now, having been on the air for most of the past three decades.) If you need a primer, check out Robert Altman's superb film based on the show.
Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang (August 28)
His licks may be powerful enough to reach your ears while you're still in the parking lot, but Buddy's one of those performers you have to see to really appreciate. You'll want to witness his fiery personality and lightning-fast fingers, and not least of all, check out the interplay between he and Lang, one of the most talented young'uns on the scene. Though he's got four albums under his belt, the kid's only 27—and, ladies, he's easy on the eyes, too.
Matisyahu, The Wailers (June 26)
With its loping grooves and mellow vibe, reggae might be both the easiest and the hardest type of music to dance to. But one thing's for sure; you don't want to be stuck in a seat. The Wailers will bring some particularly memorable melodies from their days with the legendary Bob Marley, while the music world's most famous Hasidic Jew, Matisyahu, will get everyone really moving with his impassioned songs about justice and spirituality. Oh, and while you're grooving on the grass, don't forget where you are; we're pretty sure that Ravinia doesn't look too kindly on those who "pass the dutchie," if you know what we mean.
The Temptations, The Four Tops (June 28)
You know who these groups are; you've seen them hundreds of times throughout your life, mostly on Time-Life box-set infomercials. You probably don't need to see them again (especially since neither group has its original lineup intact), but the never-ending stream of classics like "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)," "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" and "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" will be the perfect accompaniment to an early-summer picnic. Besides, your blanket is the perfect place to try out some of the groups’ patented choreography.
Hate our choices? Here are some other highlights of this year's lineup:
If you can't make the Latin Music Festival this year, Los Tigres del Norte, one of the world's most popular norteno bands, should tide you over on June 14.
Count on the Blind Boys of Alabama to bring you to tears with their gospel soul when they come to support Boz Scaggs on June 27.
Indie-pop singer (and Apple commercial star) Feist should pack the place on July 11.
Ravinia faves Nickel Creek may be on hiatus, but mandolinist/vocalist Chris Thile brings his accomplished bluegrass/folk group Punch Brothers to town on July 21.
The season ends with a bang on September 12, thanks in part to a trio of Chicago jazz legends—Ramsey Lewis, Kurt Elling and Laurence Hobgood.