Ravinia Festival 2009 tickets go on sale online today (phone sales start May 17). We've scoured the schedule and found the top 10 shows you should try to get tickets for (besides Carrie Underwood, of course).
1. John Legend
July 21; $68 ($27 lawn)
Looking over this year's slate, this was the name that made us say "wow, really?" There's gonna be a lot of competition for these tickets, as Legend will attract a younger crowd not typically associated with the suburban outdoor venue. But beyond the six Grammys and the collaborations with Kanye West, Alicia Keys and Andre 3000 (for his new album, Evolver), there's a fact that people of all ages will appreciate: dude can sing. And you know that's gonna sound nice with a bottle of wine.
2. Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes
August 26; $55 ($22 lawn)
You think you know Elvis? The veteran British singer/songwriter has entered yet another phase of his career, as he tours with an all-acoustic band featuring Jerry Douglas (Alison Krauss & Union Station), Jim Lauderdale, Mike Compton, Stuart Duncan, Dennis Crouch and Jeff Taylor. The collective's recent roots-oriented album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, was recorded in Nashville and produced by T-Bone Burnett. This should be an exciting celebration of country and bluegrass - but don't be surprised to hear some Costello classics thrown in there as well.
3. Lang Lang and Herbie Hancock
July 28; $65-$100 ($10 lawn)
At last year's Grammy awards, the superstar Chinese classical pianist (who essentially launched his career at Ravinia a decade ago) and the jazz piano legend submitted a jaw-dropping rendition of George Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue." They've been playing together regularly ever since. Here's a chance to see what they can do for a full evening of cross-genre music. Lang Lang also performs solo on July 26.
4. Bonnie Raitt/Taj Mahal
August 21-22; $80 ($27 lawn)
As long as we're recommending superstar collaborations...we're interested to see how this one - part of the awkwardly titled "Bontaj Roulet" tour - turns out. Over the 30-plus years these two have been on the blues scene, they've shared many a band member, but never the same stage. Now they will, at least for some of the night. Apparently, the artists will play separate sets with their respective bands, then come together at the end of the show for a blow-out performance. Bonnie singing "Corinna"? Taj lending his gravelly style to "Something to Talk About"? We're all ears.
5. Goran Bregovic & His Wedding and Funeral Orchestra
June 14; $40 ($10 lawn)
Bregovic is one of the most beloved Eastern European composers of the modern era, and it's no secret why. He puts his all into every rock- and folk-tinged performance, he's got a lot to give; his 40-piece Wedding and Funeral Orchestra includes a brass band, a string ensemble, bagpipes, an all-male choir and traditional singers. It's a spectacle, yes, but it's also a whole lot of fun.
6. Femi Kuti & the Positive Force, King Sunny Ade & His African Beats
July 1; $40 ($16 lawn)
We know, it's much cooler nowadays to praise his younger brother, Seun, for faithfully carrying on the Afrobeat genre their father, Fela, created. But while Femi may have a different, more modern take on the blend of American jazz and funk with traditional West African music, his music is just as danceable (and political). And we'd like to see the Ravinia crowd up and dancing a little more often.
7. G. Love & Special Sauce, Michael Franti and Spearhead
August 27; $40 ($16 lawn)
If you just can't get enough protest music, look no further than Michael Franti, whose career has been based on the stuff since way back when he was leading the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy in the early '90s. The Bay Area native's music, a blend of hip-hop, reggae and folk, can sometimes be overshadowed by his impassioned social commentary, but you'll leave with renewed enthusiasm for President Obama's Serve America Act...as well as humming G. Love's drawled classics "My Baby's Got Sauce," "Cold Beverage" and "Stepping Stone."
8. Three Girls and Their Buddy
June 7; $50 ($25 lawn)
Emmylou Harris has teamed up with Patty Griffin, Shawn Colvin ("Sunny Came Home") and Buddy Miller for a show that should please country/folk fans of all ages. But though the quartet certainly has its fair share of classics to run through, don't come in ready for a stirring rendition of "Boulder to Birmingham" or "Evangeline." The group's previous outings have included a heavy dose of covers of the songs that these legends love. And you'll be able to see every pluck of the string, as this will be one of the few shows this summer featuring Ravinia's new lawn video screens.
9. Yo-Yo Ma's Dvorak
August 14; $45-$100 ($20 lawn)
It wouldn't be a full Ravinia list if we didn't include at least one performance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra - and one also including the world's premier cellist didn't seem like a bad idea. Ma will perform Dvorak's Cello Concerto. No points for originality (it's the most-performed cello concerto of all), but we're sure he'll make up for that with execution.
10. Joe Cocker
June 28; $50 ($22 lawn)
More than anything, Ravinia is about enjoying yourself in a relaxed environment. And a night of Joe Cocker's gritty cover versions of songs like The Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" and Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright" should do the trick. Hopefully, a rainstorm won't cut the set short, as it did during Woodstock - which was 40 years ago this summer, so there might be some great hippie-watching to be had at this one.
Tickets are available at www.ravinia.org.