Enjoying Music at the Oldest Outdoor Amphitheater in the Country: The Magic of Ravinia
We walked across the river from our hotel to catch the train to Ravinia. It’s important to note that there are two train stations on the same block for different train lines. The walking map function for Google Maps did a great job of getting us to the right station even though we were tempted to stop at Union Station. Roundtrip tickets for the 40 minute express trip were only $8.00 each. The train was clean and comfortable; it was nice to move unimpeded as we watch the snarled weekend traffic out our windows. The train stopped right at one of the main entrances to the park, making travel to the show a breeze.
Ravinia is truly a treasure. Guests are free to bring in coolers and chairs if they intend to sit on the lawn to enjoy the cool summer air and music. The stage isn’t visible from many areas of the park where people set up their blankets and picnics of their favorite foods and drinks, including alcohol, but the music from the stage is crisp and clear throughout the park. Party atmosphere is a description that doesn’t quite do the scene justice. People covered all the green space with blankets, tables and elaborate decorations. Martini glasses and whiskey bottles were not contraband as in many venues; instead they formed part of the backdrop for an event that carried on from the mid-afternoon hours till the end of the night. It was clear that arriving early was necessary to get a prime spot, but in reality there were no undesirable spots. As an added benefit, there was not a single portable toilet in the place. Instead, there were real bathrooms that had the capacity to handle the crowds without interminable waits.
For those of us with seats in the amphitheater – where coolers are not allowed – there were a number of food and drink vendors that we could visit before the show. The food options, while not spectacular, are fine. There are even full service restaurant reservations available for those inclined to think so far ahead. Food and drink are fine on the lawn areas, but are not allowed inside the amphitheater unlessyou have a special cup – available for a mere $10.00 fee – which is allowed in the seats. In the interest of fairness, the glossy programs are free and are full of information about the park, its music and cultural programs, and the mission of the facility. All things considered, the experience is a great value. The headline band the night we chose, One Republic, proclaimed it one of their top five favorite outdoor venues in the world. Fitz and the Tantrums opened for One Republic and shared stories of past visits as well. It wasn’t hard to understand their view as we spent 3 fabulous hours outdoors on a cool summer evening.
We had to scamper back to catch the train as the last notes of music drifted away into the evening. In less than five minutes, we were on our way back to Chicago. The trip back wasn’t an express; the half-dozen extra stops, added another ten minutes to the return trip. Nonetheless, we moved much faster than the traffic that crawled through wrecks and general congestion of Saturday night revelry. Having driven to many concerts, including outdoor venues, and waited in line 20-30 minutes just to escape the parking lots, riding the train back to town seemed to be a real luxury.
There are lots of great things to do in Chicago. Ravinia certainly belongs on that list, even if it’s outside town in the suburbs. Don’t expect to see lots of tourists there though; it’s a locals’ treasure that thrives without being a tourist destination, making it all the more enjoyable.