A million dollar group jams at Paramount

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Nicholas Harazin plays “the father of rock and roll,” Sam Phillips, seen here under the classic image of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash shot at Phillips’s Sun Records Studio on December 4, 1956, in Paramount Theatre’s Broadway Series opener 'Million Dollar Quartet.' Liz Lauren photo
Nicholas Harazin plays “the father of rock and roll,” Sam Phillips,  under the classic image of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash shot at Phillips’s Sun Studio on December 4, 1956. Liz Lauren photo

Go to Paramount Theatre’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ if you love Johnny Cash. Go if you appreciate really good boogie piano. Or go if you are interested in the Sam Phillip’s Sun Studio’s handling of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

It’s nice to have the show back in the Chicago area, if even for its short, little over a month, duration.

The story, captured in a photo and on tape at Sun Records Studio, Memphis, tells of the only time that four of Sam Phillip’s top stars jammed together.

They happened to stop by his recording studio when Carl Perkins was supposed to be taping. Some were going to tell Phillips that they were not renewing their contract but Lewis was looking for a long contract at Sun.

The important incident was turned into a “jukebox” show of great mid-last century songs by Floyd Mutrux who wrote the book with Colin Escott and directed the original productions.

Started in Daytona Beach in 2006 before going to Seattle in 2007, the show was developed further at the Goodman Theatre in fall 2008.

It transferred to the Apollo Theatre where it ran until recently, closing early in 2016. But the original cast went on to NYC where ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ ran on Broadway from mid 2010 to mid 2011 while still playing the Apollo. It brought Levi Kreis a Tony Award as Jerry Lee Lewis.

The phrase “blown away” is often used but that was how I felt when seeing Kreis. Paramount guests will feel the same way when watching Gavin Rohrer as Lewis. Rohrer is incredible. He has already portrayed Lewis in two other shows including the Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma.

Nor will long time fans of Johnny Cash feel cheated when they see Bill Scott Sheets in the role. An operatic baritone who has all played such musical theatre rolls as Don Quixote, Sheets nails Cash’s sound and microphone approach.

Chicago set designer Kevin Depinet has recreated Sam Phillips’s original Sun Records studio in Memphis - where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins played together their first and only time. Liz Lauren photo
Chicago set designer Kevin Depinet has recreated Sam Phillips’s original Sun Records studio in Memphis – where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins played together their first and only time. Liz Lauren photo

While some rockabilly aficionados might know that “Blue Suede Shoes” was written by Perkins who epitomized the genre, the fact that his hit song was closely identified with Elvis Presley is important to the show.

That frustration comes across with Broadway actor Adam Wesley Brown, a veteran of Chicago theatre and film, taking on the role of Perkins with the characteristic knee raise and emphasis.

It’s easy to see that Kavan Hashemian who has appeared in other ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ productions as Elvis, really enjoys the role. He has the moves down pat and can probably sing the songs in his sleep because he has been performing them since age three.

The surprise of the Paramount show which is all about male performers, is the wonderful turn as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, by Courtney Mack. Her “Fever” in Act I and “I Hear You Knockin” in Act II, brings the house down. Of course, Paramount regulars likely remember her from “Mamma Mia”

Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Broadway Series opener Million Dollar Quartet stars (from left) Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Courtney Mack as Dyanne and Nicholas Harazin as Sam Phillips. Liz Lauren photo
Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Broadway Series opener Million Dollar Quartet stars (from left) Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Courtney Mack as Dyanne and Nicholas Harazin as Sam Phillips. Liz Lauren photo

Another unexpected musical treat comes when Zach Lentino as Perkins’ brother Jay shows off his skills as an upright bassist. BTW Lentino was in ‘Million Dollar Quartet at the Apollo.

Drummer Scott Simon who plays in several Chicago productions is Fluke, a member of Perkins’ group. He’s excellent but not really noticed until near the end.

Perhaps the most unappreciated role in the show is that of Sam Phillips. Played by Nicholas Harzain, a film actor who is also in several regional shows, Phillips comes across as a hard-working, small-town, talent developer.

A note about Kevin Depinet’s set design: folks who have been to Memphis and walked through what is now, basically a museum, know Depinet has totally captured Sun Studio.

Directed by Jim Corti with music direction by Kory Danielson, ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ has a “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

DETAILS: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is at Paramount Theatre, 23 Galena Blvd., Aurora, now through Oct. 29, 2017. Running time is two hours. For tickets and other information visit Paramount or call (630) 896- 6666.

 

 

Energetic ‘Rock of Ages’ revisits eighties music

RECOMMENDED

‘Rock of Ages’ at Drury Lane Oak Brook is a fun 80’s inspired musical romp through the apparently now nostalgic Reagan / G.H.W. Bush era.

Russell Mernaugh (Drew), center and the band. Brett Beiner photo
Russell Mernaugh (Drew), center and the band. Brett Beiner photo

The ankle-deep plot is reminiscent of the old Beach Party movies of the 1960’s.  Basically boy, Drew (Russell Mernaugh) meets girl, Sherrie (Cherry Torres). He aspires to be a rock star. She aspires to be a movie star. The couple’s love affair is interrupted by the intervention of superstar Stacee Jaxx (Adam Michaels) and hijinks ensue.

Meantime the evil, Nazi inspired Hertz (George Keating), reluctantly aided by his cowering and outrageously funny son, Franz (Nick Cosgrove), plans to push out the “rockers” and redevelop a portion of the Hollywood Sunset Strip into a European inspired mega-mall featuring all of the popular retail brands.

The plan includes taking a wrecking ball to the iconic Bourbon Room, a kind of Urban Cowboy bar run by aging proprietor Dennis (Gene Weygandt) who has not noticed that time has snuck up on him.

However, the culturally destructive aims of Hertz and Franz are energetically and enthusiastically challenged by the grassroots efforts of Regina – pronounced with a long “I” (Tiffany Tatreau).

This musical farce is sped along by the cornball humor and physical antics of Lonny (Nick Druzbanski). Think Svengoolie meets John Belushi.

The stage manager/audio tech and keeper of the Fogmaster 5000, acts as a kind of one man Greek chorus.

‘Rock of Ages’ has no religious connotation and the idea that the music of this period has a kind of timelessness is hopeful at best.

Cherry Torres (Sherrie) gets a job at the Bourbon Room in 'Rock of Ages.' Brett Beiner photo
Cherry Torres (Sherrie) gets a job at the Bourbon Room in ‘Rock of Ages.’
Brett Beiner photo

The story-line is basically an excuse to revisit a series of tunes and pay homage to the theatrically inspired Los Angeles Glam Metal genre whose rhythms are ideal for driving your shopping cart through Target or Walmart which is where you have probably heard most of these songs lately.

As the early part of generation X, the 80’s is defined musically by the rise of Madonna, Whitney Houston, Prince and Michael Jackson. The rock bands of the period had names like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Iron Maiden, Poison, Megadeth, and Anthrax which this production aptly spoofs.

Every member of the cast has the vocal chops required for their individual tasks. Donica Lynn who plays Mother gives us a couple of much appreciated soulful gospel-inspired moments.

The voice of Tiffany Tatreau is not lost in the crowd. Her feisty performances alone, and with Adam Michaels, really raise the energy level.

Much of the success of this production is due in no small part to the outstanding rock band led by keyboard/conductor Chris Sargent with guitarists Tom Logan and Dan Peters, Patrick Williams on bass and drummer Rich Trelease. The high point of the evening was their post finale jam played as the audience was filing out.

This production lived up to the high standards Chicago audiences have come to expect from The Drury Lane Theatre.

Director Scott Weinstein obviously encouraged his performers to have fun. The choreography (Stephanie Klemons) included a cool segment that was reminiscent of the mechanical bull rides that were popular at the time.

The set design (Jeffrey D. Kmeic) that incorporated the use of projected images and video was very innovative and effective, while the lighting (Greg Hoffman) captured the techno vibe of the era and contributed to the rock and roll atmosphere.

Kudos also to Theresa Ham for some costume surprises and Ray Nardelli for keeping the sound levels appropriate for a theatrical audience while not losing the rock essentials.

Though not timeless, “Rock of Ages” is an energetic fun filled performance that can be enjoyed by ages 13 and up.

DETAILS: “Rock of Ages” is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, now through Oct. 15, 2017. For tickets and other information call (630) 530-0111 and visit Drury Lane Theatre.

Guest reviewer Reno Lovison says, “Don’t Stop Believing.”  He is an avocational folky soft-rock singer/acoustic guitarist and video producer who says he was too busy to remember much of the 1980’s.

Reno Lovison is @Renoweb.net

 

Master of Boogie

 

There isn’t a beer hall or gin joint in Chicago with a piano that hasn’t been visited sometime in the past 50 years by the fingers of jazz pianist and boogie master Erwin Helfer.

Boogie master Erwin Helfer Photo credit: iranaydebrecen.hu
Boogie master Erwin Helfer
Photo credit: iranydebrecen.hu

This week we caught up with him at Hungry Brain 2319 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, where he will be appearing Tuesdays at 7 p.m. through September and possibly longer.

The venue is a clean. old-school style tavern with a mid-century vibe and a sizeable beer list. Wine lovers will find only a red and white choice. They have enough booze to whip up a cocktail if you keep it simple. Cash Only!

Sorry no food, but we skipped around the corner to “90 Miles” on Clybourn and brought back a couple of delicious Cuban sandwiches which I washed down with a Bells Brown Ale while my wife opted for a glass of the “white.”

If you are a lover of straight-up classic jazz with a boogie rhythm, Erwin is “the man.” He’s a pianist’s pianist. I know this because my wife is a pianist she has been a groupie of his for years.

Erwin has a mean left hand that can pound that bookie bass. His improvisations on the right hand are thoughtful but not showy. He is classically trained and has restraint and a love for the songs he plays.

Between the banter and reminiscences of the many legends he has known and performed with, you’ll hear him play several of your favorite melodies like “Georgia on My Mind”, “St. James Infirmary” and “Swanee River Blues” (a variation on “Swanee”). You’ll know “Pinetop Blues” when you hear it and according to his mood you might hear some riffs on gospel standards like “Take My Hand Precious Lord” or a country tune like Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya.”

Erwin Helfer is one of the sweetest guys you’ll ever meet. He is a gentle soul whose temperament is reflected in his music.  At 80+ he still gigs several times a week.  Seeing him wherever he is playing should be on your Chicago bucket list.

If you miss him at Hungry Brain you might check out his upcoming concert with Spanish Blues and Boogie Woogie pianist Lluís Coloma at the Old Town School of Folk Music Oct. 27, 2017 at 7 p.m.

For more information visit Erwin Helfer and Hungry Brain.

-Reno Lovison

Around Town: Labor Day Weekend

If  you don’t want to compete with other drivers going out of town Labor Day, take advantage of the long weekend to visit events and places in the Chicago area.

Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico, is under the Big top next to the United Center now through sept. 3, 2017. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.
Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico, is under the Big top next to the United Center now through Sept. 3, 2017. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque du Soleil

“Luzia, A Waking Dream of Mexico” will leave Chicago after this weekend. The final performance is Sept. 3. An amazing mix of color and culture, the show is under a tent at the United Center in Parking Lot K. For tickets and other information visit Cirque du Soleil Luzia.

Chicago Jazz Festival

Enjoy great music to sway and tap to under the stars in Millennium Park or surrounded by wonderful mosaics in the Chicago Cultural Center at the Chicago Jazz Festival this weekend. Admission is free. Millennium Park stages (201 E. Randolph St.) host music from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. For Cultural Center, (78 E. Washington St.) times and for who is playing where and when visit ChicagoJazzFestival.

Chicago Jazz Festival is in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center Labor Day Weekend. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Chicago Jazz Festival is in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center Labor Day Weekend. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Art Fair on the Square

Wander around historic Market Square downtown Lake Forest Sept. 3 or 4 to see 180 exhibitors at Art Fair on the Square. Sponsored by the Deer Path Art League, hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Admission is free.
For directions and more information visit Deer Path Art League.

Gauguin

Catch the Gauguin exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago before it leaves. It is an exceptional show of Paul Gauguin’s sculptures, ceramics, paintings and etchings, but it ends Sept. 10 so try to fit it in during the long Labor Day Weekend. The exhibit is so popular it requires tickets. They’re included in admission price but they are date sensitive. For information and tickets visit ARTIC.

Paul Gauguin, "Self Image with Yellow Christ." Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Paul Gauguin, “Self Image with Yellow Christ.” Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Breakfast and hike

Go to Morton Arboretum for waffles, eggs and other yummy treats in the Ginko Garden Restaurant, Saturday or Sunday.  Then, hike the trails to work it off. The weather is supposed to be perfect for exploring the Arboretum, 4100 IL Hwy 53, Lisle. For more information or restaurant reservations call (630) 968-0074 and visit Morton Arb.

Hear UB40 or Aretha Franklin

Picnic on the lawn at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park where UB40 performs Sept. 2 and Aretha Franklin gets respect Sept. 3. The UB40 concert is 7:30 p.m. Aretha Franklin, original scheduled for June 17, also starts at 7:30. Original tickets will be honored. Ravinia Festival is at 418 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park. For directions, parking, tickets and other information visit Ravinia.

Enjoy the weekend and be safe.

Lyric tempts with glorious preview and seals the deal with exciting season

The Lyric Opera of Chicago starts its next season Sept. 23, 2017 but you can get a sneak peek on Sept. 8 at 7:30 p.m. with Stars of Lyric Opera at Millennium Park.

Millennium Park hosts Lyric Stars in the Pritzker Pavilion. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Millennium Park hosts Lyric Stars in the Pritzker Pavilion. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

A free concert in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph St., Chicago, the preview includes arias from ‘Orphée et Euridice,’ ‘Rigoletto,’ ‘Die Walküre,’ ‘The Pearl Fishers’ and ‘Faust,’ among others.

Led by Maestro Andrew Davis conducting the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus, the program features such stars as Andriana Churchman, Dmitry Korchak, Eric Owens and Matthew Polenzani.

The concert will also be live on 98.7WFMT and at WFMT.com 

For more information visit  Lyric Opera and the Lyric Stars on Facebook.

 

SEASON

The operas listed for the preview offer just a glimpse of the Lyric’s exciting 2017-18 season. The complete opera schedule exhibits a wide range of styles, moods and composers from Bizet and Mozart to Verdi and Wagner.

‘Orphée (Orpheus) and Eurydice’

'Orphee et Eurydice opens Lyric Season. Lyric Opera photo
‘Orphee et Eurydice’ opens Lyric Season. Lyric Opera photo

By Christoph Willibald Gluck, the opera features The Joffrey Ballet, Sept. 23-Oct. 15, 2017. This is the Paris version directed and choreographed by John Neumeier. It is about the mythological Greek musician/poet, Orpheus, trying to bring back his wife, Eurydice, from the Underworld.

‘Rigoletto’
By Giuseppe Verdi, Oct. 7-Nov. 3, 2017, the opera centers on the revenge-bound, tragic court jester, Rigoletto, daughter Gilda and the evil Duke of Mantua. Opera goers will recognize Mantua’s “La donna è mobile,” Gilda’s “Caro nome” and the opera’s famed quartet.

‘Die Walküre’

By Richard Wagner, Nov.1-30, 2017, the opera continues the Lyric’s Ring cycle which started in 2016 with ‘Das Rheingold.’ Wagner’s powerful music exemplifies the strong emotions and character traits of Siegmund, Sieglinde, Brünnhilde, Wotan, Fricka and Hunding.

‘The Pearl Fishers’ (Les pêcheurs de perles)

By Georges Bizet, Nov. 19-Dec. 10, the opera includes this writer’s favorite duet for tenor and baritone. The opera takes place in Ceylon where two friends fall in love with priestess Leila.

 

‘Turandot’ 

'Turandot,' a fairy tale set in a fantasy version of ancient China is offered by the Lyric in the middle of the 2017-18 season. Lyric Opera photo
‘Turandot,’ a fairy tale set in a fantasy version of ancient China is offered by the Lyric in the middle of the 2017-18 season. Lyric Opera photo

 By Giacomo Puccini, Dec. 5, 2017-Jan. 27, 2018, the opera is a fairy tale that takes place in China where the princess asks suitors to answer three riddles. Incorrect answers lead to execution. The opera features the popular aria, “Nessun dorma.”

‘I Puritani’

By Vincenzo Bellini, Feb. 4-28, 2018, is a bel canto opera calling for exceptional technique as it tells the story of lovers in a England divided by the 1600’s civil war.

‘Cos fan tutte’ (The School for Lovers)

By Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Feb. 17-March 16, 2018 the opera is a delightful light treat that works well on the heels of ‘I Puritani’s’ high drama. Mozart’s tale delves into intrigue worthy of Shakespeare’s comedies.

‘Faust’

By Charles Gounod, Mar. 3-21, 2018, the opera revolves around the consequences of selling one’s soul to the devil.  A popular story told in the Grand Opera style, it includes Marguerite’s “Jewel Song” and an exceptional final trio.

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

By Andrew Lloyd Webber and Jim Rice, Apr. 27-May 20, 2018, the season ends with what has become a Lyric tradtition – a Broadway musical production. This season the show is Webber’s rock opera,

The Lyric Opera is at the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago. For additional programs and ticket information visit Lyric or call (312)827-5600.

 

 

 

Lollapalooza tickets for next year

 

Yes Lollapalooza just ended Sunday, but Platinum and VIP tickets are already on sale for 2018.

Lollapalooza crowd Saturday. Photo by Scott Witt
Lollapalooza crowd Saturday. Photo by Scott Witt

Next year the mega music festival returns to Chicago’s Grant Park Aug. 2-5. So if at all interested enter the dates on your calendar. Pick up tickets for all four days or the day you want to go.

BTW some hotel packages are already sold out so if coming to town you probably should book your room now.

The tickets available now are still in 2017 mode. Though not cheap – well maybe not bad considering the headliners, eight stages and 170 bands and what their tickets often cost – the Lolla tickets are likely to be higher next year.

The 2017 Platinum four-day tickets are $4,200 and VIP four-day are $2,200.

Click Lolla to get a ticket and see what is included in the General , VIP and Platinum categories. And pray for no thunderstorms.

 

Tony Bennett going strong at 91

 

Clad in signature vanilla sports jacket and broad grin, Bennett entertained cheering crowds inside Ravinia’s Pavillion and around it on the jammed lawns, Friday, a day after turning 91.

Tony Bennett wows the Ravinia Festival day after his 91st birthday. Photo by Pedro de Jesus for Ravinia.
Tony Bennett wows the Ravinia Festival crowd day after his 91st birthday. Photo by Pedro de Jesus for Ravinia.

“I travel all over but this is my favorite place,” Bennett told the crowd. Indeed, Ravinia Festival is where Bennett has been coming on or day after his Aug. 3 birthday.

Starting with some fine jazz from The Tony Bennett Quartet followed by  a few songs from daughter Antonia Bennett, the iconic pop star was introduced as he’s been in recent concerts by the voice of mentor Frank Sinatra saying he’s “the best.”

After a long standing ovation, the crowd was treated to one notable Bennett hit after another from “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” and “Someone Who Needs Me”  to “Who can I Turn to,” “Because of You and “The Shadow of Your Smile.”

Some were just a few lines such as “Rags to Riches.” Most others were the whole song.

Sometimes his voice was pure, sometimes, raspy, but Bennett showed he still had it with terrific voice control in amazingly long-held notes. Also, there were nice repeats of key words in his emphatic style as in “The Way You Look Tonight. Tonight! Tonight!”

He did a great “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)” with jazz, pop and classical pianist Tim Ray sitting in for this season tour regular Billy Stritch.

Ray, who has accompanied Aretha Franklin and Bonnie Raitt and played with Rufus Reid and with the Boston Pops was fun to watch and listen to during solo turns on the piano.

The concert wasn’t all pop. Bennett moved to jazz with “Stepping Out With My Baby” with Ray, as Bennett pointed out, in the style of Duke Ellington.

The blues feeling came with a gorgeous “In My Solitude” done with Bennett’s long-time guitar player, Gray Sargent. Bennett and Sargent did several songs together as a well-matched pair.

Also good to hear were quartet regulars Marshall Wood on bass and Harold Jones on drums in brief shout-outs.

Then there were the audience chuckles as when Bennett started in with “As I approach the prime of my life” in the fine song, “This Is All I Ask.”

It ends with the wonderful words that seem to sum up this multi grammy-winner’s staying power: “And let the music play, As long as there’s a song to sing, and I will stay younger than Spring.”

But with the last words of what some consider his signature song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” the lights came on and the audience applauded thinking the concert was over. However, Bennett continued the joyous evening with a couple more songs.

When it ended for good, the Pavilion audience kept standing and applauding as Bennett left the stage but encores were not to be. Except for short band solos and riffs, he had sung straight through from 9 to 10 p.m. with seemingly endless energy.

And it was easy to believe the final lyrics of “This Is All I Ask.”

 

 

Great shows make up an exciting season north of Chicago

 

Chicago theatres and entertainment venues have a terrific line-up of shows for the 2017-18 season. Now is a good time to plan what to see with season tickets or dropping hints for birthday or holiday presents.

Genesee Theatre north of Chicago in Waukegan features name entertainers. Photo courtesy of Genesee Theatre
Genesee Theatre north of Chicago in Waukegan features name entertainers. Photo courtesy of Genesee Theatre

Don’t just consider plays. There’s also one-and two-nighters of top entertainers at a couple of venues. With so many places to go for a night out the Chicago theatre scene has to be broken into different areas. Not everything to see is downtown or Near North. So, try some of the theatres and other venues north of the city.

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‘American in Paris’ shines with wonderful Gershwin music plus terrific set design and dancing

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Put together George Gershwin’s stirring music, Ira Gershwin’s delightful lyrics, Craig Lucas’ thoughtful book, Christopher Wheeldon’s  exceptional choreography and direction and Bob Crowley’ amazing set design.

Henri (Nick Spangler) and dancers perform a fantasy number at a Parisian club. Photos by Matthew
Henri (Nick Spangler) and dancers perform a fantasy number at a Parisian club. Photos by Matthew Murphy

Then people their work with the fine dancing talents of McGee Maddox of the National Ballet of Canada and Sara Esty, former Miami City Ballet soloist.

Add in the excellent acting and vocal talents of Nick Spangler from Book of Mormon and of Adam Hockberg and Emily Ferranti from “Wicked.

With all that creativity and talent put into one show you’ll have an evening to remember at ‘American in Paris,’ now at the Oriental Theatre through Aug. 19, 2017.

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Ravinia Festival still draws the crowds

 

With such top drawing festivals and names as Pitchfork, Windy City Smokeout and Jimmy Buffett (among several others) filling  parks and fields all over Chicago this past weekend, you might think that a north suburban music outpost would not be jammed.

Yet Ravinia Festival in Highland Park packed them in for James Arthur, Fitz & The Tantrums and OneRepbulic, Saturday, and its Tchaikovsky Spectacular played by the CSO, Sunday.

Ravinia Festival was jammed an hour before the Tchaikovsky Spectacular Sunday. Jodie Jacobs photos
Ravinia Festival was jammed an hour before the Tchaikovsky Spectacular, Sunday. Jodie Jacobs photos

“Every inch of space and lawn was filled,” said a One Republic fan describing the Saturday scene.

If understandable for the pop rock genre, it might have come as a surprise to classical music lovers that the same was true on Sunday as visitors kept filing in and looking for even a few inches to sit and picnic.

The luckier folks, or make that those in the know, staked out their space two hours ahead of Sunday’s early, 5 p.m. concert start.

Spread out with a yummy-looking picnic under the trees before the crowds descended were The Nelson family who came from Chesterton and  West Lafayette, IN and from Evanston.

“We all came last year,” said Wendy Nelson, Evanston. The rest chimed in with “We enjoyed it so much wanted to do it again,” said Laura Nelson, West Lafayette; “You know, Purdue University,” husband Jeffrey said. They were there with parents Eileen and Roger Nelson, Chesterton. “I’m the patriarch,” said Roger.

The Nelson family, Jeffrey, Laura, Eileen, Wendy and Roger, arrived at Ravinia early to chat and find a choice picnic spot, Sunday.
The Nelson family, Jeffrey, Laura, Eileen, Wendy and Roger, arrived at Ravinia early to chat and find a choice picnic spot, Sunday.

By 4 p.m. the lawn was a sea of humanity. After the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture, a sterling piano performance of Concerto No. 1 by Simon Trpceskiand and the Francesca da Rimini fantasy, came the 1812 Overture with real cannons in a roped off area.

When the smoke faded and the last note played, some people left to catch the Union Pacific North Line train but that didn’t make much of a dent in the crowd that still enjoyed getting together and picnicking on the lawn.

“Great concert,” said a guy from Glen Ellyn on his way to the parking lot.

Well, there are a lot more chances to come to Ravinia, this summer.

Long time Highland Parker Dan Pierce, a former IL State Representative and former Highland Park mayor, strides outside Ravinia's pavilion Sunday.
Long time Highland Parker Dan Pierce, a former IL State Representative and former Highland Park mayor, strides outside Ravinia’s pavilion Sunday.

The CSO returns July 18 with Yefim Bronfman playing Brahm’s Piano Conderto No. 2. The orchestra which makes Ravinia its summer home, will be back for several more concerts including July 20-21 to play Beethoven and Sibelius programs.

BTW, Tony Bennett returns Aug. 4. Hootie & the Blowfish founder Darius Rucker is at Ravinia the next night, Aug. 5.

Santana, the famed guitarist of Latin, rock an jazz fusion, is there Aug. 11-12  and  heartland rocker/rock and roll hall-of-famer John Mellencamp is coming for the first time to Ravinia Aug. 26-27.

Ravinia Festival is at 418 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park. For more schedule information, tickets, prices and parking, call (847) 266-5000 and visit Ravinia.