Heading to Ravinia Festival this summer? With so many great shows coming up (Earth, Wind and Fire, Sarah McLachlan, Willie Nelson, Crosby, Stills and Nash, ZZ Top, Train, of course the CSO just to name a few) it's good to be prepared for your Ravinia experience, particularly if you have never been there before.
First, know that you will be outside. This of course means be prepared for the weather. Highland Park is often a bit cooler than other suburbs or even the city, so having a jacket or blanket is definitely a good idea. I also suggest bringing some sort of rain gear. Your ticket is non-refundable in the case of bad weather but it is good to be prepared, plus my murphy's law mantra is if you are ready for rain it won't come (just like if you forget your sunglasses it will likely be very sunny).
If you have pavilion tickets you can pretty much just show up. If you are hungry or thirsty there are a plethora of choices including dining at one of their gourmet restaurants (several take reservations). However, keep in mind that you cannot bring food or drinks into the pavilion. Also, know that you cannot enter the pavilion midsong, you must wait for it to end (similar to how you cannot get to your seat at a Blackhawks game until a play is over). This can be a real issue during a CSO performance. When I have pavilion seats I still bring along my picnic gear and set up on the lawn. I prefer to relax in the lawn for much of the evening and head into the pavilion for several songs to get a good view.
If you plan on sitting on the lawn here is my bring-along-list:
When you pack up your cooler you literally can bring in any sort of food or drink you like. It's my favorite thing about seeing shows at Ravinia - not being at the mercy of a concession stand that only sells junk food. Though if you choose, you don't need to bring anything. The Ravinia Market is a great place to grab a bite to bring back to your lawn area, and there are a number of other places to find delicious food and yummy cocktails.
Particularly if you have children (or even if you don't) the lawn is a lovely place to be at a Ravinia show. If you plan on sitting on the lawn the best thing to do is arrive before gates open (check the website for time) and enter early to find a good spot. What is a good spot? That's the interesting part. On most of the lawn you actually cannot see the stage, though I was just there for Robert Cray/John Hiatt and set up just behind the back of the pavilion adjacent to the center aisle and I actually had a good view. Select shows have big screens set up on the lawn, so if you arrive early you can find a good viewing spot. No matter what you will hear the show, Ravinia has one the best sound systems of any outdoor concert venue. Know that you are allowed to stand and watch the show behind the pavilion, so I recommend taking a stroll up there during the show at some point.
Speaking of taking a stroll...that's something I do every time I see a show at Ravinia. The grounds are gorgeous. Once I set up my lawn area and pour my first glass of wine I like to walk around. I love seeing the art, flowers and also what other people bring (gives me idea's for my next Ravinia experience). The gift shop is spectacular. And if you forget something like glasses or a corkscrew they've got you covered. They also sell nifty coolers and other items to help make your Ravinia lawn experience even better. If you have never been to Ravinia then a stroll around the grounds is a great way to discover all of the dining options (there's a great ice cream booth my kids love) and note where there restrooms are located. Plus, if you do arrive early you have plenty of time before the show begins, who wants to sit stagnant for two hours?
Ravinia has a spectacular line-up this summer - so awesome that many shows are completely sold out or just sold out in the pavilion. But there's still a way to get in: Lawncierge. This experience just began last year and let me tell you it is fantastic! A lawncierge ticket gets you into a tent containing comfy couches, heaters, a premium open bar and endless gourmet food. The only negative is that it's fairly far from the stage so there's no visibility, however you are not trapped in that tent so you can stroll to the stage as often as you'd like. Some people splurg for both lawncierge and pavillion - that way they can eat and drink in style and then enjoy the show. But the nifty thing about lawncierge is that even if a show is sold out you can still get in. Check www.ravinia.org for availability.
If you live in the city or anywhere along the Union Pacific North Metra Line (Chicago to Kenosha) then taking the train is the wisest way to get to Ravinia. It literally drops you off right at the gate. When looking at the schedule it's the Ravinia Park stop that drops you at the front gate however the Braeside and Ravinia stops are also extremely close. When you are ready to leave just check video screens at the West gate for train departure times. If you drive, you can park in the West lot but its 1800 parking spots fill up rather quickly. There is a parking fee of $20 for pop and jazz show or $10 for classical concerts in the pavilion (free for Martin Theatre, Kraft Kids Concerts and dance concerts). The West Lot opens one hour prior to published park opening time. Another option is to use their Park 'N Ride lots. Parking is free and free shuttle buses run from the remote lots 30 minutes before the opening of the Park each evening, and continue to operate throughout the evening (buses do NOT operate for Kids Concerts, dance events in the pavilion or Martin Theatre concerts). The buses are handicap-accessible and will accommodate your picnic gear. Click here for all of the parking details including a map.
If you become a donor then you are able to enter the park before the public and park your car in special lots among other perks - plus, you will be supporting a marvelous organization. Find more information here.
Hope this list helps you prepare for your Ravinia experience. Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention that Chicago's 100.3 gives you an hour of nonstop music every afternoon during the 5pm hour called the Ravinia Ride Home!