Since 1904, Chicagoans have been flocking to Ravinia Festival in Highland Park for outdoor entertainment under the stars. While it’s known as the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Ravinia also hosts a wide variety of pop, folk, jazz and country artists. They even have a complete schedule of concerts for kids!
Want to make the pilgrimage this summer but have questions about making the most of your experience? After attending Ravinia concerts for almost twenty years plus working on their staff for a season, I’ve amassed some insider tips that I’m now going to share with you!
How you arrive depends on the show you’re going to see. For lesser known artists, it’s generally fine to drive directly to the park, but don’t even think about it for a pop night (i.e. Carrie Underwood or John Legend). On those nights, I highly recommend taking the Metra (stops right in front of the park) or utilizing Ravinia’s shuttle system.
The Metra schedule for the Ravinia Park stop varies, but note that if you’d like to arrive at a time not serviced, you can get off at Braeside (one stop south). From there it’s an easy 1/2 mile walk to the park. Plan to arrive early on a pop night. Gates usually open at 5pm, but check the schedule for exact times.
At the Park
You can sit in the Pavillion, but the real fun is on lawn! If you’re the first in your group to arrive, spread out your blankets and hoist a unique looking balloon for easy spotting. In general, people are respectful of saving ground space for those who haven’t yet arrived although again, it can get competitive on a pop night.
During the concerts, feel free to chat, eat your fabulous picnic spread, or even get up and dance, should the mood strike. The exception for this is a classical night, when Ravinia encourages an atmosphere that’s more like an orchestra hall rather than an outdoor free-for-all. Ushers will walk around with “Quiet, please” signs to preserve the peace. If you’re going to a classical concert with hopes of socializing, arrive early to do your partying before the program starts.
What to Bring
For a complete list of what you can/can’t bring, consult the official FAQs.
Picnicking at Ravinia is a great opportunity to pull out all the stops. Sure, some people pack linens/china/silver/crystal, but most attendees just bring a picnic set. I recommend a backpack set like this one by REI. Another must-have at Ravinia is this handy Table in a Bag by Crate and Barrel (in fact, Northbrook-based C&B used to call it the “Ravinia Table”!) Bonus – it’s 10% off until June 30th.
Feel free to bring your favorite wine or microbrew. Also note that coolers are ok (wheels are a must…the walk can be long!). The park is sprayed for bugs, but a citronella candle is a great way to stave off the hardy ones while adding some ambiance.
Don’t want to bring anything? You don’t have to! Tables and chairs are available for rent, and there are several restaurants on the premises where you can purchase a meal (and wine!) to go.
Leave the park as pretty and pristine as you found it. Bring a garbage bag to tidy up at the end of the night. On your way out, place your garbage bag in or next to a trash can…the grounds crew will thank you for it! (We could always tell what genre of concert had been the night before, by the type of trash that was left behind…sad but true.)
Photo credit: Ravinia Festival