Alfresco Tunes: The Ravinia Festival

From jazz to rock to soul, you can hear it all at North America's oldest outdoor festival.

The Ravinia Festival, a summerlong outdoor music series with multiple concerts every week, takes place in Highland Park, 25 miles north of Chicago. Ravinia rookies should know these six things.

Why It’s Big

For more than a century, the nonprofit Ravinia Festival has been presenting performances by some of the world’s greatest artists across a variety of genres at Ravinia Park. You might hear Itzhak Perlman’s violin, John Mellencamp’s classic rock, Aretha Franklin’s 1960s soul or OneRepublic’s modern sound. There’s something for every taste; look for the schedule of acts in late spring.

 

What to Pack

If you’re sitting on the lawn, bring food and drinks (including alcohol) in ice-filled coolers, as well as chairs, blankets and folding tables. Veteran concert-goers style elaborate spreads with candelabras, cheese, charcuterie plates and even vases filled with fresh-cut flowers. Board games, decks of cards and iPads (there’s free Wi-Fi) can help pass the time until the show starts. Remember, you’ll have to carry everything in and out through crowds and along twisty paths and grassy areas. Expect bags and containers to be searched. 

 

Where to Eat

If you’re sitting in the pavilion or would rather not haul in food and drinks, the park offers on-site options, including a full bar, sit-down restaurants, an á la carte market, food carts and an ice cream shop. Look for more casual dining options in 2018.

 

How to Navigate

If you plan to sit on the lawn, arrive when gates open (check for the time) to stake out a spot. Collapsible wagons, coolers with wheels or backpack coolers make for easier transportation.

You can also rent chairs and tables online; it costs less than day-of rentals. And, if you rent, Ravinia takes care of the lifting. If you’re meeting a group, bring a balloon to help friends find you.

 

How to Get There

By train

Metra’s Union Pacific North Line stops in front of the park’s entrance, and extra trains run on concert nights. (Metra sells round-trip tickets from downtown to the park.) 

By car

There’s limited on-site parking, and the lot quickly fills up. Consider parking in the Highland Park Metra station lot and taking the free shuttle. It’ll drop you off at the gate. 

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