This may come as a shock to some of my readers, but I had never been to Ravinia prior to last weekend. There are a few reasons why the outdoor musical oasis had eluded my patronage. Firstly, I had no idea of where it was or how close/far Highland Park was. Yes, I’m aware there are maps and these maps help show distance. The music I like hasn’t always aligned with the musical sensibilities (or lack thereof) of my friends. I am a mosquito magnet. I can procrastinate when it comes to concert tickets. All of these issues were wiped away when Leann surprised me with tickets to see a legend, Tony Bennett.
Backstory: In high school I hosted a jazz radio show. Mine was the only show that played jazz. Perhaps you can imagine the high esteem that this put me with my peers. The show had listenership upwards of 4-5 relatives depending on the day. One of the handful of calls I received from listeners in my three years hosting was from an older woman who wanted to give me her record collection. I gave her the station’s address and awaited the grandmother-load. Her records never came, which made me wonder if she died en route to my high school or just liked toying with young men who fancied syncopation.
Tony Bennett was on heavy rotation when I was a DJ. I grew up listening to Tony and purchased a few of his CDs once I had cash from working. He is beyond compare as one of the best. His only Chicago concert dates for the past several years have been Ravinia. The most recent dates were with Lady Gaga and I never pounced on tickets.
Every year I had a similar thoughts. He’s not getting any younger. How many more years will he be touring? This is my chance. Did that lady ever bring the records to the station?
This year included a few reasons to celebrate. Tony Bennett turned 90. I started a new job. Leann hasn’t killed me/gotten tired of my antics. I knew where Ravinia was located.
I heard tales of the epic spreads for picnic-ers at Ravinia. Almost everyone who mentions Ravinia will include the word “candelabra” when they tell you about their time there. Ask coworkers if they’ve ever been to Ravinia. If they don’t use the word “candelabra” in their remarks, I’ll come make you dinner.
Leann and I didn’t have a ton of time to prep (I procrastinate and live life on the edge of being a functional adult). We sliced up some cheese and picked up a pack of assorted gourmet crackers. For the main course, what’s finer a food than Portillo’s Italian beef and chopped salad? I also recently received a beautiful bottle of Astoria Prosecco DOC to review. What better beverage to bring to celebrate than bubbles from Italy?
For the wine fans in my audience, here are their notes:
- Perlage: tiny and continuous.
- Color: light straw yellow.
- Bouquet: elegant, clean-cut and fruity for the typical aroma.
- Taste: characteristic, pleasantly slightly acid, harmonious.
The winery was named Prosecco Winery of the Year at the 2015 New York International Wine Competition. Its award-winning Prosecco Treviso DOC scored 91 points at the 2016 Winemaker Challenge International Wine Competition and awarded Double Gold at the 2016 San Francisco International Wine Competition.
I used to concern myself about pairing the right wine to the food. After years of wandering the wine aisles, I have learned it’s more important to pair the wine with the event. The Prosecco was the perfect selection for this night of firsts. After a few days of heat and rain, the Saturday evening was clear and cool. Astoria Prosecco has a crisp taste and little bubbles make everything better.
My expectations of the concert were relatively low. I can’t do half the things I used to be able to do and I am only a third of Tony’s age. I feared his voice would show signs of his age. To my surprise, he’s still got it. At 90, the man can still hit the high notes. His range isn’t what it was at his peak, but he displayed his supreme talent and showmanship. His stellar band played 3-4 standards before he came onstage. Tony then sang song-after-song for a solid hour. The crowd (including Leann and I) rose to their feet after his performance hoping for a few more. He came out for a curtain call and jokingly told the crowd he had to save a little bit so he could come back next year.
For all the reasons I had not to go to Ravinia, all it took was a 30-minute trip to see one of the greats to change my mind. The staff is incredibly helpful if you’re taking the shuttle. I was going to use a strategy that normally works at tailgates. Cozy up next to someone with a stellar spread, then offer something as a trade/goodwill gesture. Most of the lawn space was spoken for by the time we got to the lawn. There was a pocket near a group that had a spread rivaling a tapas bar. We setup camp and I realized I didn’t know their language and was ill prepared for an evening of charades to snag a few slices of cured salami. I pivoted to the couple next to us ogling our onion rings. Their spread was far less impressive, but they had a cooler full of mysteries. I offered an onion ring, which was accepted but there was no offer of thanksgiving. We offered some Prosecco which was met with questions about what Prosecco was and what it tasted like. I chose spots and people poorly. This shall not happen next time.
Yes, there will be a next time. Ravinia is a fun time and an opportunity to celebrate summer, musical genius, the art of the picnic and the company of those you love. During a few of the songs I took a moment to look up to the celestial heavens and spot my favorite constellations as Tony’s voice filled the air. This was the good life.