I was pleasantly surprised to hear that during my first weekend in Chicago, two events were going on that I had enormous interest in attending. The first was the 20th Lollapalooza music festival held in Grant Park. Consequently, about 90,000 of these people were clogging the highway as I rode into town. I was saddened when I found out that the festival was sold out and scalpers were charging upwards of 200% of the face value for tickets. I figured I could just wait for next year.
The second event was a free concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Ravinia Festival held at a beautiful park about 45 minutes north of Chicago. In addition to the phenomenal atmosphere and summer schedule, what I found most appealing about Ravinia is that it allows its attendees to bring their own food, beverages, and seating for the lawn. This is unheard of back home in New England where the security personnel make the TSA look innocent.
Not wanting to be outdone by veterans, I concocted a menu of fresh, summer ingredients. For an appetizer, we ate sourdough bread with bruschetta and smoked cheddar cheese with some red grapes. Our main course was a basil pesto pasta and for dessert, we ate cherry pie. My parents bought us a picnic backpack as an engagement gift and although it does not get as much use as perhaps we would like, you can see in the picture below that it comes with pretty much all you would want for a two person meal.
I had bought our bottle of wine about a year ago during our vacation to Niagara Falls. We stopped at the Benchmark Restaurant located in the culinary school at Niagara College where they have their own teaching winery. Here I had tasted one of the most delectable bottles of Pinot Noir I had ever tasted in my life. Although for the price point, there are probably better bottles out there, but I like the idea of supporting a student winery. If you are ever in the Niagara area, I highly recommend stopping by their store and tasting a few of their wines. Our bottle was a 2007 NCT Dean’s List Pinot Noir.
When I had first heard of the concept of picnicking in the park, I imagined that many people brought only a small cooler, some folding chairs and a sheet to lay out on; you know, normal picnic stuff. I couldn’t have been more wrong. People were carting in wagons full of equipment, bags bursting with food, and 10 and 15 gallon coolers. Below are two of my favorite tables. What impressed me most was these folks took the time to bring a small bouquet of flowers, candles, and tablecloths (and crew socks pulled up with shorts?).
The park gets crowded quite quickly. For an 8 o’clock concert, we arrived at 5:30 and could only find seating towards the back of the shaded area. In the pictures below, you can see the mass quantity of people who filled in behind us as well as my favorite sculpture that I found on the grounds.
The pavilion area of Ravinia was unexpectedly elegant. The festival not only hosts the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for the summer, but also includes acts such as Guster, Steely Dan, Jennifer Hudson, and other pop, rock, blues, and jazz acts.
If you live in the area or plan to visit Chicago during the summertime, I highly recommend you see if there is anything of interest to you at Ravinia. It’s easily accessible by train from the city and parking could not be easier. Just ensure that you plan ahead and make an easy dinner that can be grazed and enjoyed for hours.