Ravinia, Highland Park, Il Aug. 14, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Ravinia Festival is located in Highland Park, Illinois, just north of Oak Park where Jackie and I were staying with Wendy, my best friend from 4th grade. Every year the CSO, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, has a summer concert series in this beautiful park. Jackie and I had been there a few years ago and loved Ravinia. We always ride the Metra Train from Oak Park, which is a fun tradition. My brother and sister-in-law, Martin and Kara, came with us on our trip to Chicago, and it was fun to show them one of my favorite cities Oak Park style. Riding public transportation is a refreshing thing, the trains are always packed and easy to get around on. And it's good for the environment and a reminder to me to carpool and conserve energy.

The train dropped us a couple blocks from the park and we walked with a good 100 people to the park. We had two bags full of our provisions for the concert. Wendy laid out a blanket earlier after rehearsal so we knew we'd get a good spot among the crowd. It was the biggest turn out we'd ever seen but the CSO had a special guest drawing the music fans, Yo-Yo Ma. Ma has performed at the Ravinia Festival for 14 years. At intermission, Wendy invited Kara and I backstage with the orchestra and conductor for champagne and snacks. It was really nice to be with the musicians sipping champagne and nibbling on the goat cheese and fruit. When the announcement was made that the show was gong to start up again, Kara and I headed out while Wendy grabbed her violin. She caught up with us and said, "Come here," and she followed Yo-Yo Ma in the door to the stage and said, "I want you to meet someone," and we turned and looked at the Grammy-winning Ma dressed in a beautiful Armani (it had to be) yellow suit with his bright red Cello. "This is Keeli, my best friend since 4th grade", and Ma hugged me even with his $50K bow in his hand and said, "Aw, it's nice to meet you, those friends are the best", and smiled. It was like butter. I said, "and this is my sister-in-law Kara," and he hugged her. We couldn't believe it. I still can't believe it...

Back to our dinner, under Wendy's advice, we took our backpacks over to the Whole Foods in Oak Park before we caught the Metra Train and purchased our picnic. Kara and I are big time patrons of specialty olives, goat cheese as well as cherries, strawberries and pineapple. Of course the boys wanted sandwiches, so we got them rye bread, organic spicy mustard and corned beef. I added some shaved turkey, of course. Two bottles of red wine and two pints of some kind of organic California beer finished off our purchase and we were out the door and walked the two short blocks to the train station. It took about an hour to get to Ravinia on the Metra Train but we didn't care, we opened up the wine and beer and sipped it along the way.

Wendy found the perfect place for our picnic, near the stage and the crowd was huge. The park was filled with about 1,000 people I'd say, lots of people with lawn chairs, tables, candles, yes, some patrons dined by candlelight, and there was quite an Asian crowd in attendance, too. In fact a young Asian mother scooted in behind us with her young old son, spread her blanket out and played chess. He was four, Martin asked his age. We were amazed. They also drank gingerale out of champagne glasses while listening to the concert.

It was fun making our sandwiches on our picnic blankets and watching the people. The concert started at 8 pm at sundown and was over at 9:30 pm. For you music fans, the CSO performed Mendelssohn No. 3 in A minor performed with out breaks between movements, Ma performed after intermission, DVORK Cello Concert in B Minor. It was great to be among a crowd that was literally quiet and really appreciating the music. I've been to many of Wendy's concerts over the years starting in 6th grade at Oklahoma City University when I saw her first performance. Wendy studied with the Suzuki method since she was 5, graduated from Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, and received a master's from Rice University in Houston.

Ravinia is a must for any music lover, other musicians like Sheryl Crow have performed there. You can get food, wine and rent lawn chairs and children are welcome, they were everywhere. We loved Ravinia, Yo-Yo Ma and Whole Foods. Check out the fabulous website www.ravinia.org.

Ravinia Festival, 200 Ravinia, Highland Park, IL, 847-266-5100 ravinia.org

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