Showing posts with label concert. Show all posts
Showing posts with label concert. Show all posts

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Highlights of Ravinia with ZZ Top and John Fogerty

When I first received an email about Ravinia, I have to confess that I had no idea what it was. I had heard of it, but didn’t think of it beyond being a venue in Chicagoland. I was certainly wrong about that.

Ravinia is actually the longest running outdoor music festival in North America. 

Unlike what you would normally expect from a “festival,” this one lasts for four months and has been taking place for over 50 years. It is also non-profit.

Each year, from June-September, Ravinia Festival schedules 140 musical performances, from classical to rock. 

Among those for 2018 are Diana Ross, Tony Bennett, and Seal.

My friend and photographer, Brittany, and I went through the schedule to decide which event would work best for us. 

We decided on the concert with ZZ Top and John Fogerty, neither of which we had ever seen.

We drove to see the event. I was not feeling my best and was immediately impressed with their complimentary and easy to find handicapped parking, for which I have a permit.

I continued to get even more impressed with the venue. Not only was the parking easy, but there was actually a Highland Park train station right there for those who didn’t want to drive.

Once inside, Ravinia is filled with food and drink – or you can bring your own. That’s something you rarely see at a music festival, but is encouraged here.

The lawn picnic at Ravinia is well-known to those who have been coming here for years with family and friends. 

Some bring snacks and sandwiches with wine and soft drinks, while others have elaborate spreads with bar.  

From the lawn (which is quite reasonable), you can’t really see the musical acts, but you can certainly hear them as you relax and celebrate.

If you are looking for a more traditional concert setting, there is also the (covered) reserved seats for a little more money (prices vary by concert, see the schedule here). The Pavilion has 3,400 seats. An indoor venue is also available for a few select winter concerts.

You also do not have to bring your own food, drink, or chairs to Ravinia. They rent chairs, the food court has a selection of offerings, and The Lawn Bar (just opened this year), offers cocktails, wine, and beer.

The concert we chose to attend was phenomenal. ZZ Top was playing at Ravinia for an unbelievable fifth decade. 

You certainly didn’t feel like you were watching 70-year old’s out there. They were fresh and fun, and the audience sang along to every number.

John Fogerty, though not as anxious to show his age, was also a top-notch performer who has also been around a long time.

He made his support of veterans and those currently serving well-known throughout the show, and it was clear the feeling was mutual.

Highland Park is located about 25 miles from downtown Chicago. Since we are another two hours from there, we decided to stay locally at the Holiday Inn Express in nearby Prospect Heights, IL.

Before we left in the morning, I couldn’t resist the opportunity in Chicagoland to stop at a New York style deli, something I can’t find in Champaign.

I decided on Once Upon A Bagel in Northbrook, and went home with some bagels, a knish, and a corned beef sandwich.

I’m looking forward to seeing at least another concert at Ravinia next year. Even if you don’t live near Chicago, it’s worth making a trip to town to see this one of a kind festival.

Visit the Ravinia website to see the schedule and purchase tickets. Don’t forget to check their special offers.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Soul Asylum at the House of Blues

Long before I wrote about travel, food, wine, spirits, or even tennis, I was an entertainment writer. I was young and it was a lot of fun going into New York City and seeing plays, movie previews, and concerts. I knew it wasn’t the kind of life that I could keep up with once I was an “adult,” but it was a great time for a while.

I’ve recently received a lot of opportunities to cover music. While I’m not going to make a full time job out of it and trips into the “city” – now Chicago – are not something I can handle nightly, I do like to go to a concert and meet a band whenever possible.

I was especially excited to see Soul Asylum and meet the band backstage at the House of Blues in Chicago.

My friend John accompanied me into downtown and we arrived early enough to do some exploring around Navy Pier and enjoy a cocktail or two.

When we arrived at the House of Blues, there was still plenty of time left before the concert so I asked for a tour. The only House of Blues

I had previously been in was at the Showboat in Atlantic City (it’s now closed) so I had a bit of an idea what the venue looked like. I was especially interested in seeing their Foundation Room as the one in Atlantic City had been one of my favorite clubs.

I found out quickly that, like a lot of other buildings in Chicago, the design here was very unique and fascinating.

While the outside of the building may look simple, the inside of the House of Blues is an architectural delight, especially when it comes to the “opera boxes” and upstairs lounge. It’s definitely worth going to a concert for that alone.

Unfortunately, I couldn't get any decent photos in here, but the oriental design and comfortable couch areas make it a special night spot.

If you are just looking for a bite before the show, the House of Blues also has a restaurant, Crossroads, with a casual menu. They even have live music in there.

As for the music I came to see, Soul Asylum was phenomenal. We sat in one of the opera boxes just above the stage, after we had a chance to go backstage and meet the band. They were very gracious and volunteered to take photos with me (read my interview with Soul Asylum here).

I’m excited to add more music into my coverage this summer, with Summerfest, the Illinois State Fair, and Riot Fest. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Beach Boys Still California Dreamin’ Decades Later

My first career in journalism began as a teenage entertainment reporter. I probably appreciate more now the things I got to do and see than I did as a kid at the time. 

Even though I was young, I was enthusiastic and not only worked as an editor of the Post Pioneer, but I managed to get myself a gig as an editor for the short-lived New York’s Nightlife Magazine.

One of my assignments was to cover a Beach Boys concert at the Nassau Coliseum (for those not familiar with Long Island, you probably know it as where the Islanders play hockey).

My photographer, Joe, and I had front row seats and press passes. While we were getting set up, a gentleman came over to me and said, “I’ve got a great story for you. Come with me backstage.”

That man was Bruce Johnston. He had recently started playing with the Beach Boys and was interested in getting me to write about his joining the group. Along with Bruce, I met Brian Wilson, Carl Wilson, Mike Love, and Al Jardine. They were about to go on stage and asked me to come to their after party.

I did go, with Joe, for a while, but it was easy to see they were more interested in partying than interviewing. I arranged the interview for another time and we ran it as a cover story in the magazine.

Recently I happened to hear that the Beach Boys were playing right near my new home in the newly renovated Virginia Theater. I thought it would be neat to see them again. I was not able to arrange another interview as they had to leave right after the show to travel to their next gig, but it was still a great experience to return to my youth – and theirs.

Obviously, Mike Love is 74 years old and not quite running around the stage the way he used to. I’m happy to say that his voice is still 100% there, as is Bruce Johnston’s.

They managed to include nearly every song they wrote in the two hours (there was a 20 minute break after the first hour). Many of those songs, like “Sloop John B,” “Wouldn’t it be Nice,” Good Vibrations,” ‘Help Me, Rhonda,” and “Surfin' USA” had the audience on their feet singing along.

Throughout the concert the audience was shown video clips of them through the years, as well as given tidbits about the band and history in general. I didn’t realize before that Bruce Johnston had won a Grammy for writing Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs,” or Mike Love spent time in India with George Harrison, who passed away from lung cancer two years after Carl Wilson died of the same disease.

It was also an interesting note that the first time The Beach Boys played in Champaign was at the original Farm Aid concert in 1985.

The show ended with the entire audience swaying, clapping and singing to two of the Beach Boys most popular songs, “Kokomo” and “Fun, Fun, Fun.” And, yes, I was one of those. Sitting up in the balcony rather than in the front seat allowed me to act like a fan rather than a journalist.

I hope I do get to re-interview the Beach Boys someday, but for now, I’m just glad that their still out there.

I also have to say that the Virginia Theater’s renovation is incredible. It’s kept the old charm of a Broadway style theater, with necessary updates. I’m looking forward to going back for a full tour of the venue -- and another great show.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Concert Time at Horseshoe Hammond

I’ve had a lot of interesting opportunities over the years. I’m always on the lookout to write about things I don’t often get to, so when I was approached by DKC, the public relations firm that I’ve worked with on Caesars and Harrah’s properties, I was ready to listen.

The offer was to not only check out the Horseshoe Hammond Casino just outside of Chicago, but to see a concert there – as a VIP. It’s an experience that is available to the public at reasonable prices (amount varies depending on the event).

I had even more reason to look forward to the night since two bands I really enjoy were playing, Staind and Theory of a Deadman.

John Uremovic, who handles marketing for the casino, met me at the entrance and gave me a tour of the property. I didn’t realize how big it was and how many different events they hold there, like the Brews at the 'Shoe beer festival in March.

I also wasn’t aware that the casino had a large Asian Gaming Room which has Pai Gow Tiles, Big Baccarat, and other games, as well as a Foo Noodle Bar. The casino even offers direct (free) shuttles from Chicago’s Chinatown.

We finished our tour in the Seven Star Lounge, reserved for the casino’s elite guests. It was very big and had a bar stocked with just about anything you could think of, though I just settled for a glass of one of my favorite wines, Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc.

I also made myself a plate from the buffet and John and I talked about the casino, one of few that doesn’t have a hotel attached, but offers beautiful views and other amenities. I also chatted with the bartender and a guest, both of whom made it feel like a second home until it was time to go up to the concert.

A few people told me The Venue was a great place to see a concert, and they were right. The floor had general seating (actually, standing) in front of the stage so everyone could feel like they were in an intimate nightclub right next to the band. They also had tremendous, screens on each side of the stage.

The areas above, where I was, were suites. I have been in suites in various entertainment and sports arenas and found these to be much more casual – as it should be with music.

There was a bartender pouring drinks and a selection of food from a small buffet, all of which was included in the suite ticket price. I’d say there were only 20 of us and there were extra seats and standing room so no one felt cooped up.

The concert itself was amazing. I had never seen either band live. Theory of a Deadman was a perfect opener and they had the crowd screaming when they performed “All or Nothing.”

Right before Staind went on, I was talking with someone in the suite who asked if I had ever seen Aaron Lewis perform live. I hadn’t and he told me to prepare to be blown away. It was amazing, especially performing hits such as “Right Here,” “Something to Remind You,” and “Country Boy.”

When they did “It’s been a while,” the entire audience was singing and dancing and I was right there along with them. The acoustics at The Venue are just phenomenal.

After the show, I went back up to the Seven Star Lounge for a glass of wine before I headed to the hotel. I wanted to wind down a bit and there were a few others from the concert who couldn’t stop raving about the event either.

I stayed at a Fairfield Inn in Hammond, Indiana, because I thought it would be closer to the casino than Chicago. While the hotel was fine, the ride to the casino was long (and an expensive cab). I’d suggest staying in Chicago as it’s an easier trip.

Horseshoe even provides free shuttles from various areas in Chicago. Check their website to see where the shuttle stops are located.

I will definitely be staying in Chicago on my next trip there. I’m looking forward to checking out the Jack Binion Steakhouse, which offers fine dining with incredible water views.

Friday, December 13, 2013

One Night Only: Back with the Bands

Those who have followed my work know that I streamlined my focus in the last few years from writing about tennis to mostly travel, wine and spirits. There’s actually much more to my journalistic background and I got to revisit it recently.

My first published writing was in college and it was all on entertainment. I wrote about theater, movies and celebrities, but most of it about music. I now describe myself as the “Almost Famous” (one of my favorite movies) kid, as I was way too young to really appreciate what was around me at the time.

I had finished high school early and spent the last of my teen years going to college full-time (Long Island University, Post) while I spent most of my nights at concerts. It was the 1980s and there was always plenty happening in music on Long Island and in New York City. I got to see a lot of it from the front row and backstage.

I was there for one of the final performances of Freddie Mercury, actually panning Queen’s show because, like everyone else, I didn’t know how sick he was with AIDs and thought he had just lost his edge. I watched a little known band named Van Halen open for Black Sabbath and predicted that they would make it further than the headliners. I partied (not as hard as they did) with the Beach Boys backstage.

One of my fondest moments was watching Pat Benatar make a music video in the middle of the night on a deserted railroad track in Manhattan for You’d Better Run. It was two o’clock in the morning and when she finished she answered all my questions and then made pasta in her trailer for the photographer and me!

I recently had a chance to relive that experience. Even though it didn’t turn out exactly like I planned, it was still nice to step back a bit into the world of music.

Last month, I spoke with Phil Paolino of the band ERA 9 for an articlein Urban Expressions magazine. I asked the Canadian lead singer if he was planning on playing in the U.S. anytime soon. Imagine my surprise when it turned out that they did have a gig coming up – an hour away from me in a little town called Illiapolis.

I was invited to come to the show at Bunkers Bar and have dinner with the band, who I was told liked to cook in their trailer after the show.

Unfortunately, not all the stars aligned for that trip. A friend who was going to accompany me canceled at the last minute and the forecast called for snow and freezing rain later in the night.

I did make it to the Bunkers Bar, a quite impressive venue that’s basically in the middle of nowhere outside of Springfield, Illinois. It was a fun and casual hall that allowed you to get up close with the bands.

First up was a local young singer named Jake Danella whom I really enjoyed. ERA 9 was up next and they were even better than the tracks I had heard online. While my first impression had been of Nickelback, they have a wide range of their own and Phil Paolino is a wonderful performer.

I spoke with Phil a bit after the show and he told me how much fun the band was having touring with and learning from Pop Evil. His enthusiasm brought me back to the teen backstage soaking it all in and dreaming of a future chasing rock stars.

I was afraid of driving home alone in the snow too late and there was still The Letter Black performing before Pop Evil so we were looking at a very late night dinner. I reminded myself that I was a lot older than I was that night with Pat Benatar as I said goodbye to the band.

It was nice to delve back into my first career, but I think I’ll stay where I am.