Ravinia cancels 2020 season due to coronavirus pandemic

The annual summerlong music festival in Highland Park announced that more than 120 scheduled shows as well as education programs will be affected.

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A June 14 concert by Jill Scott at Ravinia is among the 120 shows at the summer festival canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

A June 14 concert by Jill Scott at Ravinia is among the 120 shows at the summer festival canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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The 2020 Ravinia Festival in Highland Park has been canceled.

The move is the latest large-event casualty of the coronavirus pandemic, joining the cancellation of Chicago’s blues and gospel festivals, announced last week.

“There just is no way that we could make this [happen],” said Ravinia president and CEO Welz Kauffman about Friday’s announcement. “We’ve been wracking our brains trying to figure out how to make the social distancing work and ensure the safety of everyone who comes here — the kids and families, the artists, staff and our neighbors. There was just no way to do it. ... And many artists have already canceled their 2020 tours.”

The season shut-down is the first one since the Great Depression forced the now 116-year-old festival to close its doors from 1932 to 1935.

Ravinia’s 60 full-time staff are being redeployed from their usual duties to handling the cancellation, upcoming developments and next year’s festival plans. “We decided that furloughing was not the way to go,” Kauffman said. Nearly 600 seasonal workers needed each year for the festival will not be hired.

Kauffman said the cancellation was a unanimous and heartbreaking decision by the festivals’ board of directors.

“How was anyone even going to get here?,” Kauffman said. “Nobody’s going to get on a Metra train and then stand in lines to get bags checked and tickets taken one at a time.” Nearly 60,000 people ride Metra to the festival’s front gate each year. Overall, more than 500,000 people attend the festival annually.

This season’s lineup was announced March 12 for shows June 12-Sept. 16. Jill Scott, Patti LaBelle, Ms. Lauryn Hill, Tony Bennett, John Legend and Rodrigo y Gabriela were among the acts that had been booked, in addition to a full summer residency by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the baton of the festival’s newly appointed chief conductor and curator Marin Alsop.

In addition, Ravinia’s famed Steans Music Institute, the summerlong teaching/performance conservatory for young artists, is also shuttered for the year. Plans for online music and educational programming are in the robust discussion stages, Kauffman said.

2020 also marks Kauffman’s final season at the helm of the festival after 20 years, and though he would not comment about his departure, he offered enthusiastic support for the 2021 season.

“I’m just going to continue to work through the particular aspects of the 2020 [season] and then the focus will shift to 2021,” Kauffman said. “I hope I’m able to leave my successor or successors something they can feel good about, and that does mean keeping as much in place from this summer for next summer. We just don’t know yet. In many ways it’s easier to just move someone from one year to another than it is to start fresh. And this season is one we and our audiences were very excited about.”

To date, Kauffman said at least a dozen artists have already requested rescheduled dates for 2021, though he would not elaborate. “We’re still working through all of this.”

Ticketholders can get refunds or vouchers for future performances by calling the box office at (847) 266-5100. Donors are being contacted directly. Patrons can also consider donating their tickets back to Ravinia to help fund outreach programs.

NOTE: WTTW-Channel 11 will broadcast the 2018 Ravinia production of Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass” featuring the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Marin Alsop and starring Tony Award-winner Paulo Szot as The Celebrant, at 9 p.m May 15 as part of the PBS “Great Performances” series.

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