One of Ravinia Festival’s mottos has long been “something for everyone,” and this year’s lineup comes pretty close to that goal, judging by the lineup of classical, pop, country, jazz, hip-hop and R&B artists slated to perform at the venerable, summerlong music fest.
Ravinia officially opens May 31 with a concert by Chicago jazz legend Ramsey Lewis & the Urban Knights, the venue announced early Thursday.
Among the more than 140 concert events planned for the season are pavilion headliners Kesha (Sept. 8), Lionel Richie (June 11-12), Queen Latifah and Common (Aug. 31), Morrissey (Sept. 14), Lady Antebellum (July 10), T.I. (July 2), Josh Groban (June 7), Weird Al Yankovic with the Ravinia Festival Orchestra (July 28), the Lucerne Symphony Orchestra (Aug. 19-20), the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (Aug. 16), Pentatonix (Aug. 15), Tony Bennett (June 21, in his 40th Ravinia concert), Counting Crows (June 29) and Buddy Guy with Blues Traveler and Shemekia Copeland (June 14).
Renee Fleming returns to Ravinia July 28 to star in the Chicago premiere of “Penelope,” a one-act piece by Tom Stoppard and the late Andre Previn (with his final commissioned work), described as an “opera of sorts.”
In all, more than 70 acts will be making their Ravinia debuts this year.
“I’m not sure I ever really start off planning any season with a specific thought in mind when it comes to the programming other than the driving force that is our mantra: something for everyone,” said Ravinia CEO Welz Kauffman. “Our season continues to be something for audiences of all ages, local audiences and regional audiences. … There are very few [venues] that can do what we do. You can hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra here and you can hear Maxwell [July 9] here — the location is the same but the vibe takes on a whole new personality with each artist. I think that is truly unique and what makes a concert at Ravinia such an experience.”
All ages includes kids, and Ravinia’s children’s programming this year includes its acclaimed Kids Concert Series, this year featuring Vy Higginsen’s Sing Harlem Choir (June 8), the Mames Babegenush Klezmer band (Sept. 2), the Ko-Thi Dance Company (June 16), the Catskill Puppet Theater (June 22) and Stars of the Peking Acrobats (June 26) among the highlights.
Fiesta Ravinia, the daylong celebration of Mexican culture, returns Sept. 15, with Latin cuisine available throughout the park, mariachi bands, children’s shows, a Mexican-American art show, Luchadores wrestling, stand-up comedy and music.
On the classical music front, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra begins its summer residency at the Highland Park venue with a July 12 concert in celebration of Leonard Bernstein’s 101st birthday, performing the score to a screening of “West Side Story,” with David Newman conducting. On July 14, Oscar and Grammy Award winner Jennifer Hudson makes her debut with the CSO as the featured soloist for Ravinia’s annual Women’s Board fundraising gala.
Guest conductors on the podium this year will include Marin Alsop, Peter Bernstein, Lionel Bringuier, James Gaffigan, Rafael Payare, Itzhak Perlman, Thiago Tiberio, Krzysztof Urbański, and Long Yu.
Also new to Ravinia this year is the opening in July of the 9,500-square-foot RaviniaMusicBox Experience Center, a new structure (adjacent to the dining pavilion on the former site of a North Lawn event tent) that will house a 65-seat immersive, 360-degree theater, a lobby/foyer and a gallery. The theater “experience” was created by the Bob Rogers Company, the artists behind the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum in Springfield, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and the Ryman Experience at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. No lawn space has been affected by the new structure.
“It’s been about 10 years of research that brought us to this moment,” Kauffman said, adding that “the actual experience will be something to behold. We realized people are coming to the park earlier and so they’re spending more time here overall even before the concerts start. We felt that an [multisensory] experience would add another marvelous layer to their overall visit.”
The 15-minute, timed entry to the center is free to all patrons (tickets are required, however, and available at the box office and at the Experience Center entrance). The first gallery exhibit will be the Grammy Museum’s “Leonard Bernstein at 100” exhibit, featuring personal items from the iconic composer’s life and career (including the desk where he wrote “West Side Story”).
For the complete 2019 season schedule, visit ravinia.org. Tickets will go on sale to Ravinia donors beginning March 19. Tickets will go on sale to the general public beginning at 6 a.m. on May 7 for May, June, and July concerts, and at 6 a.m. on May 8 for August and September concerts, exclusively at ravinia.org.