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One of the entrances to Ravinia Park
Highland Park, Illinois
|Years active||1904 to present|
|Founded by||Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railroad|
The Ravinia Festival is the oldest outdoor music festival in the United States, with a series of outdoor concerts and performances held every summer from June to September. In Ravinia Park's first summer of 1905, it hosted the New York Philharmonic, and the prairie style Martin Theater dates from this time period. It has been the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) since 1936. Located in Highland Park, Illinois, the festival operates on the grounds of the 36 acre (150,000 m²) Ravinia Park, with a variety of outdoor and indoor performing arts facilities.
The Ravinia neighborhood, once an incorporated village before annexation in 1899, is known as Ravinia, and retained its own post office until autumn 2010. The business district on Roger Williams Ave., within walking distance from the Ravinia Festival grounds, includes neighborhood service businesses and restaurants. Ravinia takes its name from the ravines found nearby along the shoreline of Lake Michigan.
In 1904, the A.C. Frost Company created Ravinia as an amusement park intended to lure riders to the fledgling Chicago and Milwaukee Electric Railroad. The amusement park boasted a baseball diamond, electric fountain and refectory or casino building with dining rooms and a dance floor. The prairie-style Martin Theatre (then called Ravinia Theatre) is the only building on the grounds that dates back to that original construction. When the park's existence became jeopardized following the railroad's bankruptcy, local residents (for the most part Chicago businessmen) formed a corporation in 1911 to purchase and operate the park. Music was a confirmed summer activity from then on, except for a brief hiatus during the Depression.
Over 100 years later, Ravinia Festival is the oldest outdoor music festival in North America and is lauded for presenting world-class music. The festival attracts about 600,000 listeners to some 120 to 150 events that span all genres from classical music to jazz to music theater over each three-month summer season. Over the years, the festival has hosted many famous artists. In addition to symphony concerts, often with guest soloists, the festival presents opera, jazz, blues, folk, rock, and popular music performances, plus ballet, drama, and educational programs which take place year-round.
Recent artists who have performed at Ravinia include John Legend, Aretha Franklin, Bryan Ferry, Diana Ross, Maroon 5, Common, Carrie Underwood, Tony Bennett, Lady Gaga, Josh Groban, Dolly Parton, Sheryl Crow, Patti LaBelle, Andrew Bird, Darius Rucker, Mary J. Blige, Gladys Knight, Santana, Stevie Nicks, Patti LuPone, Smokey Robinson, and John Mellencamp.
For most attendees, Ravinia is experienced on the 36 acre (150,000 m²) parkland and lawn. Ravinia is one of the few concert venues in the country to allow full meals to be brought in and consumed at concerts, even allowing alcoholic beverages. Accordingly, most grocery stores and specialty restaurants in and around the Highland Park area offer ready-to-eat "Ravinia picnics" for purchase.
The park is served by the Metra commuter railroad station Ravinia Park outside the front gate with special stops before and after concerts. (The noted British conductor Sir Thomas Beecham, who guest-conducted the CSO there in 1940, referred to Ravinia as "the only railway station with a resident orchestra.") Visitors get dropped off and picked up right at the front gate. Attendance often tops 600,000 annually.
James Levine was named "Conductor Laureate" in April 2017, to begin performances in summer 2018. On December 4, 2017, the Ravinia Festival severed all ties with Levine, in the wake of sexual abuse allegations against him, dating back to decades earlier at the Ravinia Festival.