Umphrey’s McGee has announced they’ll be playing Ravinia this summer, an outdoor park-like venue set in Highland Park, IL right off the train line that takes you north out of Chicago. Just a few stops away from the northern most tip of Chicago proper, Ravinia is the type of venue where your parents would go see Hootie and the Blowfish and bring a few bottles of wine, a few food spreads to pass around, and a nice blanket and set of candles to get comfortable in the grass. The venue itself is a small amphitheatre in the heart of it all, with sight lines that are only possible if you’re actually in the pavillion for the show. The rest of the audience can hear the show in a pristine setting out in the park depths with PA speakers taking the sound from FOH and pushing it through the trees.

Joel Cummins has some personal experience with the venue and wrote something up for the band’s blog:

Growing up outside Chicago, visiting Ravinia Festival annually became a tradition for my family. Whether we listened to the Chicago symphony, world music or legendary artists of the time, the experience of Ravinia was like nothing else in the US. At it’s heart, the gorgeous lawn seating area, which incidentally welcomes you to bring as big of a spread of food & drink as you would like, becomes the greatest party of families and friends as the concert goes throughout the night. Though the lawn is unique in that the stage / performance are not visible, the huge trees & nature that envelop the sound remind you that sometimes you don’t need to look, you just need to listen.

My first thought is a similar one that a few of the fans have had — there is almost no way an Umphrey’s McGee crowd will intuitively know how to treat this park with the respect and delicacy that it deserves. While Joel mentions that this is the type of place that has hosted “Frank Zappa, Steely Dan, Sting, Aretha Franklin, Hall & Oates and Robert Plant,” it’s also the type of place where the median age in the audience is definitely pushing retirement and I’ve known plenty of parents of friends or even my ex in-laws that would go simply for the park atmosphere with no concern with what band is actually playing on stage at the moment. I saw a Los Lobos show there that was pretty cool, but you best believe they didn’t do their cover of “Bertha” and instead opted to encore with “La Bamba.”

So for UM, maybe they open with “Wizard Burial Ground” to let the neighbors know what’s up?! I can see that happening.

Umphrey's McGee – Wizard Burial Ground – 5/23/2009