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The Ravinia Report:
Fan favorite festival reaches
progressive peak in 2008

By Andy Argyrakis
Robert Plant and Alison Krauss April 9, 2008

Anyone who's ever been to Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois can attest to the stellar acoustics, beautiful surroundings and being the perfect place to pop open a bottle of wine for kicking back under the stars. But the ongoing concert series spanning this entire summer not only packs in the aforementioned elements, but one of its most ambitious pop, rock, jazz and blues line-ups to date. Though there's practically an event of some genre every night of the 2008 season, here's this critic's pick for some of the more familiar faces, followed by a list of additional acts of prominence that have thus far been announced:

Robert Plant and Alison Krauss/ Wednesday, June 18
One of the most unlikely combinations of 2007 turned out to be one of the most successful, both on the charts and with fans of each act. The Led Zeppelin leader and current bluegrass/alternative country queen turn in a true charmer on the recent Rising Sand (Rounder), which is basically the duo's original stamp on a series of obscure covers. Beyond takes on tunes by Tom Waits, Sam Phillips, Townes Van Zandt and the Everly Brothers, the true treat could be their attack on solo material in collaborative contexts.

Boz Scaggs and the Blind Boys of Alabama/ Friday, June 27
Pop/jazz giant Boz Scaggs rarely hits the road, but he's back in full steam plugging the recent Hits! (Sony). From the "Lido Shuffle" to the "Lowdown," his jams are unmistakable, while ballads like "Look What You've Done To Me" are sure to showcase his sterling blue eyed soul. Enduring blues icons The Blind Boys Of Alabama open, tipping their hats towards the Buddy Guyongoing recovery efforts in the Crescent City off the like minded CD Down In New Orleans (Time Life).

Feist/ Friday, July 11
A Ravinia Festival first, Feist is a safe bet for eclectic indie rock tastes, sure to dive heavily into to solo cannon, such as 2007's blockbuster The Reminder (Cherry Tree). And she could also dust off tunes from previous time in Broken Social Scene and Kings of Convenience wrapped around her smoky vocals (akin to Cat Power and Peaches).

Sheryl Crow/ Sunday, August 10
Speaking of New Orleans, the famed city also gets a shout out on Sheryl Crow's new offering Detours (A&M). Though it still possesses the pop radio appeal of previous projects, the collection offers sparser production and more instrumental variation. However, the sun soaked "All I Wanna Do," "Everyday Is a Winding Road" and "Leaving Las Vegas" are likely to follow closely behind.

Tony Bennett/ Friday, August 22 and Saturday, August 23
This annual favorite may be advancing in age, but he never disappoints with aSherly Crow debonair demeanor and classic catalogue that puts him right up there with fellow old school icons Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. His frequency of recording may have slowed in recent years, but 2007's Tony Bennett Sings The Ultimate American Songbook, Vol. 1 (Sony Legacy) is a potent example of his remarkably preserved vocal range.

Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang/ Thursday, August 28
The blues are back this season with an impressive double header, pitting the local leader against the younger axe-slinger. Of course, each act's styles are distinctively different, from Guy's smoldering grinds to Lang's interjection of contemporary soul into past pedigrees. Though the two are slated for separate sets, there's always the chance for a tag team (especially considering fellow fresh blood John Mayer sat in on several of Guy's recent sets).

Dave Stewart/ Friday, August 29
Though Annie Lennox may have been the breakout solo star from the Eurythmics, her musical partner in crime Dave Stewart also released a handful of impressive alt-rock recordings. In recent years, he tackled everything from songwriting to acting to producing, including a major stake in Ringo Starr's latest CD Liverpool (Capitol). A trip down memory lane is likely to be in order, though it will be fleshed out with a thirty piece orchestra.

Aimee Mann and Squeeze/ Sunday, August 31
After an ill fated holiday outing, troubadour Aimee Mann returns to what she does best and that's stick to original storytelling channeled organic indie rock reflections. But the true treat on this bill is the long awaited reunion of English new wavers Squeeze, or perhaps more accurately, its two primary singers/songwriters Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook. Neither original keyboardist Aimee MannJools Holland or his replacement Paul Carrack will be on hand, though "Cool For Cats," "Up the Junction," "Tempted' and "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)" are sure to sound stellar.

The 2008 Ravinia Festival also includes: James Taylor on Friday, June 6 and Saturday, June 7; Roberta Flack and Isaac Hayes on Friday, June 13; Kenny Loggins on Sunday, June 15; Willie Nelson on Friday, June 20; The Dave Brubeck Quartet and Ramsey Lewis Trio on Saturday, June 21; Matisyahu and The Wailers on Thursday, June 26; The Four Tops and The Temptations on Saturday, June 28; Poi Dog Pondering on Sunday, June 29; Lyle Lovett on Saturday, July 12; The Beach Boys on Monday, July 14; John Hiatt on Friday, July 18; Gipsy Kings on Saturday, August 2; Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys on Friday, August 8; BoDeans on Saturday, August 9; UB40 on Wednesday, August 20; Donna Summer on Saturday, August 30; Kronos Quartet featuring Glenn Kotche of Wilco on Wednesday, September 3.

For a complete list of performers and full concert details, log onto www.ravinia.org.

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