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By Andy Argyrakis
The Ravinia round-up 2011:
Robert Plant, Steely Dan, Jennifer Hudson, Maroon 5 and many more
Mar. 15, 2011
When it comes to rock, pop, soul, jazz and country (not to mention classical, dance and fine art), Ravinia Festival is surely one of America's most diverse and treasured institutions. As has been the famed Chicagoland venue's tradition, this year's line-up once again seeks to blend a handful of annual favorites with several debuts and shows attached to special occasions. Though the series spans an entire summer, here's a snapshot of 20 top shows worth checking out in the midst of the inviting ambience.
The Judds - June 10
The famed country duo comprised of Naomi and her daughter Wynonna Judd has reunited on many occasions, but this summer marks the final encore of their farewell tour. While it remains to be seen if the harmony-laden ladies will actually hold true to that promise, there's plenty to love amidst their powerhouse pipes and a hit rich history anchored on the standard "Love Can Build a Bridge.
The Moody Blues - June 11
With over 70 million albums sold across the globe, The Moody Blues are amongst symphonic rock's most celebrated luminaries. Returning for the second year in a row, the English favorites are sure to conjure up oldies like "Nights in White Satin," "I'm Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)," "I Know You're Out There Somewhere" and "Your Wildest Dreams."
Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis - June 12
One of America's most prized ensembles teams with an undisputed jazz giant to usher in an unforgettable evening of grooves. Marsalis' latest record is titled From Billie Holiday to Edith Piaf: Live in Marciac, and if that title's any indication of his set list, except a wide reaching swath of legends spanning several styles.
Robert Plant - June 16
He won't be touring with Alison Krauss this time out, but Robert Plant and his Band of Joy continue in that collaboration's earthy tradition. Add in a smattering of Led Zeppelin classics re-arranged in roots rock contexts, and the legendary rock n' roller is an absolutely essential choice.
The Go-Go's and The B-52's - June 17
Neither ultra-fun '80s act has a new album at the moment, but there are plenty of hits to go around with the newly reunited Go-Go's and the always entertaining B-52's. Gear up for a "Vacation" from the former and a trip to the "Love Shack" from the latter, with loads of new wave nuggets mixed in between.
Deep Purple - June 18
With blues, progressive pop and good old fashioned rock n' roll in its repertoire, Deep Purple was a pioneering band of the late 1960s and '70s, maintaining a fervent audience through today. But no matter how many times the group tours, this outing will be backed by a full orchestra sure to put its own stamp on stalwarts like "Smoke on the Water.".
Daryl Hall & John Oates - June 26
The best selling duo of all time is earning an unexpected resurgence as of late, getting name checked by younger bands like Gym Class Heroes and appearing in indie circles such as the Pitchfork website and SxSW Festival. Touring in support of the box set Do What You Want, Be What You Are means plenty of deep cuts, in addition to all the usual suspects.
Maroon 5 - June 30 and July 1
The hits keep on coming for Maroon 5, as do the funk and soul beats that are just as likely to pulsate from the radio as they are to fill the dance floor. The arena dwellers are almost certain to sell out this pair of dates and be the season's most anticipated amongst younger audiences.
Peter Frampton - July 5
The most iconic live album of all time belongs to Peter Frampton and the guitar god guarantees he'll deliver a front to back rendering of Frampton Comes Alive, For those needing a refresher, that's the disc with key cuts like "Baby, I Love Your Way" and "Do You Feel Like We Do."
Ramsey Lewis Trio and Pink Martini - July 10
Ravinia regular Ramsey Lewis is always a season highlight thanks to his dexterity on the ivories and a tupperware tight Trio. But be sure to show up early to catch the dozen member jazz/classical/Latin collective Pink Martini.
Jennifer Hudson - July 16
Besides making her debut at the festival this summer, Jennifer Hudson will also show off her slim figure and songs from the brand new CD I Remember Me.The Chicago native is a platinum-selling "American Idol" star turned Academy Award winner and leader in the current soul/R&B scene.
Five For Fighting and Michelle Branch - July 22
It's hard to be nostalgic over the 1990s and early 2000s already considering they don't feel that long ago, but Five For Fighting and Michelle Branch's double header will recall the poppier side of that era. The piano pounding stylings of Five For Fighting evoke Billy Joel during his prime, while Branch is a sweetly wound singer/songwriter who went on to additional fame in country duo The Wreckers.
Steely Dan - August 12 and 13
Though this year marks Steely Dan's inaugural appearance, the booking seems like it was written in the stars long ago. The group's sonic smorgasbord of jazz, pop and rock is sure to sound superb on Ravina's crystal clear sound system and inspire sing-a-longs across cuts like "Peg," "Hey Nineteen" and "Reelin' In the Years."
Lifehouse - August 20
From its debut in the early 2000s through last year's Smoke & Mirrors, Lifehouse is amongst the most consistent and enduring acts at modern rock radio. Between driving guitars, building crescendos and front man Jason Wade's introspective lyrics, the band is sure to attract a youthful crowd ready to connect.
Tony Bennett - August 26
Every summer Tony Bennett hits the road and sells out his engagements from coast to coast. But there's no better place to catch him than Ravinia, and considering this year marks his 85th birthday, it's an incredible milestone sure to make the history books.
Chicago - August 27-28
The longest running band on the road (now that the Grateful Dead is retired) is celebrating its 44th year in the business. And with each passing season, the veterans seem to grow even stronger with their horn-infused hippie rock and booming ballads, all of which will be present during this double date homecoming.
Doobie Brothers - September 2
After touring with Chicago on numerous occasions, the Doobie Brothers return to the solo headlining ranks. The swamp rockers are also celebrating the release of its first record in ten years via the return to form World Gone Crazy.
Guster/Jack's Mannequin - September 3
Jam band fans will have plenty to celebrate as Guster turns in its laid-back blend of college rock and porch pop. Joining the trio will be alternative piano poppers Jack's Mannequin, the offshoot of punk favorites Something Corporate.
Carrie Underwood - September 4
Perhaps the most famous singer to emerge from "American Idol," Carrie Underwood continues her quest to rule the country music world, while also retaining a pop sensibility. This particular show is billed to be completely different from all her previous appearances, thanks in part to backing from an orchestra.
John Hiatt - September 11
Even though he's most regarded as a songwriter for the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt and dozens more, John Hiatt is an illustrious solo artist in his own right. Anticipate plenty of storytelling as he unveils timeless tunes like "Have a Little Faith in Me," "Perfectly Good Guitar" and "Cry Love."
For a complete list of performers and full concert details, log onto www.ravinia.org.