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6 things to see at Ravinia this summer

Written by
Brent DiCrescenzo
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This morning Ravinia released its complete schedule for the 2015 summer season. There are about ten dozen events slated in Highland Park between June 13 and September 12. That's a plethora of picnic options. As always, the Ravinia Festival is largely fueled by nostalgia. More '90s acts continue to go to pasture in the lawn this year, dudes like Bush, Sugar Ray, Eve 6 and Better than Ezra, Rob Thomas. It's a lineup loaded with familiar faces—Chicago, Jackson Browne, Diana Krall. Classic rock and classical is the mainstay as always. It's a lot to take in. To help, we've boiled down some (relatively) hot, high-profile shows that should go fast when tickets become available to the general public on April 28.

1) Lady Gaga & Tony Bennett It's safe to say that more kids dig Tony Bennett now than at any point in his 50-year career; chalk it up to shrewd collaborations like this one, with pop's reigning auteur, Lady Gaga. The duo's jazz-standards release, Cheek to Cheek, finds both performers in top form—we expect the same at these Ravinia dates. After a show-stopping Oscars performance, Gaga is perhaps starting to realize that being the next Liza might have more legs than being the next Madonna.

2) Steely Dan The unexpected Coachella headliners play more familiar, wine-sodden ground in our town, balancing their smooth cruise jazz-pop with a dry wit. The Dan hasn't cut a record in a dozen years, but we just want to groove to "Peg" and "Bad Sneakers." It's a steep ticket price for a seat, but their demo can swing it.

3) Brian Wilson + Rodriguez The eternally boyish Beach Boys legend returns with a couple former bandmates, Al Jardine and Blondie Chaplin. Wilson has a new record, No Pier Pressure, that unsurprisingly features doo-wop songs about the ocean, and Zooey Deschanel. Opening is feel-good comeback story Rodriguez, who keeps mining gold from "Sugar Man" decades later. 

4) ZZ Top + Blackberry Smoke Last summer, an injury to Dusty, the bassist, the one with the beard, forced the Top to cancel its Ravinia gig.  We were bummed. The sharp dressed men still ply their trade on countless road dates, rehashing rock grooves like "Le Grange" and "Sharp Dressed Man" in trademark Amish-meets-roadhouse garb. Opening is Atlanta Southern boogie revivalist Blackberry Smoke, who find a groove between the Black Crowes and Skynyrd and rock it. It's one of the younger acts you'll find at Ravinia all season. 

5) Aretha Franklin The Queen of Soul (sorry, Beyoncé, that ain't changing) performs “The Great Diva Classics”, which is the theme of her 38th studio album. Expect ironclad R&B numbers like "At Last" and "Nothing Compares 2 U" (which features André 3000 on the record). Unfortunately, Diva Classics somehow does not include "Who's Zoomin' Who?" but there's always hope.

6) Sinatra Centennial Dust off those fedoras. Frank Sinatra Jr. (Youn' Blue Eyes?) pays tribute to Dad in what would have been his 100th year on earth. Sinatra's place in pop culture has yet to diminish. Bob Dylan just released an album of Sinatra covers. Junior is no slouch, either. Few have a better grasp of the big band style, which will be provided here by the Ravinia Festival Orchestra. I bet you can guess the closing number. Hint: "toddlin'."

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