Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Tommy at the Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, IL – June 23, 2018

The Ravinia Festival, Highland Park, Chicago, IL

June 23, 2018

. . . be one of the comfortable people.”

What a day for an ‘outdoor’ concert! Chicago is not known for ideal weather, but we’ve really lucked-out today. This is The Ravinia Festival, held in Highland Park, a suburb of greater Chicago. This is a longterm festival – running well over 100 years – making Tommy and The Who rather youngsters in perspective.

Highland Park is a stunningly gorgeous neighborhood, one of those expensive-but-not-ostentatious areas we’d all love to live within. Each house is different, large and well-maintained. And this festival is held right in the middle of that neighborhood, within visible distance of the houses. Yet they manage to get a few thousand people in and out successfully. We hear there are issues with noise and times, so we have a careful curfew that keeps us starting and ending on-time; fairly early.

The crew have a long day ahead; all-in-all we spend about 16 hours here today. The Pavilion is the stage and covered seats (A ‘shed’ we call them in the business) plus several thousand more seats outside on a lawn. I think there are 3,400 seats plus more on the lawn. However, it’s rather unusual – compared to the sheds you would know from your area – in that the lawn is around the Pavilion but sloped down and away – people on the lawn really can’t see the stage! There are two large video screens on each side, but from where I walked – even those are not visible to those on the lawn. You can hear well enough, so people just sit and listen, with blankets and baskets and drinks. Evidently, someone told me, it’s just a setting from the past, and it grew so much that it’s incentive to pay the expensive seat prices so you can actually see . . .

We have a great orchestra today, the Chicago Philharmonic. Many arrived quite early, no doubt being used to (and afraid of) long traffic delays coming out from the city of Chicago. From the moment they sat down, they stood out from the other players so far. We saw and heard many members reading through and practicing their parts, and doing really well with it. Smart musicians know to make it easier on themselves and prepare for their hardest parts, a little practice before the rehearsal.

At 2.00pm, the crew have to make sure everything is ready: band gear (normally a 4.30pm or 5.00pm soundcheck is normal for our typical shows) and the orchestral. The symphony orchestra runs through rehearsals and spends about an hour, then get the union-insisted half-hour break. At that point, we hand the stage over to Roger and the band. They spend the next 30 minutes setting their own sound for the current stage. Today, it’s no trouble, we have a good setup and are ready in more than enough time for the orchestra to wander back – who do so early, another sign of being professional and ready to work. We finish the rehearsal doing the last third of Tommy and the encores, and are done in less time than we’ve ever taken before. Nice. So it’s our break, with union-regulated ‘dark stage’ (no one can work or be active onstage) for an hour, plus a bit of time – hours, really, today – before we play at 8.00pm.

It seemed odd, as the doors opened at 4.30pm (the reason for our early schedule) which allows lawn-sitters to grab a spot and start the partying. That left three-and-a-half hours for us to kill, as we do. Happily, we were well-prepared . . .

Odd though, as literally 30 minutes before our show they had not opened up the seats to ticket holders!? At 20 ’til, they finally let them in, and people start sauntering in casually. We were warned that we could not hold back the show for 10 or 15 minutes (as we have at a few shows with traffic delays) as that would put us past the curfew. Luckily, 90 per cent of the seats filled in during the last 10 minutes and we went on to a gorgeous sunset, the most balmy weather, and pleasant people in seats. 

This was a quiet crowd tonight, they cheered Roger’s entrance, sure. And when he swings his first microphone of the night – a bigger cheer. But they sat and watched quietly, no standing/dancing crowds here.

If you’ve followed The Who, you’ve no doubt grown adjusted to a wide range of shape-shifting Tommys: the original album (referencing ‘Rael’ and ‘Glow Girl’ before it), the live 1969-70s abbreviated touring versions, the LSO live edition, the film soundtrack, the comeback tour, the Broadway musical, and sundry other ensembles who did operas or ballets, and even Roger’s own tour leaning toward the original album, sort of! A lot to digest, and we all have our favorites.

As hard as this tour has been on the crew (a tough one to get rolling,) the show itself is pretty stellar. Roger’s in GREAT form, Simon T brings a hell of a show himself, and the band and orchestra deliver each night. Until you can hear these arrangements – rock band plus the power of an orchestra – you may not get it. But it’s stunningly great at times. There is talk that it may get recorded or filmed – fingers crossed that it is; it would be a shame to have only cheap YouTube videos to see what’s happening at these shows!

It wasn’t until the VERY end, the powerful chords added to the show (David Campbell’s return to the very opening sequence after ‘Listening To You’) that this audience roared. It’s a strong finish (pre-encore) and really hits home how good this set can sound.

We have a nice day off – hopefully in the same weather, before we return to a second show at The Ravinia. Hope to see you at show 2!

Onward!

SET LIST

Overture
It’s a Boy
1921
Amazing Journey
Sparks
Eyesight to the Blind
Christmas
Cousin Kevin
The Acid Queen
Do You Think It’s Alright?
Fiddle About
Pinball Wizard
There’s a Doctor
Go to the Mirror!
Tommy Can You Hear Me?
Smash the Mirror
Underture
I’m Free
Miracle Cure
Sensation
Sally Simpson
Welcome
Tommy’s Holiday Camp
We’re Not Gonna Take It
See Me, Feel Me

Who Are You
Baba O’Riley
Always Heading Home