The first time I saw a concert at Ravinia was the first time I saw how seriously concert-goers take their picnics. Until this time, my idea of a picnic was a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a water bottle thrown in a backpack. But there I saw baskets that had been packed with a lot of care and effort. They consisted of “real food” such as; fried chicken, elaborate cheese trays, homemade desserts and bottles of wine. People arrived hours ahead of time to lay out their blankets, set up their lawn chairs, pour the wine and light the candles. Yes, light the candles… for a picnic. I was amazed; it hadn’t occurred to me that so much planning would be involved just to eat outside.
At least five years passed before I had reason to think about this again. In the summer of 2014, my JD invited me to an outdoor concert at Cantigny Park where the Chicago Sinfonietta would be performing. The concert was honoring the birthday of Colonel Robert R. McCormick, former owner and editor of the Chicago Tribune. “The Colonel’s historic estate” is now known as Cantigny Park and is also the home of the First Division Museum. I like classical music, I like being outside, and of course I said I would love to go.
I had heard of the Sinfonietta, but never heard them perform. Maestro Mei-Ann Chen is a passionate, expressive conductor and the Chicago Sinfonietta plays what I would call under-rated or “forgotten” pieces; pieces that you may have never heard live, or even heard of, but listening to the concert under the trees, in such an idyllic environment, you simply didn’t want the evening to end.
He had suggested we take a picnic, I Immediately agreed, thinking that we would just figure out how we were going to do this without a basket or lawn chairs. The one useful item I did have was a blanket that was nylon on one side, so good for laying on the ground in most conditions. We prepared a scrumptious meal to take with us. Still, I wondered how we would transport all of these goodies since we didn’t have a basket. When I showed up at my JD’s house, the problem had been solved. He surprised me with a beautiful lined basket equipped with everything for two; plates, wine glasses, silverware, and even space for two bottles of wine. I couldn’t stop smiling. It was perfect.
Adding to the Basket
We have seen the concert every year since its debut in 2014, and each year, we have become more practiced in our picnic-going. A couple of years ago, my JD had found two spiked wine holders, which he had won at a Secret Santa years before. We just stick them in the ground and the potential for spilt wine disappears. These are now permanent fixtures in the basket.
In our third year of attending this Sinfonietta performance, our basket was well-stocked, and I noticed increasingly elaborate spreads compared to years past. Some rivaled what I had seen at Ravinia; one party had three 6-foot tables set up in a U shape laden with salads and elaborate desserts. People beside us had a portable sitting table with a citronella candle. We decided to add these two items to our ensemble.
Ravinia and the annual celebration at Cantigny aren’t the only places in Chicagoland to listen to live music and bring a picnic. Every summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the Morton Arboretum hosts their “Wednesdays, Woods and Wine” series.
Eager to use our gear again, we set out one Wednesday evening. But as is prone to happen in Chicago, weather interfered. Thirty minutes before the concert was scheduled to start, the sky darkened, lightening flashed, and it started absolutely pouring. Just as we had gotten settled, we packed up again. We took cover expecting the storm to pass pretty quickly. It didn’t, so we became one of many determined picnickers who set up where we were. Several parties even set up in the lobby of the Visitor Center to enjoy their elaborate spread, or perhaps just a bottle of wine and a bag of pita chips. Everyone seemed to be having a good time despite the change of plans caused by the weather.
When they announced that the concert was cancelled for that night, we packed up once again to go home. The sights on the way out made us stop and take a look around. The entire area was flooded with sunlight reflecting off the wet surfaces, making everything seem bright and fresh. A rainbow stood out among the grey clouds and the trees were so vividly green that we may have been standing in a postcard.
I can’t wait to use our basket next summer. Eating outside with live music in the background is so much fun, and feels like a treat. Even our last outing to Morton Arboretum turned out just fine. We had our picnic on the covered balcony at home and watched it start to rain again.