Ravinia – Highland Park, IL
In what has become a yearly tradition, Lyle Lovett made his 16th appearance at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park on Sunday August 21st. I have had the pleasure to attend this a few times now but have previously always been in the lawn area. The lawn at Ravinia is typically a wonderful place to see a show, you bring a picnic, chairs, beverages of your choosing and you sit out under the stars to hear some great music. This year we were seated in the pavilion area and the difference in the experience is just staggering. In the smaller, more intimate setting you can really experience all that is part of a Lyle Lovett show, much more than just the music streaming through the speakers.
It may sound a cliché but a Lyle Lovett show really is an experience like no other. From the 14 piece Large Band who backs him, the impeccable production and sound, outstanding musicianship from all involved, and in the right setting, an audience who sits mesmerized by every word and every note. With hundreds of concerts in my past, a Lyle Lovett show is always much anticipated and fondly remembered.
Volumes have been written about Lyle Lovett and his genre hopping abilities and in a live setting that comfort with multiple styles is evident. A jazzy instrumental opening moves in to the classic standard “Stand By Your Man” followed by a downright dirty guitar duel to open “It’s Rock & Roll”, a song he penned with friend Robert Earl Keen. The evening continues with musicians and backup singers assembled in various configurations – a sparse group for the haunting “She’s Already Made Up Her Mind” and “North Dakota”, mandolin and fiddle for a bluegrass break, and the whole Large Band at other times.
One has to discuss the Large Band when talking about a show like this. There is a tremendous amount of talent up there on that stage including drummer Russ Kunkel and bassist Leland Sklar who between the two of them i think have played on just about everything. Singer Francine Reed is always a show stopper with her “Wild Women (Don’t Get The Blues)” and the rest of the crew does an outstanding job as well. Each is given many opportunities to be featured and it really is a band effort – Lyle obviously enjoys playing with these folks and it’s obvious that there is a tremendous amount of respect among all the musicians for each other. The arrangements are impeccable even with the whole band on stage and while it’s obvious that the songs are well rehearsed, there are also flourishes of improvisation as well.
Mixed in between the songs Lyle was also a wonderful host for the evening. Stories about the songs were interspersed and his humor shines through. Banter with the audience and the band was a big part of the show. A song dedication to a mother whose son had just left for Afghanistan was poignant and one of the more moving moments of the evening.
While there is always a little bit of variation, Lyle’s setlist doesn’t seem to change too much from year to year. That’s ok with me though, It’s sort of like watching a great movie you’ve seen before but you just can’t help but watch again if you have the chance. With each listen I just learn to appreciate them more. There is also a comfort in hearing these songs, they are old friends and once a year you get to spend a few minutes with them and be reminded why you love them so much.
As the show ended and the lights came up, the crowd buzzes as they discuss the highlights. My wife and I share our thoughts and we hear others do the same. As we walk back to the car, our faces hurt from smiling, our souls renewed from the music, we remember why we make the long journey to see this show – and vow to do it again next year.