Not only was the weather as near perfect as one would want in Ravinia tonight, but the performances we witnessed were a blast from the past. The Commodores, an amazing trio that got its start back in the 60’s, defining the MoTown sound, may not have one of the originals, Lionel Richie left to go solo, but the sound they created back then is as good as ever. In fact, like a fine wine, these men have truly become better with age. They are expert showmen, knowing what an audience is waiting for…and delivering every bit of what the Ravinia loyal wanted!
Their “Brick House” (their signature tune) was the longest version I ever heard at almost 8 minutes, but no one complained, and the ovation afterwards was most appreciative. Two of the original Commodores are still “doing their thing”; William King and Walter Brickouse- 48 years of percussion and drums and still has the energy of a man 1/2 his age. This is their debut and judging from the applause and the number of times the audience was up on their feet, I would have to guess that they will be back. They did almost an hour of musical memories such as “Nightshift”, “Still” and of course “Three Times A Lady”- Bravo! They are a “Mean Machine” yet!
After a short break, allowing for the stage to be reset, with a grand piano, a larger band area and a chaise lounge, we were greeted to a Ravinia “regular” (this is her 4th visit, going back in time to her very first in 1972- that’s 44 years ago!) Ms Patti LaBelle. She is still as spunky as she was back in her heyday and her voice and range are as powerful. There were a few mike problems with the hand-held, but a great sound technician improvised to make her sounds heard throughout the packed park. The lawn appeared to be sold out and the people who worked their way up to the Pavilion lined it wall-to-wall. She performed many of her biggest hits and had her back-up singers join in with solos- Brandon Winbrush is a solid voiced tenor that probably could go out on his own and enjoy success. The other members of her backing trio are Debra Henry Ramsey and Brenda Roy- both having powerful and soulful sounds.
Watching this woman work is a reminder of the desire she had to bring her music to the people. She was quick to emphasize that she just turned 72 and the energy we saw on stage just goes to show young people that getting older does not have to slow one down. In fact, I know from my own experience, I have more energy today than I had forty years ago. Age is only a number.There were several times, at least three, where we could see her get teary eyed. Her music is emotional and she is as well. I had a slight tear in my eye once or twice myself.
One of tonight’s highlights came when Ms LaBelle brought several men up from the audience. She lined them up and asked if they could sing. Then handed them a mike and each one did a few bars. “Soul Sister” is what they sang and some had some pretty nice voices. One of the gentlemen carried on some flowers and then he sang, she asked if he could dance. He said yes and the next three minutes allowed him to do a solo dance center stage. He could move! Now, he may have been a “plant” (set-up to be there), but everyone loved him and the reaction she had to him and he played off her well! Her rendition of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” was chilling bringing back memories of Judy Garland’s last appearance doing her signature song- this number alone was worth the price of the ticket at Ravinia, but all in all a solid evening: great weather, great talent and a great reason to be thankful for just being alive!
There are still some great concerts to finish out the Summer of 2016 season. Check out www.Ravinia.org or call the box office at 847-266-5100. Remember, you can pack a picnic and spread out on the massive lawn prior to the show, relaxing and making new friends, or you can buy a ticket in the Pavilion where you are face to face with the performer(s). The choice is yours, but either way, attending Ravinia is a memory that will linger on well after you get home.
photos by Russell Jenkins,Ravinia