Shortly before the Prairie Home Companion show earlier this month at the Ravinia Festival, Garrison Keillor and Andra Suchy warmed up the adoring audience by singing while strolling the pavilion aisles and into the lawn. "These are the better behaved people here," Keillor said of the outdoor crowd, "ones that can be trusted without adult supervision."
Wednesday night, that wasn't necessarily true.
Near the end of the Swell Season concert at Ravinia, the duo's male half, Glen Hansard, invited people from the lawn to come down to the front of the stage and sing along. Throngs of them took him up on it, bypassing security and bringing the show to a halt while Ravinia officials tried to thin out the mob.
"I've come to call that show Chaos in the Suburbs," said Howard Greynolds, the Swell Season's Chicago-based manager, on Thursday. "Glen saw this crowd of people three and four deep outside the pavilion, and he felt there was a moment there and wanted them to be part of it. So he said, 'Come on in.' For three songs it was magic. Then the tour manager ran up to me saying the fire marshal and police were going to cut the power and we needed to get off the stage. ... They asked everyone who didn't have a pavilion ticket to leave the pavilion."
"Well it seems like we were having fun for a while," Hansard said when he returned to the stage.
Greynolds estimated 2,000 people clogged the aisles after Hansard's invitation.
"We had to stop the show and ask them to clear the aisles," said Nick Pullia, Ravinia's director of communications, on Thursday. "We have to maintain some safety, and the pavilion was not meant to hold the lawn capacity. It just got to be too much."
This is only slightly related to an increase in reports from our reporters and some music fans about Ravinia security being awfully, well, persnickety about dancing in the pavilion aisles, even during pop concerts without a mob rushing the stage.
Mark Guarino reported for us about last weekend's Squeeze/Cheap Trick show: "Concertgoers were told they were not allowed to dance -- in their seats. One-by-one, pavilion ticketgoers were told to sit down when they danced until Squeeze singer Chris Difford had to interrupt and tell security that yes, dancing was OK, and in fact encouraged."
Mitzi Schwabe, of Grayslake, was part of a flurry of tweets about that show. She then told the Sun-Times: "Some people in what appeared to be in rows 4-ish to 6-ish stood up to dance. Mind you, they were only embarrassing themselves and providing the rest of us with entertainment, as well as a guide of how not to dance in public. No one minded. But the very young staff went over and asked them to sit down. I was shocked. I thought maybe they found the '80s dancing unfamiliar and appalling. There was protest by the dancing concertgoers. ... At that point, Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze asked everyone to stand and dance if we wanted since 'this was a concert and that's why you come to a concert.'"
Ravinia, though, says there is no "Footloose" anti-dancing policy at the venue.
"We don't stop people from dancing in their seats unless audience members ask us to," Pullia said. "There's no policy against dancing. People in both the pavilion and the lawn set the decorum themselves for what the concert's going to be -- is this a party concert or a hands-folded concert? ... But if one person is up dancing and the people around or behind them are jeering that person, we'll try to relocate that person."
Ravinia's Web site spells out rules for some decorum: "Etiquette is not anything to stress about - concerts are supposed to be relaxing and fun. The rule of thumb is to go by what other audience members are doing, if they are dancing and cheering you should, too; but if they are sitting quietly, you probably should too. Rock, jazz, pop, blues (anything non classical) Performance: feel free to dance, sing, clap and essentially rock out because we want you to enjoy yourself, but don't scream so loud that you muffle the music or dance so crazy that you whack your neighbor."
Contributing: Mark Guarino, Dorothy Andries