Nestled within the Ravinia Festival's annual summery slate of intriguing classical and jazz concerts are regular pop and rock bookings-- a festival within the festival that could use its own name.
For 2013, we could call it Retrofest or, for the picnickers on the lawn, Rewind and Unwind.
This summer's pop shows at the beautiful North Shore lawn and pavilion are heavy on nostalgia acts and package tours. Boomers are awash in the requisite Judy Collins (June 6), Jackson Browne (June 26) and a Beach Boy (Brian Wilson with "special guest" Al Jardine, July 26) shows, plus the nearly perennial appearance by Donald Fagen (this year back in his original Steely Dan, Aug. 1-2). Gen-Xers can relive the '90s with wondrous one-hit package bills like the Under the Sun Tour with Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Vertical Horizon and Fastball (July 20) or marquees such as Melissa Etheridge, Joan Osborne and Paula Cole (June 29) and the Goo Goo Dolls with matchbox 20 (July 2-3).
Tickets to all Ravinia shows are on sale now with a Ravinia donation; public ticket online sales begin at 5 a.m. on April 25 exclusively through ravinia.org. For information, call (847) 266-5100.
From the full schedule, here are five acts definitely worth making the drive or taking the train into the John Hughes 'hoods:
June 6 -- Judy Collins with Don McLean
June 7-8 -- Sting
June 9 -- Joan Baez with Indigo Girls
June 13 -- Gary Sinise and the Lt. Dan Band
June 16 -- Jewel
June 20 -- the BoDeans
June 25 -- James Hunter with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings
As far as excitement goes, the Ravinia season begins here. Grammy-nominated Brit R&B darling James Hunter has been through the wringer -- as a railroad laborer, a busker, a backup player for Van Morrison -- and his music is thick with the experiences, the joyous and the jilted. Back with his first album in five years, "Minute by Minute" (credited to the James Hunter Six), Hunter's still hot. With the mighty Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings on the bill, this is one hot, soulful night.
Tickets: $55-$45 pavilion, $22 lawn
June 26 -- Jackson Browne with Sara Watkins
June 27 -- Los Lonely Boys with Los Lobos and Alejandro Escovedo
Just last week, Los Lonely Boys singer Henry Garza reached out to greet some fans in the front row, misjudged the distance and wound up in the hospital from the fall. By June, he'll be fighting fit -- which his band, featuring his brothers, always is. The Chicano power trio scored a hit in 2004 with "Heaven," but they've been reliably rocking since the '90s. Add to that the inventiveness of Robert Plant collaborators Los Lobos and the rich blues-rock artistry or Austin's Alejandro Escovedo, and it's another scorching night of roots music.
Tickets: $70-$60 pavilion, $27 lawn
June 28 -- Darius Rucker with Rodney Atkins and Jana Kramer
June 29 -- Melissa Etheridge with Joan Osborne and Paula Cole
June 30 -- the Go-Go's with the B-52s
July 2-3 -- Goo Goo Dolls with matchbox 20
July 6 -- David Byrne & St. Vincent
A baffling but entertaining combination, this cross-generational collaboration created a collage of left-turn melodies and herky-jerky rhythms with their opposite but intersecting personalities on last year's "Love This Giant." It's the freshest act on Ravinia's schedule by far, but don't worry -- at last fall's concert by the duo at the Chicago Theatre, there were plenty of Talking Heads covers thrown in for good measure.
Tickets: $65-$55, pavilion, $27 lawn
July 13 -- Anita Baker
July 14 -- Willie Nelson & Family with Lukas Nelson & P.O.T.R.
July 19 -- Sheryl Crow with Kristen Kelly
July 20 -- Under the Sun Tour with Smash Mouth, Sugar Ray, Gin Blossoms, Vertical Horizon and Fastball
July 22 -- Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson
July 26 -- Brian Wilson with Al Jardine and David Marks
July 29 -- Heart with Jason Bonham
Aug. 1-2 -- Steely Dan
Aug. 11 -- Gipsy Kings
Aug. 17 -- George Thorogood & the Destroyers with Buddy Guy
Aug. 18 -- The Goat Rodeo Sessions
OK, we can debate whether or not this show belongs in the pop-and-rock round-up, but believe me: the music these disparate musicians have made together certainly pops and occasionally, in a string-sawing sense, rocks. Classical cellist Yo-Yo Ma joins these versatile bluegrass players -- fiddler Stuart Duncan, bassist Edgar Meyer and Nickel Creek mandolin player Chris Thile -- for an innovative braiding of their respective forms. It leans toward newgrass, with a dignified but occasionally avant-garde twist from the affable master cellist. The resulting album, "The Goat Rodeo Sessions," won the Grammy last month for best folk recording.
Tickets: $80 pavilion, $30 lawn
Aug. 20-21 -- Journey
Aug. 23 -- Lyle Lovett
Aug. 24-25 -- Chicago
Aug. 27 -- John Hiatt & The Combo with the Robert Cray Band
As musical storytellers go, John Hiatt is hard to beat. Artists as diverse as Bob Dylan and Iggy Pop have come to Hiatt's well for material, which he keeps churning out with remarkable regularity and consistency. Last fall's "Mystic Pinball" is the 60-year-old's 20th platter. With the bright blues of Robert Cray opening the show, this night will have a firm groove start to finish.
Tickets: $65-$55 pavilion, $27 lawn
Aug. 30 -- Alabama