By Katelyn Skye Bennett
On June 28, lines of donors, season pass holders, and Little Big Town fans rolled their wagons through four entrances into the grassy fields of Ravinia. Ravinia is a bourgeois park in the northern suburbs used for summer festivals, hosting artists such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO), Pentatonix, Mary J. Blige, and that Friday, Little Big Town, for moderate prices.
Guests quickly packed the lawns with tarps and camping chairs, but this country concert was no tailgate party. The crowd set tables with crystal candelabras and flowers and enjoyed spreads of wine, olives, and cheese. The elegance was enchanting. The venue was pristine, and those in attendance kept with that high quality of life.
“They really are bringing a lot of the country music now… I go to Nashville for my country, but this, this is good to have it here,” Jackie Campa said of the venue. She used to listen to the CSO “under the stars” with her kids but came to watch Little Big Town in the Pavilion that Friday.
For a couple hours, people enjoyed picnicking, and at 7:30, opening artist Jillian Jacqueline sauntered on stage and jumped into her song “Bleachers.” Most fans stayed on the grass, but those with ticketed seats began to trickle into the Pavilion.
A younger country artist, she had driven up from Nashville to open with her band, which includes her husband. She performed primarily based off her latest EP, Side B. Though raised in Pennsylvania, her voice held a country twang, complemented by a controlled falsetto. Her performance quality was comparable to her albums.
“I don’t know where we’d be if we didn’t have great songs to get you through [life],” she commented before jumping into “God Bless This Mess,” off her previous EP. In this raw performance, it seemed as if Jillian was taking her heart’s screams out in a melody.
She finished up with some quirky dance moves before leading into a half hour break and then the main act of the night, Little Big Town.
While Little Big Town hasn’t been topping any charts in 2019, it does have a couple handfuls of hits, and at Ravinia, the band performed all of them.
The group began in a living room two decades ago and has maintained its tight-knit relationships as fame turned it into a Grammy Award-winning band. Two of its members, Karen Fairchild and Jimi Westbrook, even married, only increasing the love within the band.
Little Big Town’s tight harmonies are as tight as the singers’ relationships, and these harmonies differentiate it from other country groups. Kimberly Schlapman’s thin, high, and sometimes piercing voice melds with Karen’s alto, Philip Sweet’s growls, and Jimi’s clean vocals.
The group opened with its distinctive hit, “Pontoon,” and the crowd was there for it. That set the tone for the next hour-plus. The crowd sat for most of the night but showed its appreciation with applause.
“You have the classiest lawn seats in the country. You’re way less redneck than most of ‘em,” Kimberly commented between songs, including the picnicking audience with the seated Pavilion fans and speaking to the quality of the venue. Then she jumped into the next hit.
Karen’s performance of “Daughters” brought chills and nearly evoked tears. “Front Porch Thing” exemplified the group’s incredible harmonies and had the crowd waving their hands in unison, and “Better Man” inspired a few people to dance up front. “Little White Church” disappointed, as Karen’s vocal chords did not sound open, but the light show saved the song.
Not to be left out, the background guitarist, wearing a vibrant floral shirt, killed a solo in “Save Your Sin.” Even more notable was the reaction to “Girl Crush” — an immediate roar marking it as the crowd favorite. The song received a standing ovation.
Little Big Town finished with “Boondocks,” a drawn-out and intense performance. The vocals came in slow and quiet, harmonies almost echoing in the silence. They lingered there for a while, and then the musicians jumped in. All the backing band, save the drummer, joined the four artists up front.
The drums and smoke resembled fireworks as the group finished the finale to whistles, cheers, and fervent applause. Then the band walked off stage, and all that remained was the buzz from the show as fans packed their things and joined the line of cars headed back home.