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What a $185 ticket buys at Ravinia

Patrons trying new Lawnciege service relax sofoutdoors before Saturday night's concert Ravinia. | Chandler West ~ For Sun-Times Media

Patrons trying the new Lawnciege service relax on a sofa outdoors before Saturday night's concert at Ravinia. | Chandler West ~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: August 9, 2013 12:44PM



For those of you who still talk about seeing the Beatles at the International Amphitheater for $4.50, it is officially time for you to get over it.

More than 100 people Saturday night heard former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, with a partner known as St. Vincent, at Ravinia Festival for the very special ticket price of $185 each.

That is, that’s what they would have paid if they weren’t all comped.

Most of those asked, however, said they considered Ravinia’s new Lawncierge service a heckuva deal, with the notable exception of Pat Fernandes, 62, the worldly cabdriver who accompanied this writer to Highland Park.

“No way,” he said immediately, though he later felt bad about being so dismissive, considering the free potables, music and cushy indoor furniture, outdoors under the stars.

Just about everybody else invited that night was an event planner. They’re prospective bulk customers for the new Ravinia experience with the made-up name.

The concept: Ravinia tucks an oasis into the side of its lawn, where the privileged few may eat, drink and frolic for hours before the show and all through it. They get easy parking, they’re escorted inside, and they don’t have to lug chairs, wine bottles and picnic baskets.

The aforementioned event planners can rent all or part of it, as they so choose.

That’s what happened at the first Lawncierge June 26, when a private party of 350 bought up the whole deal, which centered on a giant bed-like centerpiece, suitable for lounging upon, or perhaps dancing around, like Gwen Verdon in “Sweet Charity.”

Saturday, no giant bed, but the guests arranged themselves on couches and comfortable chairs.

It sounds like watching TV at home. Not entirely: There was a guy on one end painting the scene in oils just for the pleasure of the people hanging around, which never happens in your house. And the food was considerably better than what you can microwave during commercials.

Another big difference was noted by Andre Lerman, a lawn customer who wandered over to see what was going on.

“This reminds me of the rooftops at Wrigley Field,” he said. “You can’t see the game, but who cares? It’s a party.”

Actually, at Ravinia in general, the view of the musicians is largely imaginary, unless you pop for pavilion seats. On the lawn, you see only the players projected on the big screens erected next to the stage.

From the Lawncierge location Saturday (it changes), not even the screens were visible. But the show is not necessarily what you want to see most.

“This is a place for people to see and be seen,” Ravinia group sales director Mindy Moore said.

Those who wanted to get a peek at David Byrne and Ann Clark, a.k.a. St. Vincent, wandered off for that once the music started. By that time, most had their fill of watching the painter, and had about two hours to hit the buffet.

No lobsters, filets or fiddlehead ferns, if that’s what you think you get for $185. But a couple of Levy Restaurant guys in big white hats walked around checking up on the shrimp jambalaya and garlicky chicken, crudites and some much-remarked-upon salads.

There were also desserts, with beer, sangria or G-rated stuff to wash it all down with.

“It’s like a beautiful island I can invite all my friends to,” said Stephanie Leese Emrich, owner of Service­Speaks. “It’s turn-key. The parking’s covered, the drinks are covered, excellent food.”

Could you, for instance, do a charity event here, when the nut is already $185, about three times the regular Ravinia top end?

“You can raise another $100. Just lob it on,” the Wilmette woman said. “Tax write-off. That’s what most people do, right?”

The idea originated when Ravinia CEO Welz Kauffman offered up the Lawncierge name and asked his staff to build something around it.

Kauffman said he already had an idea of what he wanted: South Beach, without the sand. Rooftop clubbing — more River North, less Wrigley — without all that height.

Why try such a thing at all? It’s the Internet’s fault.

“Fifteen years ago, half of musicians’ income came from sales,” Kauffman said. “Now they’re lucky to get 10 percent.

“We can’t make up for all that, but we have to do what we can to bring the acts people want to see.”

The big crowd on the edge of the Lawncierge nook Saturday seemed to appreciate Byrne’s newer work with St. Vincent. The fans made the most noise, however, during the encore, after Talking Heads’ 1984 hit “Burning Down the House.”

By that time, Lawncierge guest Yvonne McCann was long gone. Stony Island Community Services, her South Side preschool day care center, gets heavenly deals from Ravinia for parents’ outings.

Would they be following her footsteps to the rented couches and fancy hors d’oeuvres?

“Oh, heck, no,” she said. “Not unless we get somebody to pay for it.”



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