Nearly a decade ago, the Ravinia Festival tested the millennial waters by adding the Backstreet Boys to their regular, Baby Boomer-leaning lineup. The move proved to be so successful that the group returned two years later, proving the finicky young generation would venture out to the far suburbs for the right act.
And this year’s lineup, which includes acts as diverse as Common, Fitz and the Tantrums, One Republic, Andrew Bird, and Lifehouse proves the long-running festival has doubled-down on “fresher” acts. In a clear play for the ’90s-obsessed millennial, they even dedicate a night to an “I Love the ’90s” concert featuring TLC, Mark McGrath, O-Town, All-4-One, and Biz Markie.
It’s a smart move. No festival can solely rely on a wealthier, older clientele. Even major mainstream downtown festivals like Lollapalooza have gotten the message, mixing their Paul McCartney with Calvin Harris. And last year, Lollapalooza featured LCD Soundsystem as their closing-night headliners, proving underground dance music acts of the late aughts (with decidedly millennial audiences) would shell out big bucks to see them reunite. By adding acts such as the charming Andrew Bird or the inventive Esperanza Spaulding, Ravinia will continue to grow and evolve with the times.
Beyond a strategic move, it also speaks to the changing tastes of millennials, too. When the raucous energy and weekend-long hedonism of a regular music festival grows tired, a quiet and enjoyable evening with your own food and drinks and seats sounds pretty nice. Maybe Ravinia isn’t changing much at all and their audiences, even the 20-somethings (though millennials are ranging into their 30s at this point), are the ones demanding more subdued fare for their more subdued lifestyle.
Last year I saw Diana Ross, one of my idols, give a loving and joyous show in the rain—I attended with my parents and it was one of the best evenings of my summer. Ross, who’s obviously not a millennial act, and the festival proved to be a perfect combination for my 28-year-old heart. I left giddy and pleased, eager to replicate the feeling.
If there are others out there like me, maybe Ravinia hasn’t changed at all. Maybe it’s just a new audience finally seeing the light.