What a beautiful evening for an outdoor concert. I love Ravinia for many reasons such as the staff who are always very friendly and accommodating, and the atmosphere that the patrons create on the lawn. Everybody is here to have a great time with family and friends, and even waiting in line is not so bad because there is always a conversation going on which makes the line move faster. Ravinia is one of my favorite venues to review a show for those reasons alone.
The concert began promptly with the band coming out to a standing ovation from the crowd with Carry On/Questions, with David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills front and forward on stage along with Shayne Fontayne (Guitar), Steve Distanislao (Drums), Kevin McCormick (Bass), Todd Caldwell (Organ) and James Raymond (David Crosby’s son, on Keyboards). On this song, the music sounded great, but the vocals were a mess. I was trying to figure out what was wrong with their harmonies. After singing many years together, one would think that CSN would have this track down pat, but unfortunately, this song sounded vocally like a train wreck. Further into the song the harmonies got a little better, but clearly it was Stephen Stills who could not sing in tune. Still, the crowd gave them a standing ovation after this song was performed. Next, they played another old favorite, Marrakesh Express. The vocals got a little better, as I believe the sound guy adjusted the mics in order to accommodate the off-key singing by Stephen Stills, followed by another long-time favorite of mine, Long Time Gone. David Crosby sang lead on this one and was in perfect key, along with Graham Nash. The musicianship on these songs were remarkable, and adding James Raymond into the mix playing keyboards made CSN sound better than they have in years.
As a side note, this concert was probably the longest I have seen them perform with the first set lasting 70 minutes and the second set lasting 90 minutes, with a 20 minute intermission in between. For a group of guys in their 60’s and 70’s, I have to hand it to them for playing on stage for that long a period of time. Anyway, following were the songs Southern Cross, Lay Me Down and a song from David Crosby’s new solo album, Broken. This song was co-written by James Raymond. Next were a few songs that I had never heard before such as Delta, Don’t Want Lies and Cathedral which was written while Graham Nash was standing on a soldier’s grave. The one interesting aspect of this performance tonight that I had not seen in prior concerts, was that each songwriter explained their inspirations behind writing some of these classic songs that the baby boomers have been singing along with for generations. Some of the stories, which were told before the songs, were performed truly explained the meaning behind the song before it was played.
The first half continued with a solo song beautifully written and performed by Graham Nash called Back Home which was written about his family, Bluebird, a Buffalo Springfield cover and the classic Déjà Vu which was, in my opinion, the best song of the first set featuring the entire band going into a mini jam.
CSN led the second half with Helplessly Hoping which really sounded good. The harmonies seemed to be much better. Next, Stephen Stills sang a Bob Dylan cover song, Girl From the North Country. I absolutely could not understand a word that he sang and his vocals were totally off key. Don’t get me wrong, his guitar playing was flawless but his vocal ability is pretty much gone. Next, Graham Nash got back on the keyboards with a harmonica and sang his song Here For You. I had never heard this song before, so hearing it for the first time, the words and melody were truly beautiful. Keeping with the solo theme, David Crosby then sang another solo off his new album, What Makes it So, again co-written by his son, James Raymond. David Crosby then explained that he had written the tune Guinnevere for his wife of 38 years who was sitting in the audience. I was moved by how melodic they performed this song with keyboards and acoustic guitars. This time they left out Stephen Stills for the harmonies, which absolutely sounded spectacular. Other songs following included Burning For the Buddah and Treetop Flyer which I have never heard before. In my opinion, they were just okay. Then finally, the party begins!!! Our House turned into a giant sing-along with the audience, with the band pausing to hear us, which led to the song Chicago, which everybody got on their feet singing and dancing to the music, followed by the famous song written by Buffalo Springfield, For What It’s Worth. This was the highlight of my night most definitely. These two songs brought me back to the protest days in the early 70’s at Grant Park. Everyone was on their feet with the final song by Stephen Stills, Love the One You’re With. This song is my favorite Stephen Stills song. This time, they got it right with the harmonies. I was wondering at this point if Stills lost his voice or if they cut out his mic. Regardless, it sounded really good.
The encore consisted of the song Teach Your Children, which the audience was still on their feet and singing along. The problem I saw with the performance of this song was CSN could not hit the high notes as originally written. Instead they transformed the song to go down on the harmonies. It was very awkward for me to hear it performed that way after decades of listening to this song the way it was performed originally on their album.
Overall, it was a very entertaining evening packed with a lot of good music from CSN, and a history lesson behind some of their most famous songs.
Reviewed by Debbie Pollack