Come for the trees, stay for the tunes

by Alison Bonaguro

Special to the Tribune

Published August 6, 2010


Appearance: The Morton Arboretum (4100 Illinois Route 53 in west suburban Lisle) has 4,117 kinds of trees, shrubs and other plants that surround a little outdoor stage for the venue's summer In Tune With Trees concerts. It's an accidental concert venue, and there's something nice about that. The place didn't have an agenda to set the music world on fire with blow-your-mind acoustics; it just happened naturally.

Hear: Singers are doing their thing, Mother Nature's doing hers. If there's no wind, it sounds like Lee Ann Womack's (Saturday) in your living room. If there's a little wind, it sounds like background music. On very windy nights, the sound is not quite as good, so watch the forecast if you don't want a 50 mph northerly to bust your groove.

See: The stage is high enough off the ground you're sitting on to see it no matter where you are.

People: It's not the snobby "quiet listening" crowd you may get at a place like Ravinia. But it's also not a big, sloppy, drunk fest like you might endure at other outdoor venues.

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Ideal spot: About 20-30 feet away from the stage, right in the middle. Too close and you'll hear the shriek of the speakers, too far and that wind rustling through the leaves may drown out the music.

Eat/drink: Eating elsewhere defeats the purpose of the breathtaking picnic grounds. So make a Whole Foods run first or pack your own hummus and roasted veggies, and load up the cooler with soda and water. Just don't bring any booze. On sale at the Arboretum is red and white wine from California's Wente Vineyards. If you're not the carrying kind, you can pre-order from the venue or buy food when you arrive.

Weather: Outdoor venues in the Chicago area all have the same unwritten caveat: Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. If weather makes things unsuitable, it may mean the show will be delayed. But if a show is canceled completely, there are no refunds.

Perks: Your concert ticket gives you admission to the Arboretum, so you can take a quick look around or go for an all-day hike.

Parking: The Arboretum wasn't designed to hold big crowds (maximum concert capacity is 4,500), so parking is scarce. If you're not one of the first ones there, you'll have to go to a remote parking lot, but a free shuttle runs to the venue. Have $10 ready for the nonmember parking fee.

Access: The Metra BNSF line will take you right to Lisle, but unless you're up for a two-mile walk to the Arboretum, you are better off driving. Both Butterfield Road and Interstate Highway 88 lead directly to the road that takes you into the venue.

'Hood: As suburban as it gets. Depending on which direction you're coming from, you'll pass plenty of strip malls, residential areas and some frustrating traffic congestion due to coinciding concert and road-construction seasons.

Finally: Why didn't we know about this sooner? Since 2001, the Arboretum has hosted acts including Sister Hazel, Josh Kelley and Chris Isaak. This weekend, it features Lyle Lovett, Ralph's World, Lee Ann Womack and Bettye LaVette. But being tucked away in the middle of the 1,700-acre outdoor museum in the quiet of the suburbs has kept things a little too hidden.


In Tune With Trees

When: Friday-Sunday

Where: Morton Arboretum, 4100 Illinois Route 53, Lisle

Price: $14-$51; 630-725-2066 or mortonarb.org

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