The Black Family and Kathy Mattea at Ravinia - Highland Park, IL (Chicago), 7 August 2001 
Author: Carolyn Andre 
Date: 2001-8-13  

Ravinia Park is anoutdoor venue about an hour north of downtown Chicago. It is normally a wonderful place at which to enjoy a music performance -- with widespread flat park-like grounds surrounded by huge, ancient trees, and a covered pavilion seating several thousand. People arrive with all manner of picnic foods and furniture, and spread out across the lawn. (ranging from a blanket and a sack of sandwiches to tables, chairs, china, glasses and wine!)

Unfortunately, the 7th came in the midst of a tremendous heatwave in the Midwest of the US. I think the heat index (some number explaining how hot it really feels) was about 110 F. There was very little wind across the flat lawns, and there were a lot of small insects - gnats and such. Particularly over towards the area with food service.

My friend and I arrived at 5 p.m. when the park opened, mainly to ensure a parking space in the nearby lot (late arrivals may have to park at a county park and ride a shuttle bus to the performance!)

As we walked slowly toward the food service area, there was music playing. After listening a bit, I said "that sounds like a Black Family soundcheck, not a Mattea sound check". So we walked over towards the pavilion and stood outside at the back. After peering in there, I shamelessly broke out my binoculars and searched the stage. "There's Frances" (a sleeveless black outfit". "There are the brothers"... "is Mary there?" ... "oh! who is that in the hat?" Sure enough - it was Mary in white slacks, a sleeveless black top, and a widebrimmed straw hat. While we were standing there, we had a chance to hear short checks by Frances, Mary, and Shay. There seemed to be a good deal of difficulties in getting the sound just right. (and though both of us had cameras, neither of us tried for a shot from the back of the pavilion up to the stage... just enjoyed the music) we then left to eat.

The pavilion was opened about 30 minutes before the performance was to start -- by which time we were glad of the opportunity to sit down, even if the heat continued. As is common, the several thousand seats weren't all filled - although there were obviously a large number of folks there for the Black Family, and particularly Mary (judging from the volume of applause later when Shay was introducing the family). Frances later commented to us that the front section was all empty during their set, which it may have appeared to them, but there was actually quite a good crowd for what might have been considered the 'unknown opening act' (heresy, but remember that the other half of the night was Kathy Mattea). In the tremendous heat, everyone kept wiping themselves with towels which had been provided. Both Mary and Frances shared Mary's bodhran at times during the evening. Shay was the primary spokesperson between songs, but everyone spoke several times and was featured on several songs during the evening. While Shay was introducing everyone in the band and family, he worked from his far left over (Martin - Frances - Michael - Mary). I think he introduced Mary as 'the other sister'. Then she introduced his as, I think, "the brother - much older"; it got a good laugh from the audience. (Bill Shanley on guitar, Pat Crowley on piano, and Nigel Davey on button accordian)

They sang for a little more than an hour; the set list included many of the songs that Marjie & Amandine reported from the Ann Arbor show. Among those I remember (not in this order) were:

  1. State of Alabama/Alabama John Cherokee,
  2. The Motorway Song (introduced by first asking the audience if we knew what a motorway was, then saying we had freeways. and then with a short comment about the family having owned a grocery store on Charlemont Street, but that it had been torn down and a motorway now ran through their street),
  3. Wheel The Perambulator ("a perambulator is like the SUV of strollers"),
  4. Pat's tunes,
  5. This Love Will Carry (Frances attempting to get the audience to sing along),
  6. All the Lies (introduced by Frances pretty much as Amandine wrote),
  7. Sky Road (Frances' introduction explained it could refer to people or to Ireland, with her children leaving),
  8. What a Time (with quite an amusing introduction about Irish music coming back to America and basically becoming the source for all styles of American music -- going to the Appalachians where it became bluegrass, ... etc. and to New Orleans where it became ROCK AND ROLL),
  9. Here's a Health (introduced as normally sung at the end of an evening -- then quickly saying 'but this isn't the last song' -- when everyone was pretty locked (drunk) and with a jar in hand)
  10. Down Our Street,
  11. Song For Ireland (introduced by Mary as Amandine said - that when she is in America, she can never get away without singing it).

Mary also said that we should sing along -- and did "A Woman's Heart" with the Bob Marley/"No Woman No Cry" break in the middle of it (thinking of recent list discussions - this could be another Joan Baez connection :-)

I think there were also a couple of traditional songs. And perhaps The Great Storm is Over.

Although I've been able to hear both Frances and Mary live since 1994 (thanks to friends in St Louis Missouri, I attended both the first and last show of France's first solo tour in '94) - and my friend has only heard Mary live - I had never heard the entire family together other than on their recordings (the 2 Black Family albums, and the brothers' '92 concert tape and What A Time), it was an amazing experience to hear everyone together. The harmonies, the family camaraderie, the energy & just the electricity!! despite the heat! It was an absolute delight! The audience, most of whom had obviously been there for the Black Family, were equally thrilled - and gave them a standing ovation. Unfortunately there was no encore - probably because the night was two bills rather than an opener.

Between performances we stood by the stage door, but noone came out to sign or chat, and the 'attendants' checked with the venue's security and said 'no way'. (I had sent a card in to Frances before the show and was disappointed not to hear). In the continuing small world of Mary & Frances Black music, I ran into a woman I had met at one of Mary's shows in 1998. Martin came out with their soundman, spoke briefly, and then said they were going in to listen to Kathy Mattea, what a chance.

For the second performance of the evening, Kathy Mattea, the pavilion *was* more filled, although there still were open seats. In part certainly because of the excessive heat! We were standing outside debating whether to stay for Kathy's entire performance when I noticed Mary, Frances and others waiting to go into the pavilion to a 'box seat' area to hear Kathy. So we went in again and sat in some empty seats near the box. Kathy did a great selection of her wonderful songs - ranging from the more country-flavoured to the folk and even comic. She was clearly having a great time! (part way through the evening she stopped & put her hair up in a band, saying to the audience "you've seen the hairdo. that's enough". And later joked that venues always put towels out for her but she rarely used them ... as she hunted around for the towel).

Her guitar player had a broken leg. Which led to a few jokes early in the show. At the end of Kathy's set, at the point of breaking for an encore, she said that instead of going offstage and coming back on - so that he would have to hop with his crutches -- they would just stay onstage and do the encore.

Now at this point, we knew what was coming - not your average Kathy Mattea encore (not to say they are "average") - as the family had left the theater, I had caught Frances' attention and she had stopped for a few minutes to chat. As she left, she said that they needed to be onstage to do an encore with Kathy!!!

Kathy then called the entire Black Family onstage. Then had Frances announce the encore. At first the microphone didn't work, and the audience yelled out "The mike is off". After things were sorted, Frances explained that she had first heard this song while watching a benefit for . And how beautiful it had been when the huge audience joined in on the chorus. And that she hoped that, although we weren't as large a crowd, that we could do that as well. They then sang Dougie MacLean's "This Love Will Carry" - recorded by the family on "Time for Touching Home", and also by Frances on her Dara EP for The Sky Road (the one with the wonderful "Legal/Illegal" on it). The audience did join in, and at the end of the song, they became quiet on stage in order to hear the audience.

And that encore ended the evening.

All in all, it was a beautiful way to spend a HOT evening. The family members did go out to sign for people briefly (I think Shay said there were some Irish girls waiting) - though we took advantage of the airconditioning *and cold water* backstage. (after an evening of 90-100 F temperatures, free COLD water is a wonderful thing!) The door for Kathy Mattea's dressing room and 'meet/greet' room were just next to the one for the Black Family and as we were standing there, I could hear piano music coming out of Kathy's room though I didn't immediately recognize it. Then the door opened, I could see a grand piano, and - Pat Crowly came out!

After the signing, Frances came back first and we spoke for a bit; then Mary returned as well. Everyone was quite exhausted, as this was the last night of the tour -- they were returning to their hotel and then flying home on Wednesday morning. Frances said that every night's performance was just brilliant - though she had an amusing anecdote about one city, at which their hotel was apparently rather far from the performance venue, and after soundcheck they had about 15 minutes to rush into the hotel, change, and 'gobble down some food' before rushing back for the performance. But both Frances and Mary clearly had enjoyed the family tour.

As for news - Frances mentioned that she is looking for songs for a new album, and also that she would like to tour the States again.

On the lists, we share news of Mary and Frances and their music in cyberspace with little thought of the technology -- and Mark keeps up the site so apparently effortlessly (though I can say from experience, it definitely *isn't* effortless!). But both Frances and Mary said that they were not familiar/comfortable with computers -- although their children were. (with the time/energy they both put into their music and other involvements, it doesn't surprise me that they find other things to do with their time)

Regards, Carolyn Andre