At Saturday evening’s Ravinia gala, hosted by the music festival’s women’s board, some 800 guests joined the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in singing the “Star-Spangled Banner.” The patriotic moment kicked off a performance of another all-American composition, Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” and underscored the evening’s “Bicentennial Ball” theme, which was based on President Abraham Lincoln’s 1861 inaugural ball, according to co-chairs Sarah Barden and Janet Krasny.
Starting with invites that bore a black-and-white image of the iconic president, the gala’s theme infused nearly all aspects of its production. For dinner in a marquee tent on festival grounds, Kehoe designers went with a Victorian look that was meant to let guests “feel as though they were stepping back in time” to the Lincoln era, Barden and Krasny noted in a collaborative email. Vintage china and fleur-de-lys-patterned tablecloths dressed dinner tables; classical golden urns filled with fern fronds, blue larkspur, hydrangea, and lilies formed era-appropriate centerpieces.
In a nod to Lincoln’s Illinois heritage, Jewell Events Catering created a menu of classic Midwestern dishes, with a first course of farm-raised trout preceding beef tenderloin with potato-horseradish cake; dessert was old-fashioned ice cream sundaes topped with hot fudge and whipped cream. Though Kehoe and Jewell also worked on last year’s event, the planners said that they “solicited bids from other Chicago vendors in both areas” and reviewed several menus and decor presentations before deciding to rehire last year’s suppliers.
Attracting donors to the $750-a-head happening was a challenge this year, according to Barden and Krasny. Though a “loyal base” of “corporate sponsors, benefactors, women’s board members, and music lovers” made up Saturday night’s crowd, the co-chairs said, “reservations were slower coming in [than in previous years], and we had to figure out a way of advancing ticket sales.” In the months leading up to the gala, the planning committee focused on reaching out to past individual and corporate donors through phone calls, emails, and letters; they also said that they “adjusted our expectations of guest numbers and revenue amounts from the beginning.” Ultimately, although the gala’s 800-guest attendance marked a decline from last year’s crowd of 1,000 donors, the event raised close to $1 million.