The outdoor music season is right around the corner, and for Crystal Lake’s Raue Center for the Arts, the new season brings a different look and feel to an outdoor gathering that’s becoming a summer tradition.
Arts on the Green kicked off in 2021 at a time when indoor venues were limited due to COVID concerns. Ever since that first season, audiences and musicians alike have found themselves at home with Raue’s outdoor concerts on the lawn of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 210 McHenry Ave. in Crystal Lake.
“We’re really pleased that the community keeps embracing it and just making it a destination of its own,” says Richard Kuranda, Raue Center’s executive director. “We’re thrilled that a lot of the artists have flourished as well. We didn’t design it this way, but over the past two years we have been so blessed.”
From its start, Arts on the Green has provided a casual, intimate experience with a tight focus on live music. Performers play upon a small wooden stage as audiences gather on lawn chairs and enjoy a picnic around dusk. The occasional neighbor sits on their porch, feet tapping along to the tune.
This year expect a refreshed, more formalized look as enhanced landscaping and a band shell take shape this spring. Thanks to a grant from Advance McHenry County, using funds from the federal American Rescue Plan, Raue Center is investing nearly $250 million into hardscaping, landscaping, sound and lighting, and more improvements to the St. Mary’s grounds, thus ensuring a long-lasting setting for Arts on the Green.
“Our friends at Countryside Flower Shop & Nursery have helped us with a lot of the hardscaping,” says Kuranda. “I think we’re investing about $20,000 just into the landscaping and adding limestone pathways, things like that, to make it really wonderful. But with the new stage, and new band shell, and additional lighting and sound, it should be a more substantial experience for the audience this year.”
The 2023 lineup doesn’t officially release until mid-March, but Kuranda says it’s sure to include the sounds of Simon & Garfunkel, Carole King, James Taylor, and Crosby, Stills and Nash. Expect to see kid-friendly entertainment, and look for some live theater as well, perhaps in the form of Shakespearean dramas or musical theater pieces and play readings.
Anchoring this year’s lineup is some of the big-name blues talent that’s been a hallmark of this series since its 2021 debut. Corky Siegel and Ernie Watts have become familiar faces, and last year they joined a lineup with artists like Phil Hamilton, Derrick Procell and Hector Anchondo.
“Last summer, Derrick Procell launched a record during his concert with us. Since then, the record has been in the Top 10 on the Billboard chart for blues,” says Kuranda. “Hector was definitely Top 20 for a large portion of last year. We’re excited about that.”
What draws such big-name talent to a casual gathering outdoors? Kuranda believes the intimate, music-focused environment plays a big part.
There’s a tight focus on the artists, who have a little more flexibility than they would in a more formal venue. Audiences are encouraged to bring a picnic and their own alcoholic beverages, but otherwise there’s no concession stand and few of the other distractions common to outdoor venues.
“For us, it’s really an experience that is predicated on the artist experience,” says Kuranda. “There’s as little distraction as possible, and I think that’s really different. It’s something we try to honor.”
In fact, those musicians appreciate the experience so much that they’ve nominated Raue Center for a grant from the Johnny Carson Foundation, a highly selective organization that’s now throwing its support behind Raue Center, Arts on the Green and the Raue Center School for the Arts, which also operates at St. Mary’s church. “We were so blown away,” says Kuranda.
Watch for this year’s full lineup within the next few weeks, and expect band shell construction to start as soon as the ground thaws. The first shows should start around June, says Kuranda. To catch the lineup and order tickets, go online to rauecenter.org.
“For us, it’s about celebrating the artist and bringing the community together in a really nice way,” says Kuranda. “And it’s also really cool that it’s a type of environment where you can have a great date night, or bring the family out or hang out with friends where it’s relaxed yet respectful.”
Raue Center for the Arts is located at 26 N. Williams St., in Crystal Lake, (815) 356-9212, rauecenter.org. St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is located at 210 McHenry Ave., in Crystal Lake.