Will cicada chorus muddle the music? Outdoor concert organizers weigh in

Aside from turning amplifiers up to 11, there isn’t much outdoor music and theater festival organizers can do to combat nature’s noise, to wit the persistent cicada chorus.

But most suburban organizers aren’t especially worried about insects interfering with al fresco performances. That includes Highland Park’s Ravinia Festival, which is finalizing installation of its new audio system this summer.

“We’re confident it will provide the audio experience guests are accustomed to hearing here at Ravinia,” said senior artistic producer Erik Soderstrom, who assures concertgoers North America’s oldest outdoor music festival will not “get into a volume fight” with cicadas.

“Once the music starts, the system is so robust you’ll hear music, not cicadas,” he said, laughing, but if necessary “we could probably push it to 11.”

A number of employees worked at the festival 17 years ago, when the same cicada brood emerged, and know how to handle them, said Soderstrom, a 20-plus-year Ravinia veteran.

The best response is to keep the park clean.

“The park operations team cleans every day,” Soderstrom said. “That’s customary every summer and it helps.”

Officials at Highland Park’s Ravinia Festival don't anticipate the summer's cicada chorus will dampen concertgoers' experiences, thanks to a newly installed audio system and the diligence of the park's operations staff. Courtesy of Ravinia Festival

In the past, fewer cicadas emerged at Ravinia than surrounding areas, including the nearby Chicago Botanic Garden. So far, their emergence doesn’t seem to be disturbing concertgoers.

“The hype was a little more than reality here at Ravinia,” he said.

“We’re used to it,” Soderstrom continued, noting that insects, birds and the occasional train whistle are among the ambient sounds employees and patrons regularly confront.

To date, cicada noise hasn’t been an issue at RiverEdge Park, according to Jim Jarvis, general manager of the Aurora venue whose season begins June 14 with the annual Blues on the Fox festival.

Palatine Park District cultural arts coordinator Lisa Samborski Swan does not anticipate the brood will disturb the Sounds of Summer concert series, which began last week at the Fred P. Hall Amphitheater. A Thursday acoustic series takes place at Towne Square.

“Hopefully they won’t be a problem this year,” Swan said.

“If cicadas are loud, I trust that our sound engineer will be able to compensate for them,” she added. “Every summer insects are loud, but they are no match for our sound system.”

  Valius, a Chicago band, played an outdoor concert at Lisle’s Morton Arboretum last week with little interference from cicadas. John Starks/

Lisle’s Morton Arboretum kicked off its Arbor Evening outdoor music series late last month, without interference from cicadas, said spokesperson Ellyn Fortino.

Representatives from The Morton Arboretum expect this summer's cicada brood will be gone by the time the garden's walking play series begins next month. Courtesy of The Morton Arboretum

Fortino expects the cicadas likely will be gone by the time the walking plays series, featuring theatrical works adapted for the garden, begins July 13.

“To some extent you have to embrace cicadas. It’s not something you can halt,” Soderstrom said. “Embrace the fact that they’re here.”

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