Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center: 27 ways to picnic like a pro, what to take, what to leave at home

Georgann Dolfay

CLEVELAND, Ohio – One of the many welcomed signs that Covid is in the rear-view mirror are returning summertime traditions. One of the best examples are picnics at Blossom on a pleasant evening, with a breeze carrying the notes of the Cleveland Orchestra through the air across the lawn.

To be a Blossom pro, helpful hints go a long way. Note: Many of the items allowed for orchestra concerts are not allowed for rock concerts. Also, these tips are for those interested in lawn seating. Food and drink – other than water – is not allowed in the pavilion, which is why you will see coolers and blankets stacked and lined up behind the pavilion’s back row after performances start.

RELATED: 2021 Cleveland Orchestra Blossom Music Festival calendar: A return to live music

Here are 27 tips:

Prepping: Make sure you freeze ice packets a day before you leave. If you are going to hear music from a composer you are not familiar with – like Brahms on Aug. 22, for instance – take five minutes to research Brahms online. And right before you head out, put a bottle of wine in the fridge as a potential nightcap upon returning home.

Call a sitter: Taking kids is great – it’s family time and exposes them to classical music. Crying babies are not OK.

Parking: When you drive in you will see tall letter designations atop light poles. Photograph your location letter. Also: For those who park out in East Bumblewipe, Ohio, trams will continue to ferry people to the venue.

Early birds: The earlier you get there, the more choices you have to stake your spot. Gates open two and a half hours prior to performances, which usually last about two hours.

Little red wagon: If the kids have one, borrow it. If they don’t, buy one, or go with a professional picnic caddy. Wagons are easy to handle your haul from parking lot to lawn and back. Tip: If you have a kids’ wagon, rust-proof the bottom.

Ground cover: You need more than a blanket. Bring a tarp as bottom layer, then at least one large blanket.

Know the weather: Often, the sun stays pretty warm for an hour or two leading up to the performance, when you’re relaxing, so bring a hat and sunglasses. Later, it can get dewy and cool, so stash away a hoodie, jacket, shawl or windbreaker. A poncho never hurts, either. Remember: The venue is in a valley.

Chairs: You can bring your own or rent one from Blossom. The chair-rental ($5) stand is located after the ticket kiosk. Also, if you are bringing lawn chairs, be considerate to those around you. Stay as low as possible to avoid obstructing other people’s experience.

Reading material: Before the music starts, there’s nothing more relaxing than sipping a beverage, reading the Sunday paper (uninterrupted!) and watching squirrels dance along the pavilion rooftop. If it’s just you and a pal, bring a book. You won’t be the only one.

Meetups: Because of all the landmarks (location to stage, proximity to a certain concessions stand or vertical beam), it’s an easy place to meet someone. In the old days, a flag, balloon or bandana atop a pole helped. Now cell phones have that covered to assist the Johnny-come-latelys. But a vertical marker might help you navigate back from the bathroom (just make sure it doesn’t obstruct views).

Sounds of the season: If you are meeting someone, keep your cell phone on. After friends arrive or before the performance starts – whatever comes first – turn off ringtones. Everyone came to hear the orchestra, not that Nickelback song that plays when your pal calls.

Wine stems: Other than your hand, you have two choices to hold your wine glass: The heel of your tennis shoe (classy, eh?) or a wine stem. This simple, curved stake sticks in the ground and balances a glass. (The shoe works well for soda, seltzer and beer cans.) Remember: You will be on a slope.

The drinks: Wine, beer (lighter is better on a hot night), water, plus soda or juice boxes for the kids – in a small, cushioned cooler that folds well. Tips: Use ice packs, not ice, so there’s no potential puddle of water to deal with at the end of the night. Rolling coolers are helpful, too. (Did-you-know tip: More craft beer comes in cans these days than bottles. Look for “sessionable,” lower-in-alcohol, beers.) Hard seltzers also can be refreshing and not too high in alcohol, if that’s your thing.

About the wine: Many summer sippers like Sauvignon Blanc come in picnic-ready screw caps. When you’re buying a bottle or two, pay attention if it’s a cork or cap. The other option is canned wine. Canned Oregon, Underwood and Cleveland-based Graham + Fisk’s Wine in a Can are options. Also, single-serving vessels (187ml) are available. That’s the equivalent of one glass, or one fourth, of a regular-sized, 750ml bottle.

Hydrate: Bring water. Bonus: Carbonated cans like LaCroix can help keep food items cool.

The vessels: No glass. Stick to acrylic wine glasses and plastic cups.

The snacks: You always can eat chips. Try grapes, sliced apples, baby carrots, nuts (splurge on Cashews or assorted mixes), olives – whatever you like to nosh, whatever keeps well in a baggy or plastic container.

The appetizer: Cheese and crackers are easy to remember, but a paring knife and small cutting board also help. A loaf of Italian or French bread never hurts. Hummus goes well with everything from celery to carrots to bagel chips.

The salad: Cherry or grape tomatoes mixed with diced mozzarella and a bit of olive oil and basil travel well in individual plastic containers. It also eliminates the need to bring dressing.

The main course: Fry or bake chicken strips and load ‘em up.

Not allowed: While Blossom officials are pretty open to what you bring in, open-flame grilling, drones and pets are not allowed.

Food options: If time is short or you prefer not to cook, Blossom has concessions. Or allow enough time to stop some place and pick up your favorite to-go. If you don’t want to eat on the ground, tables are located near parking lots and behind the lawn. You can pre-order food to pick up at the Blossom Grille or make reservations to eat on the Grille’s terrace. Packaged picnic meals also are available to bring to your lawn space.

Fight the bugs: Stuff a couple of dryer sheets in your pocket or waistband; some bugs don’t like them. Don’t forget repellent spray and citronella candles. Various anti-insect bracelets also are on the market. Avoid wearing perfume or after-shave.

Navigation: Familiarize yourself with the lay of the land when you plant yourselves. If your pal is wearing a bright red shirt, remember that. This is important because 1. You don’t want to waste time being lost when you can be enjoying a show; 2. You don’t want other people to make fun of you as you wander aimlessly whispering “Sorry, sorry.”

Little but important things: Soundless games or puzzle books for kids, salt and pepper packets or shakers, paper-towel roll, linen towel, plastic utensils, paper plates, matches or lighter, church key, corkscrew, wet naps, Shout Wipes and small flashlight. The latter is helpful after a performance to shine a light on your area to make sure you didn’t drop something, like car keys, a wallet or a Hailey’s Corker.

Give a hand: Folks, it’s not Grand Central Station at rush hour, and we’re all going to get home. Stay to the end to give the musicians the ovation they deserve. Suggestion: Head to the Blossom Tasting Room for dessert or coffee while the herd of vehicles inches its way out. It’s located near parking lot A – where the gift shop used to be – and has tables inside and out.

Bag it: Bring plastic bags for the end of the night: One for garbage, one for recyclables. Bins for both are located along the pathways near the lawn.

Ideas? If you’re a Blossom pro, let us know what you bring, do, or avoid to enhance your experience. Email [email protected] with BLOSSOM in the subject line. Include your name and hometown. We might write another story offering more tips.

Related coverage: 2021 Cleveland Orchestra Blossom Music Festival calendar: A return to live music

What to know

Blossom Music Center – Cleveland Orchestra concerts

Where: 1145 W. Steels Corners Road, Cuyahoga Falls. The outdoor venue, opened in 1968, is about 30 miles from downtown Cleveland.

When: The 2021 season covers 13 performances running from Saturday, July 3 to Saturday, Sept. 11. Not every day of the weekend has a scheduled performance. No movie nights are set this year.

Tickets: General lawn admission is $25. Because of limited capacity, walk-up sales might be available, but advance ticket sales are strongly encouraged.

App: A new wallet app for paperless tickets is available for download via Apple and Google Play stores.

Lawn books: New lawn ticket books are not being offered because of limited capacity. But 2020 books are being accepted.

Aisles: For at least the beginning of the season, limited audiences will be allowed in the pavilion and on the lawn. The lawn will be mowed for “clean demarcation” aisle lines, said Justin Holden, senior director of communications for the Cleveland Orchestra.

Kids: With the Under 18s program, you receive one free ticket for someone under 18 for every adult ticket you buy. It exists for most orchestra concerts at Blossom.

Group sales: Tickets for socially distanced groups of 10 or more will be available; call 216-231-7493.

Parking: Free lots. Volunteers will direct you.

Info: Go online or call 216-231-1111 or 800-686-1141.

I am on’s life and culture team and cover food, beer, wine and sports-related topics. If you want to see my stories, here’s a directory on Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I talk food and drink usually at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. And tune in at 7:05 a.m. Wednesdays for “Beer with Bona and Much, Much More” with Munch Bishop on 1350-AM The Gambler. Twitter: @mbona30.

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