I had no idea what to expect at Boston Calling because it was the first festival of its kind that I had ever attended, a two-day and a half event held in the center of the city that I live in. The natural assumption of writing up a festival would be to travel, but this time it was no more than thirty minutes away. The strange part of Boston Calling for me was that sleep was an option and so my “assistant” (the best friend who got my guest pass) and I rode the B-line from Allston and traveled to Government Center each morning for an all day affair. Co-curated by singer-songwriter Aaron Dessner of The National – who headlined on Friday night – Boston Calling was unique in that its downtown setting was unable to provide the classic festival dilemma of whose set do I miss? You might have to ponder which stage to storm in order to get up front but none of the performances overlapped throughout the weekend. Festival supporter Sam Adams also kept the beer flowing all weekend as a nod to the infamous Boston brew culture.
The festival isn’t cancelled, even during the perfect storm
Boston is known for a stalwart attitude and the second day of the festival definitely reflected this. It was a potentially deadly scenario; the air was hot and humid with ominous clouds over City Square by the time festival attendees were evacuated and media personnel and VIP ticket holders were trapped in the balcony. The upside? We had a truly epic view of what I heard referred to as “the perfect storm” up in the booth by several huddled onlookers in Sam Adams bowler hats. At one point the awning began to fly off of the Verizon stage but managed to hold on which plays into the overarching mentality of the city itself. At one point we even found a fallen cutout of Sam Adams and his over-flowing mug but we were eventually able to prop him back up before the final sets of the night.
Festivals are at their core commercial affairs, but Boston Calling in particular did make leaps and bounds in supporting local talent with three Boston-based acts – St. Nothing, Gentleman Hall and CliffLight on the bill over one weekend. Opening act St. Nothing is currently a student at Boston University chosen by Sonicbids to open the festival on Saturday. Gentleman Hall has already been in the city’s music scene for many years and was thus an obvious choice to open on Sunday. Local upstarts CliffLight has been having quite a year already so it was fitting that this – their biggest gig yet – would be added to it. They snagged a midday set at the peak of the hot n’ sticky day to end out the summer.
Saturday was decidedly trending complete with a temper tantrum
You only needed to look at headliner Lorde– along with Girl Talk, Sky Ferreira, Bleachers and S. Carey – to know that Saturday was the trendiest day of Boston Calling that weekend with acts for the younger, hipper crowd. It was my personal favorite because many of the acts touched on where popular music is in the current industry moment. One could see this in the way that guests crowded the two separate stages throughout the performances, snapping photos on their iPhones and instantly tagging and uploading them to Facebook. I have to admit that I was thrilled to see personal favorite Ferreira perform that day, and although she threw a mini tantrum on stage (as per usual) she wasn’t horrible live the way that I’d heard.
The last day of Boston Calling was very accessible to the general populous, with the greatest variety of performers and opening up a VIP section for guests who just wanted to sit down. I actually met a couple in the booth who had come to see Lake Street Drive as a 60th birthday present, who were one of the older acts at the festival. The Replacements were even back for their first Boston show since 1991 along with Spoon for the more hardcore old school rock fans. In contrast there was younger group The 1975, who probably hadn’t even been born at the height of the aforementioned bands careers. The clincher on this idea was that at one point during their set the lead singer pulled a teenaged girl up onstage who teared up and began posting photos of the crowd to Instagram. It finished out with a collaboration between Nas x the Roots to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of his debut album Illmatic, where he spit those rhymes at the audience with a DJ and was joined by the band about three quarters into the set.
The city already loves their festival
Yes, we have the Paradise, House of Blues and a few major arenas but we've had yet to have our own festival that is open to the masses within Boston propers city limits. I have to say that in all the years that I've lived in Boston, I have yet to see a local event that instills so much appreciation in listeners and event goers (after all they stayed through a lightning storm.) And that is just awesome.