By Chad Pope
This year, I attended the Boston Calling Music Festival for the first time. This year also happened to be the first year that the festival was no longer in the cramped City Plaza in downtown Boston. Instead, the festival was moved to the spacious Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston. This change of venue, allowed for them to expand their lineup of musical artists by dedicating three stages to music. Attendance to the three-day event doubled since last year; an estimate of 40,000 people attended over the course of the weekend. Despite a few reports of long lines, my overall impression was an efficiently planned and executed festival. There’s the potential for an underestimation of what’s needed for good sound when moving to a larger space, however, I was surprisingly impressed with the sound quality.
Dreary weather set the mood for two of the headliners the first night: Bon Iver and Sigur Rós. Both artists are slower in tempo and serious in tone. Bon Iver’s sundown set included a good mix of material from all albums, shifting from heavy electronic effects featured on his self-titled release from last year, to more acoustic arrangements from earlier in his career. Sigur Rós performed on a stage at the opposite end of the grounds and their performance overlapped with Bon Iver. They closed with the last track from their untitled album, a crescendo of noise culminating in the perfect ending of my Friday night.
The festival boasts a large array of music from different genres but numerous performances overlapped. I arrived late and regretfully missed Lucy Dacus’s set, but was able to catch most everything else I was excited to see and hear. The electronic duo Sylvan Esso was a highlight with a great on-stage presence and high energy, much like the quirky rock band, Deerhoof, who played earlier that day. Run the Jewels were also memorable, despite my genre interests usually gravitating elsewhere. Killer Mike and El-P had incredible chemistry and were entertaining, radiating positive energy to round out my Sunday. Other notable acts were, Car Seat Headrest, Kevin Morby, Mitski, Wolf Parade, and The xx. The music schedule was robust enough that each individual could have a completely different experience tailor-made to their interests.
Two hours each day, festival goers could find respite from the outdoors and massive crowds to see well-known comedians. The comedy stage was in the hockey arena, isolated from the rest of the festival. Recapitulating the ambience of a normal comedy club, tables were placed at the front and the lights were low. Hannibal Buress headlined Saturday, and my lack of interest in the music at this time made it possible for me to catch each act. Hannibal’s performance was both normal standup and a multimedia experience, including videos and music with help from a DJ who provided entertainment between acts. This break from the typical festival experience was welcomed.
Saturday also provided an unanticipated amazing performance from Moses Sumney, whom I had never heard prior to seeing the schedule. With only his amazing voice, a guitarist, and an abundance of effects pedals, he created a large folky and soulful sound. He’s up-and-coming, with only a few EPs and a first full length on the horizon. This was a great opportunity for new music exposure, and I am now eagerly awaiting his first album.
As an avid summer music festival goer, picking which ones to attend is difficult due to the overwhelming options that continue to grow each year. 2017 Boston Calling hit my radar due to their selection of musicians that I love, and I anticipate that Boston Calling will continue to provide amazing experiences for years to come.