I was lucky enough to be one of the people that Boston Calling, ahem, called, for their 10th festival this past Memorial Day weekend. Now, having the pleasure of never attended a music festival prior, I jumped at the opportunity to attend one that didn’t require a plane ride.
This year, the festival featured one of its most sweeping lineups to date, featuring everyone from indie darling Hozier to party favorite Travis Scott, with a healthy portion of (relatively) lesser known acts to warm you up for the evening’s headliners.
I did ultimately make the decision to attend all three days, to the delight of my concert bucket list, but alas, to the detriment of my knees. Body pain aside, the myriad of acts I got to see were well worth the steps.
The very first act (and one of my favorites) that Boston Calling presented to me was the singer-songwriter Adia Victoria, who belted out powerful blues with a dark twist, performing what could be considered spoken-word poetry between songs, all the while underneath a backdrop of glowing, hue-shifting cat’s eyes.
I managed to shuffle my way through the festival for some time afterwards, catching snippets of acts like Gang of Youths and Christine and the Queens, before settling in for a Lord Huron show, which consisted of a surprising, although not unwarranted, amount of head-banging from the frontman Ben Schneider.
My last act of the day was the controversial Greta van Fleet. Say what you will about their style, I’ll be damned if they don’t have energy. The drummer even did a solo two songs in. However, I made the decision to leave after about 20 minutes, as I believe at that point I had gotten the gist.
I also had a train to catch.
The second day was the true test for my endurance, with my planned lineup consisting of roughly twelve acts that would have me pinballing from stage to stage to enjoy. Unfortunately, some I only managed to see segments of, but regardless I still tucked performers like Sidney Gish, White Reaper, Pile and King Princess under my belt.
My favorite performances had to be Hozier and Mitski, the former of which was much taller than I expected, and the latter much shorter. Mitski in particular had an enrapturing performance, choosing to choreograph her entire vocal performance alongside a plain table and chair, at more than a couple points doing bicycles to the delight of the crowd. She also played her self-proclaimed hit song “Nobody” about halfway through the set, which she followed up with stating that since she played the hit, everyone could leave now.
While I may have enjoyed Hozier and Mitski the most, the award for best stage presence at the whole festival as far as I’m concerned went to Anderson .Paak, who introduced his set by literally rising up through the floor playing the drums. The inclusion of Lil Nas X about halfway through to perform “Old Town Road” didn’t hurt either.
Which brings us to the dawn of the final day. Thankfully, the festival had begun to wind down, which at that point I was grateful for, as I’d been taking the train in and out every day, and walking a mile from the stop to the athletic grounds, not to mention the increase in temperature from the days prior.
This day was a little special, however, since I had the pleasure of interviewing the British indie band Easy Life, which can be listened to here. After our rendezvous (which I believe both parties thoroughly enjoyed), I felt like I had a certain duty to go see them perform at the main stage. Their blend of hip-hop, lo-fi pop and jazz was an excellent start to the day, and the crowd certainly seemed into it as well. In fact, the person that I was standing next to remarked that to his friend that he needed to add them on his Spotify account. I couldn’t help but feel important after that.
I also managed to catch the Boston Ballet, as well as Imogen Heap’s hybrid talk/tech demo/performance, which was certainly an interesting experience to say the least, with Heap demonstrating a pair of gloves that acted as a looper, pitch shifter, and anything a live solo musician would need.
Afterwards, as a dedicated Snail Mail fan, I made sure to get to her performance even after seeing her at our own Spring Fling. Yet again, Lindsey did not disappoint, playing two brand new songs sans-band that seem to reflect a stripped-back, more intimate sound, while maintaining the beautiful guitar work she’s known for.
The last few acts of Boston Calling that I got to see before heading off to the train were the flashy art-folk group Rainbow Kitten Surprise, and in a vast departure from my typical music suite, Marina. I will say that I enjoyed the latter more than the former, surprisingly, but that was likely just due to taste.
Speaking of taste, not only is Boston Calling a respectable music festival in its own right, but it also boasts an incredible amount of local food trucks. I sampled everything from shawarma plates to fried Oreos and Japanese katsu boxes. The highlight in terms of “bang for your buck” was probably the chicken shawarma plate from The Chubby Chickpea, whereas the dish that straight-up kicked my butt was the namesake sandwich from Bon Me. How they managed to make pork, pickled carrot, and various other vegetables on a french roll so good is beyond me.
Along with food, there was also a substantial comedy/DJ stage, which this year featured the likes of Jenny Slate, Snakehips, Fred Armisen, and Michael Che, if comedy is more your cup of tea.
I will say that the inclusion of the Boston Ballet is a nice touch, and left me wishing there was actually more of that type of “fine art,” which I can’t possibly say without sounding snobbish. There’s of course the obligatory vendors, in this case companies like Vans, Newbury Comics, and JBL. There’s the VIP sections for those social media influencers among you who can afford it, which featured real bathrooms and celebrity chefs. They did an excellent job at keeping bathroom lines down and hydrating people with a small fleet of refill stations from some folks called “Quench Buggy.” The ferris wheel is a fun add on as well, lending to some fun photo opportunities.
So, should you go to Boston Calling? Well, I think the answer is largely subjective. You’ll notice that I didn’t attend any of the headlining acts, which taste aside, I think is an attempt by the festival to appeal to a more “mainstream” audience than from the past years. I suppose that’s warranted, with the move from City Hall Plaza to the Harvard Athletic Complex (which is the closest I’ll ever get to Harvard.) Is this a good thing or not? Who’s to say? It’s probably more profitable.
In terms of music, there’s certainly something for everyone, but some may be getting more than others, particularly in the realm of artist representation.
There is a case to be made about Boston Calling’s lack of local hip-hop representation, which is countered by the more affordable “Boston Answering” festival on the same weekend. Boston Answering features a plethora of local hip-hop artists, and hopes to elevate this aspect of local culture to a level it deserves.
Of course, there’s the unfortunate matter of Boston’s public transit as well, but that’s not exactly the festival’s fault. I just wish I didn’t have to pick between walking a mile to and from the train station, or depending on a subway system to catch the last train out of South Station until probably 5 AM.
So, did I enjoy Boston Calling? Yes. However, I was also there for free. Overall, the atmosphere was nice, the food was good, and I got to enjoy a bunch of talented musical artists. I think it’s quite telling that I was only able to write one paragraph of “criticisms,” if you can even call them that. One thing is for certain, if Boston calls again, you can bet that I’ll be answering.