When it comes to music festivals, no one knows how to organize a festival that’s all about music better than Boston Calling. The festival features four stages full of both legendary and local acts spread over three days and is held at the Harvard Athletics Complex, which creates an intimate and cozy setting. They don’t waste their resources on over the top production and activities, they focus on creating stages that can be viewed from anywhere, schedules that don’t feature many conflicts, and sound that can be heard perfectly no matter how far from the stage you’re standing, while also not bleeding into the surrounding stages. The cherry on top is the fact that Memorial Day immediately follows the festival giving fans the much needed rest and recovery before heading back to work.
Last year’s festival proved to be unlucky for fans and organizers alike with illness and weather heavily impacting the lineup and overall experience, so I was very excited to return this year and see the festival in its true glory, and I am happy to report that Boston Calling is back and better than ever.
Foo Fighters, The Lumineers, and Paramore closed out each day of the festival, drawing in tens of thousands of fans. While the festival definitely seemed over crowded at points, the crowd was by far one of the most respectful and excited groups of fans that I’ve witnessed. It seemed as if every person in the crowd was a huge fan of every act as they went on. Most notably would be Noah Kahan. The crowd was so loud as they cheered him on while he performed not only his hometown festival, but his biggest show to date. Kahan definitely earned a spot on my list of favorite performance from this weekend, so I was delighted when he returned to the stage to sing “If We Were Vampires,” with The Lumineers.
Rounding out my list of favorite performances of the weekend include Paramore, Declan McKenna, Niall Horan, and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. King Gizzard had the perfect blend of jam and indie for an ideal chill set right before heading into the energetic, pop-punk powerhouse Paramore. Hayley Williams is probably the greatest front woman I’ve ever seen. No one out there can perform like her while never missing a beat and outdoing herself every time. There was not a moment during their set that left you wanting more.
Declan McKenna and Niall Horan both surprised me with their live sets. Going in I only knew a handful of songs from each, but I left wanting to immediately hear more. I went in knowing McKenna as an indie pop staple of the early 2010s, but I left thinking he was a total rockstar. The crowd was filled with hundreds of fans dancing and frolicking around without a care in the world, especially during “Brazil.” His set was filled with pure joy.
I only knew Niall Horan as an ex member of One Direction, so I was expecting a traditional pop set, but I was pleasantly surprised to see how wide his range actually was. He played a mix of soft rock, indie pop, traditional pop, and even threw in a One Direction classic “Story Of My Life,” which had the crowd going absolutely wild. You could tell that this crowd was there for Niall and only Niall. This being one of his first performances in five years, and the first since announcing his new album and tour made it even more special.
With the large crowds, of course food and drink lines were very long, however I was always able to find what I wanted without waiting longer than ten minutes. Festival food can be notoriouly mediocre but everything I had at Boston Calling this year was great. Especially the handmade cookies and ice cream sandwiches, which were so refreshing during the heat.
Logistically, Boston Calling has to be one of the most well organized festivals I’ve ever attended. I never had to wait for a bathroom despite the large crowd and every porta potty I used was fully stocked and clean. Festival staff were walking around picking up trash throughout the entire weekend, I never saw a piece of garbage on the ground. The turf and plastic flooring minimized dust kick up and mud while also being easier on the feet. Entry into the festival was efficient while still feeling thorough. Open gate metal detectors allowed for fans to pass through quickly without having to remove keys and phones, and bag checks were quick without feeling rushed. While the merch line was horrendously long, they gave an option to ship the merch home rather than carrying it around the festival which is an excellent idea. Other notable items were the free water and sunscreen stations, the hidden shade areas around the blue stage, the Ferris wheel, and all of the brand activation freebies.
My only suggestions would be reconfiguring the layout of the food stands to make it so lines don’t bleed into walking space, and more shade arches as there is barely anywhere to hide from the sun.
Overall, I think Boston Calling was such a wonderful experience. Good food, excellent weather, and incredible music, what more can you ask for out of a music festival? I can’t wait to go back.