by Emma Parkinson
Photography courtesy of Ty Johnson
Boston Calling got an upgrade this year, moving from City Hall Plaza to the Harvard Athletic Complex. After seven festivals on the crowded cobbles, the three-day event expanded to include three stages, a comedy tent, lawn games and a Coachella-esque Ferris wheel. But did the big move and the fancy amenities make the festival worth attending?
The short answer: yes, but there is still room for improvement.
Festival-goers were treated to a laid-back weekend, with the fashion trending towards flannels and jeans, rather than crop-tops and glitter. The MBTA red line deposited them at Harvard, and then there was an easy 10-minute walk to the stadium amidst streets flooded with people. In terms of transportation, not much has changed from the City Hall Plaza location as Government Center was not yet open and patrons were forced to walk from Park Street.
The gates were lines-galore, at least on day one. Like many other festivals, attendees were given wristbands with electronic scanning in an attempt to make the process quick and easy after bags were searched and everyone went through metal detectors. Though it was neither of those things right away, the process seemed to improve as the weekend went on.
Once through the gates, three connected arches that lead to the turf field greeted fans. With the Ferris wheel in the distance, the festival seemed more official than it had been in previous years. The turf sported oversized games such as Jenga and Connect Four, vendor tents from Kind Bar and Dunkin Donuts to Angry Orchard Hard Cider and obscure ride-sharing services. A nice selection, especially considering that some offered free samples.
Chance the Rapper was the main attraction Friday night, leaving most of the afternoon open to explore the grounds. The increasing chill made it tempting to buy a sweatshirt, but the merchandise tent was selling them for over $70. Mere hats suffered the same festival inflation, as well as the food stalls. With a much larger selection than at City Hall Plaza, Boston Calling employed local favorites like Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, Tasty Burger and Bon Me, as well as many others. VIP ticket holders were served by top notch chefs while regular patrons had to wait in lines that were often more than an hour long for a marked-up meal. Boston Calling adopted a common festival technique of pay-with-your-wristband, but it did nothing to make the lines quicker.
If you were patient enough, none of this deterred you from the other new features of the festival. A comedy tent, for starters. Located indoors, comedians went on stage for a few hours each afternoon. Was it popular? When the sun was shining, it seemed as if everyone was on the turf, so it’s hard to say if it paid off. Maybe Boston Calling should ditch the comedy and stick to the music.
That is not to say the musical performers disappointed. After Solange’s abrupt cancellation, crowd favorite Migos opted to fill in. However, when the set began on one of the three stages, an artist named DJ Durel took up most of the set, with Migos sandwiched in-between. Not surprising in such a last-minute situation, but not great. Bon Iver kept an anxious crowd happy until the rain put a literal damper on things. Thankfully, Chance the Rapper took the stage. Despite his late appearance, the energy was infectious. He gave the crowd their favorites, from “Sunday Candy” to “Same Drugs” on a B stage to appease the large crowd. He brought out Francis and the Lights for “May I Have This Dance.” Fireworks helped Chance go out triumphant and he sent everyone home wet but happy.
Now familiar with the set-up, day two was smoother in line. It was a beautiful day where patrons milled about and a thankfully dry turf that was perfect for lounging on despite the previous night’s rain. The lineup for the day was perhaps a bit more “New England;” indie-rock performers like Brandi Carlile, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats and the 1975 lead up to Mumford and Sons. Flannel-clad IPA drinkers were out in storm, creating a true festival atmosphere. Mumford and Sons gave a spectacular set, truly not caring that many fans sung much louder for Sigh No More-era songs than newer material Wilder Mind. Closing with the Beatles’ “With a Little Help from My Friends” and bringing some of the day’s earlier performers onstage to do so was a good move.
Day three dragged, as final days often do at music festivals. Performances were rock-centered with Run the Jewels, Weezer and Cage the Elephant leading up to Tool, after which everyone seemed ready to go home and sleep off the weekend.
In the end, the weekend seemed to be a success. The new location had more benefits than drawbacks, and despite logistical difficulties, the New England crowd seemed to get their festival fix. Here’s to hoping for an exciting line-up for next spring, and perhaps the return of the fall Boston Calling.