I love Boston Calling. There are a few reasons I say that, all of which have nothing to do with music or bands that have played the festival. It starts with “The Story” – as it was started by two friends who simply had a dream of building this event in their hometown. One of them lives in my town and the other happens to be a friend who I crossed paths with in the world of radio. About seven years ago, they stopped what they were doing, joined forces and simply told everyone “we are starting this festival.” They were met with some hesitation and plenty of industry folks who advised against it and told them it would never work. Guess what? … they did it anyway, launched a successful inaugural two-day fest in 2013 with fun. and The National headlining in City Hall Plaza. Six years later, we had the 10th edition of what has now become one of the most desirable and well-rounded festival experiences in North America.
For those who are math wizards like me and scratching their heads at how it could be the 10th anniversary only six years later, here’s how – 2016 was the first year the festival was strictly held on Memorial Day weekend. For the first three years, there was a Boston Calling spring and Boston calling fall in September. The movement organically snowballed as a privately-owned enterprise (Crashline Productions) with some limited corporate backing and involvement. Over the years, Boston Calling has held true to its celebratory distinctness within the arts culture world while at the same time, evolving with the world’s most alluring acts.
Fun fact: In 2014, there a small band towards the bottom of the fall lineup that played early in the afternoon. They were this up and coming duo from Columbus, OH called Twenty One Pilots. Well, they seemed to steer the plane with the same trajectory as Crashline, as the first group to headline the 10th Boston Calling was … Twenty One Pilots.
I was fortunate enough to attend this event again once again this past weekend. Graced with three days of perfect weather, 2019 contained perhaps the most diverse lineup in the festival’s history, targeting a slightly younger demographic, with a strong focus still on those artists pioneering grassroot efforts.
So, here is my Boston Calling 2019 story. In the words of my favorite artist on the bill (Brandi Carlile) hold out your hand, take a hold of mine and round and round we go
Every Time I Hear That Song: The Music
The first thing you notice upon entering the festival grounds at Harvard’s athletic complex is the “You Are Our People” radiating atop the entrance. Those four words really can be applied to everything Boston Calling encompasses. A lineup where almost every genre of music is represented, food of a million flavors, relevant partners from mixed industries, activities galore, and then of course, the blue, red and green stage.
As I walked from the entrance to the media tent, I noticed a Vans sponsored activity center blasting Audioslave. So, literally the first music I heard at the festival was Chris Cornell’s undeniable voice permeating the fields.
Since it all starts with the music, that’s where I will start, too, in the form of a few personal highlights. Hozier is just a force to be reckoned with and quite possibly had the most passionate fan attendance of all.
On the wave of loyalty, Tufts alum, Guster, were also a main attraction. Having recently celebrated 25 years as a group, Guster feels the same now atop one of the largest stages in New England history, as they do/did before a handful of people at Welfleet’s Beachcomber. And that’s a great thing. I found myself in a state of, “Oh yeah, this is a Guster song” while singling along to “Fa Fa” from across the field. Side note – 16 years ago at Bentley University I was part of the concert team that built large shows on campus. That was the only time I have worked with Guster when we brought them in to perform during the fall of 2002. Don’t tell anyone, but after months of relentless work to make that show happen, I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Seattle and see Pearl Jam at Key Arena with my best friend. The problem was it was the same date as the Guster show I had been planning. I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say it was soooo worth it.
But back to Boston : ) … regardless of my taste in music, one thing I really admired was how many parents brought their kids to see their favorite bands perform at Boston Calling – specifically, Twenty One Pilots. Prior to the weekend, I heard so many people say, “Oh, my kids love them.” Or, “We’ are thinking of going just to take the kids to see Twenty One Pilots.”
Of those I was not familiar with, Turnstile, Shame and Cautious Clay were three acts I can see following the Twenty One Pilots return to Boston Calling as a headliner model. Did you know Cautious Clay wrote and performed with John Mayer? Neither did I. He played “Cold War” to close out his Sunday set at was anything but cold.
The only artist I watched in full, meaning arrived at the stage prior to the performance starting and stayed until the very last note was Brandi Carlile. When I attend such festivals these days, I am often working, hustling (the good kind of hustle) and creating. But come 7:55pm on Sunday, the bag had to be locked away, the wheels were to stop spinning and I had two fresh Miller Lite’s (back off, they were free) in a carved out spot about 40 feet away from the Delta Blue stage.
Man, Carlile’s set was stellar. The three-time 2019 Grammy Award winner took the stage with the Hanseroth twins, a small strings section, a piano player and incredible drummer in tow just as the sun was setting on the day and 10th edition of the festival. Two things stuck out to me during her hour and fifteen-minute set – 1. Her audience was beautifully inclusive. 2. Carlile smiled from start to finish. I broke my own rule and took out my phone just to capture how contagious and ever-present this theme of smiling was. She spoke of her jaw-dropping performance of “The Joke” at the Grammys and performed a solo rendition of “The Mother” ( a song about her daughter) introducing it by telling a story of marrying her wife in Boston because back a few years ago, it was one of the only places where they could, “The world has stood against us, made us mean to fight for you. And when we chose your name we knew that you’d fight the power too.”
If there was an atmosphere that represented the “You Are Our People” that serves as the foundation of 10 Boston Callings, Carlile’s set was it.
Sugartooth: The Food
One of the best parts of Boston Calling is the variety of cusine options. Sticking to the marquee theme, you’ll find dozens of local tastes onsite. You name a particular style of food and not only will you have it available here, but it will be from a local establishment that you can return to.
Here are the best things I tried:
Chili cheese dog from Boston Trolley dogs
Steak sandwich from Ruths Chris
Peperoni pizza from Copperdome
Buffalo chicken Arancini from Arancini Bros
Now before you tell me I have problems let me note that Trolley Dogs was via catering. The other three I sought out and ate over the course of seven hours. Three days later, I still don’t feel great, this might be a small reason why, but I don’t regret one damn bite. I’d return to each of these four places any time – just maybe not in the same 85-degree day.
Whatever You Do: The Unique
You know I’m a sucker for the little things. It’s because that what to me, makes the biggest difference. Boston Calling ’19 was filled with them in the form of moments and amenities. For example, Idle Hand Collective Barber Shop was set up in the artist village. We featured Alex Levine of the Gaslight Anthem in November as he is a partner in this venture that brings a pop-up Barber Shop to festivals and national events. It’s accessible only to the artists on the bill and their team, but you have to appreciate the thoughtfulness of providing this to artists who bounce from city-to-city with little time to properly pay attention to themselves.
At 2:30pm on Sunday, I interviewed Murray Matravers from Easy Life. We opted to find a quiet corner away from the media tent. We found a picnic table by the tennis courts and spoke candidly about everything from getting their start in Leicester UK to the thrill of now hitting North America’s biggest festival stages like Boston Calling, Coachella and Governors Ball. You may notice that regardless of who I am speaking with, my first question is always – how are you? It’s so simple and yet, seldomly asked. 20 minutes into our conversation Murray paused us, “Wait, you started by asking me how I am. I never asked, how are you doing?” he said. That’s the first time anyone has asked me that in return.
At about 7pm I ran into Ryan Miller of Guster. We both were taking a minute to recharge. Miller had been spending the day graciously accommodating every local request, shaking hands and representing what has made Guster such a New England musical entity the past 25+ years – being spirited amongst the people. I took a right corner with a drink intending to just have a quiet moment away from the hustle and there was Miller sitting by himself in a lounge chair. We gave each other the same deep breath side-smile nod, chatted about the day for a moment and then clinked our drinks with a much-needed cheers.
By 10pm it was time for me to begin my trek back to the coast. Because when your home you’re already home. I packed my bag and my mind and opted for the long way out – with my thoughts running like water down a flume. I concluded the day was a thumbs up for effort, giving the experience everything I had in the form of dragging my broken back all over Harvard like a paint brush filling every corner of the canvas three times over. Professionally, was it my best set of results? No, not really. Certainly nothing to frown at, but I didn’t think I drummed of enough appropriate, un-forced content straight from the gut of Artist Waves. Little did I know.
This is when I bumped into Brandi Carlile. She was still smiling as she and her band were also getting ready to leave the grounds. Six months ago, I had the pleasure of writing about Carlile being our 2018 most inspiring artist of the year. On Sunday, I had the chance to say it in person. We spoke for a few minutes, stopped for a photo, then hugged and carried on.
At AW, Carlile is the definition of “our people” as her purpose with a passion and passion with a purpose is the epitome of what we are all about. And really, that’s also what Boston Calling is all about. Artist to festival to fan – it was the perfect connection where there were no judgements, no divisive lines and everyone was equal. No genre, food or fan was better than another, there was something for everybody. And if you explored enough you would find that one special gem that shines as a forever keepsake. Knowing the origins it’s easy to see, Boston Calling comes from the heart where it’s main intent is to create something special. It’s what attracts the world’s most sincere artists and keeps the fans coming back year-after-year. Cheers to 10 more.
By the way, extra points for anyone who can figure out the reason behind the subheadings in this article.