I love Boston. Having been born and raised there, it’s more than your typical big city with restaurants, bars, shops, schools, skyscrapers, cars, and homes. More than a place, it’s an attitude and a frame of mind. It’s in the way I talk, walk, and react to everything that happens around me. It comes out of me when I start dropping my Rs after a few beers, or in my irrational urge to put my head through a wall whenever I see Eli Manning’s face. It’s a city that influences just about every facet of who I am and what I believe in.
By extension, it’s also had a heavy hand in influencing my musical lineage. My high school years were spent playing in and out of bands and going to all ages shows at the Middle East and church basements. While most kids I grew up with were feeding their knee-jerk teen angst with ample doses of Limp Bizkit and Korn, my friends and I were digging deep down in the trenches of the city’s always proud punk scene, which at the time boasted acts like the Pinkerton Thugs, Ducky Boys, the Bruisers, and the Showcase Showdown, among others. From there I threw myself further into the city’s rich musical history, from indie and post punk (The Pixies, Throwing Muses, Morphine, the Modern Lovers, Mission of Burma) to pop rock, alternativ,e and new wave (J. Giles, The Lemonheads, The Cars). The depth of quality and sheer quantity of bands that have sprung (and continue to rise) from all corners of the city floored me — it still does.
But Boston always seemed too content to sleep on the talent. The city has always boasted a healthy and diverse local rock scene, and it’s never been short of places to host the endless number of bands creeping out from around every corner. But when it came to doing something big, something to string all of the city’s various local threads together alongside more national acts, Boston has always been noticeably absent. While other thriving musical hubs such as Chicago, Austin, and Seattle have strived to make some sort of identifiable musical mark, Beantown just kind of shrugged its shoulders indifferently. Despite the protests from many to bring a proper music festival to the city, aside from the occasional radio-sponsored outdoor show, fans have been left to grit their teeth.
News came out Wednesday that the city’s first stab at a two-day music festival was well underway, complete with an 18 band lineup in tow. Curiously dubbed the Boston Calling Musical Festival, the weekend-long extravaganza, scheduled for the weekend of May 25th and 26th, boasts a murderers row of festival-tested frontrunners (The Shins, fun., The National) and plenty of other festival staples (The Walkmen, Matt and Kim, Andrew Bird), but noticeably few local acts (to be fair, Caspian and Bad Rabbits are good gets).
But really, the city’s fans and bands deserve more. Boston Calling, at least on a gut first impression, smacks of missed opportunity, and it’s easy to be disappointed. What could have been an opportunity to celebrate the city’s wealth of musical history and depth of current talent instead feels like a warmed-over rehashing of pretty much every festival, both large or small, that’s laid stakes in the ground over the past five years. Lollapalooza has upgraded Chicago’s already prized musical heritage for the new millenium, and South by Southwest has cemented Austin’s status as a global live music epicenter. Boston Calling, however, in its first year barely constitutes a drop in the bucket. Even the Life is Good Festival, held each September in nearby Canton, dwarfs what can’t be seen as anything other than a tepid attempt to get the city on the festival bandwagon.
Don’t get me wrong. Boston Calling doesn’t have to be Lolla, Coachella, or Bonnaroo to make an impression. It just has to peek its head up out from the rest of its festival-season brethen. And with the talent prowling around town it could have. Where’s Muck and the Mires? What about Grass is Green? Faces on Film might be a bit too earnest or intimate for the midday festival stage, but why not? Shit, it beats watching .fun for the tenth time. Yeah, it’s ground zero, a first shot out of the gate, so maybe it’s unfair to expect the world so soon. But I’m not asking for the world, just something worthy of the blood and the sweat Boston’s red blooded, blue collared musical tradition was built on.