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Boston Calling Music Festival: Is anyone listening?

on February 28, 2013, 10:30am

boston calling Boston Calling Music Festival: Is anyone listening?

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.

Until now.

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.


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Joshua Hester
March 7, 2013 at 6:20 pm

As far as more bands being added I’m not so sure that’s in the works. Think about it this way. Two stages located in city plaza means that they’re not going to be all that far from each other. Their small lineup tells me that these two stages won’t be operating at the same time and that makes sense. With the close proximity – mixed in with an overwhelming amount of brick, cobblestone, and a surrounding army of massive buildings it would be an absolute sound f*ck to have both stages going at once. They’re only running two stages because it allows quick transition in bands, unfortunately it won’t mean more bands. I’ll be surprised if this festival lasts more than a couple of seasons given the rough terrain to be out on all day and what may turn out to be an absolute hell for sound waves.

Ryan Spaulding
March 2, 2013 at 11:24 am

I live in and write about music in Boston. I promote music lineups – always featuring at least a handful of Boston acts, both locally and nationally. And this comment from Ryan Bray rings particularly true:

“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. ”

The facts are that Boston has a poor track record of supporting its bands. And it’s also true that there have never been as many amazing Boston music acts as there are at this particular moment. And so Boston bands have to live and die outside this city to have a chance.This “Boston” festival is proof positive of that.

I will try to attend the Sunday show because of the visiting acts but this Boston music festival concept is lacking without celebrating more than two local acts. The opportunity to shine was there. Very unfortunate it didn’t happen that way.

Kevin DeLue
March 5, 2013 at 1:21 am

Never been as amazing bands in Boston as right now? YOU ARE KIDDING RIGHT?!? I am guessing you are a 20-something. I love this city and what it has always offered but to say this is the best? Clearly you were not part of the scene before corporate America took over and down-sized the landscape many years ago. Is it fertile now? You bet….and I thank God for that! Take out your Boston Rock History 101 book and start on Chapter 1 if you think this music thing is all new here.
See you at the Festival.

March 1, 2013 at 1:35 am

Bostonians should be glad they don’t have a gluttonous monster like Lollapalooza. As a chciagoan I wish it would just go away.

Philip Cosores
February 28, 2013 at 6:35 pm

The Walkmen have that “Lost In Boston” song. So, there’s that.

Philip Cosores
February 28, 2013 at 6:40 pm

Also, legit question, but do we know if this is the whole lineup? How many stages? There aren’t a whole lot of bands, and at least the bands seem to speak to the same audience. I wonder if more small bands might be added or if this is just a single stage deal.

Ryan Bray
February 28, 2013 at 7:29 pm

To my knowledge this is it. Two stages. The fact that its in May leaves plenty of room for them to add a few more acts, but for the most part I think what we see is what we get.

Ryan Bray
February 28, 2013 at 2:40 pm

It’s not strictly an issue of shutting out local bands, and I’m not suggesting that they build it around the local scene. But the organizers really played it pretty conservatively organizing the festival, and it suffers as a result. A few choice outside the box acts and one really good headliner, coupled with more acts indigenous to the New England scene, could really help this become the city’s answer to the other top tier festivals. That’s a lot to ask for in year one, but ideally that’s the direction they should head in.

ghost that never lies…
February 28, 2013 at 2:16 pm

You have to be kidding me?!?!?!? You are complaining b/c they didn’t put enough local music on your fest? Heck, at least you get a festival. After suffering through a weak Florida market for years, I give you no pity. Want to hear local music, go to your pubs…..

This fest is awesome and you are lucky to have the Shins, The National, Of Monsters and Men, Portugal the man, Dirty Projectors, the Walkmen, and many others on one bill….. In Florida, we’re lucky if they come around once every 4-5 years. Then when they do, they only end up playing one market…

Suck it up, rub some dirt on it, and get out and see your local bands every other day of the week and enjoy the fest

Michael Roffman
February 28, 2013 at 2:19 pm

To be honest, the whole Florida argument is a little overdramatic at this point — and I was born and raised in Miami. The scene has grown drastically at this point and so many big tours do come through. The fact of the matter is that they’ve tried making festivals multiple times in that state, but there just aren’t enough dedicated music fans like you to keep them around which is really annoying. But people are trying their hardest to change that. Also, Ultra Fest is still a great go-to event that has expanded their lineup into rock each and every year.

Chris Van Slyke
February 28, 2013 at 12:33 pm

It’s about money. They goal of this festival is to sell as many tickets as possible. Unfortunately, the local acts don’t have much of a draw at the moment. You can take three known local bands, put them on a triple-bill at Great Scott (capacity 240) and it won’t sell out.

I’m guessing Bad Rabbits and Caspian will be the first bands to play each day. I’m also guessing that most people won’t show up early to see them, as they don’t bother to show up for their small intimate shows here in the city.

Alex Young
February 28, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Well, they could have also booked Dropkick or Mighty Mighty Bosstones, both of who are huge draws.

Chris Van Slyke
February 28, 2013 at 4:27 pm

D.M are playing three Boston shows in March (one being at the Garden). The Bosstones just had their Hometown Throwdown. Even if this were not the case, look at the bill. The Murphys and Bosstones are not the types of bands they were targeting.

February 28, 2013 at 9:08 pm

Take out Dropkicks, Bosstones, Pixies and a SMALL handful of others, throw 20 or 30 of them on a bill together, and band members will outnumber the crowd 2 to 1.


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