Midday Sunday, I bumped into one of Boston Calling’s PR folks in the photo pit gearing up for Phosphorescent’s set. Knowing that I’d attended the previous two installments of the fest, she asked how I thought this one was going. I commented on their ability to adapt, to change, and figure things out, whether it’s dealing with a two-year construction plan usurping the space of one of their stages or finding a way to better service VIP.
“So you think it’s better this year?” she asked me. “Well, it’s hard to say,” I replied with a smile. “There were no problems last time, so what do you say when there are still no problems?”
I’m not just buttering their bread because Boston is my hometown. (Okay, I grew up outside the city limits, but it’s not like I’m from New Hampshire). The folks behind Boston Calling just really have their shit together. At first glance, there’s no less suitable location for a music festival than the brick courtyard and ugly stone facades of City Hall Plaza. But for three straight events, Crash Line Productions and 44-Communications have not just pulled it off, but done so with aplomb.
Photo by Ben Kaye
The biggest challenge they had to face this year was likely the construction taking place on the Government Center train station. The station usually lets out right at the gate of the festival, making for easy transport and entrance. With a two-year plan to upgrade the T stop beginning in March, that quick access was no longer available. Worse for the fest, the construction zone ate up the location where their secondary Red Stage sat last September.
Their solution came from shifting the stage 90 degrees to the right, lining it up perpendicular with the edge of the main Blue Stage. With the lightbooths now split in two, there was the risk of upsetting large portions of the crowd. Yet there was still plenty of room to move about and shift between the stages for an excellent view, even if you had to leave one for the other a bit earlier than before. It’s not like you’d really miss much music, anyway; the stages were barely a football field apart, if that.
Food service was also improved, with more variety inside the festival’s fenced-off perimeter, like Bon Me sandwiches or the you-don’t-get-it-till-you’ve-had-it Roxy Grilled Cheese. Sure, the VIP/Media food service didn’t stack up to last year, but from my understanding that’s largely Hard Rock Cafe’s fault, so no damage done to the festival folks. Even beer service was improved, with remarkably swift lines despite what seemed like fewer vendors. And while some folks were bummed that Sam Adams had stepped in as a sponsor/to limit the alcohol assortment, at least the city’s new mayor was down with open ordinances and you weren’t trapped in a guarded beer garden if you wanted a drink.
Photo by Ben Kaye
Hell, even the weather held out this go-around. Besides one spat of showers (fittingly during the return of Pacific Northwesterners The Decemberists), the weather report’s threat of rain never came to fruition, and warm late-spring days made for comfortable festing. Attendees were out in mass from the very opening of the gates, filling in considerably more space than in the early hours of last year’s editions to catch “local” openers Magic Man and Tigerman WOAH. From what I witnessed, they were friendlier and more held together than the previous crowds, too. As with any event like this, there were of course those folks who overdid it, but they were swiftly dealt with by EMS and police and far less rampant (whether or not that had anything to do with the makeup of the lineup versus last September’s is up for debate).
So, did Boston Calling get better? Well, it’s hard to say. When you’ve got an event that’s so consistently well-run, crowd-pleasing, and stress-free, how much better can you get? I guess we’ll find out when Boston Calling returns in September with their sickest lineup to date. But before we get ahead of ourselves, here are the 10 sets that helped solidify Boston Calling’s continued success as a worthy entry in the festival game.
Assistant News Editor