Over Memorial Day Weekend, thousands gathered in Boston’s City Hall Plaza for the final Boston Calling music festival in that location. Next year, the festival is expanding and will take place in Harvard University’s athletic complex. In addition to music, next year’s festival will also feature film and art exhibitions. (The festival was so enjoyable this year that I have already purchased my tickets for next year.) Despite the unpredictable and quickly changing weather, it was a terrific event with stellar musical performances. Read on below as we recap the three-day festival.
Friday started with an intimate set from Irish folk singer Lisa Hannigan and The National’s Aaron Dessner. It was an impressive performance, and a great way to start the weekend of music. Sufjan Stevens followed with a psychedelic, over-the-top set that started with an epic performance that involved a costume with wings and a banjo being smashed, and ended with a costume with balloons, tin foil and a disco ball strapped to Stevens’ chest. Boston Calling truly had a diverse array of music, and Friday’s lineup certainly displayed this diversity. Friday night closed with one of the festival’s most anticipated acts, pop singer Sia. Her powerful vocals and dance performances that featured Kristen Wiig, Maddie Ziegler, Paul Dano and Gaby Hoffman impressed crowds and left many awed and awaiting Saturday’s stacked lineup.
Saturday started off with brutally hot weather, with the temperature hitting nearly 100 degrees at one point in the day. The festival managed the weather the best they could, providing free water and samples of Polar Seltzer. Although the water line could take up to 30 minutes to get through at points throughout the day, staff did a great job of making sure their patrons were cared for and safe despite the incredibly hot weather. BØRNS, famous for their hit “Electric Love,” created a fun, dancy atmosphere and lead singer Garrett Borns truly impressed crowds with his beautiful falsetto. Canada-based City and Colour played a soulful and bluesy set and featured a guest appearance from The Raconteurs’ bassist Jack Lawrence. Swedish indie pop band Miike Snow had a decent crowd, but they were mostly background music for those who wished to sit on the pavement of City Hall Plaza or grab something to eat and sit in the shade after a day of completely oppressive heat. The night finished off with impressive music, dancing and light shows from EDM duo Odesza and Swedish vocalist Robyn.
The weather changed drastically by Sunday, and was much cooler and clammier than most patrons expected. It was still a great day of incredibly diverse music. From Vince Staples’ powerful rapping to Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires funky set, the day started with two genres of music that fans had not yet seen at Boston Calling. Charles Bradley was especially impressive, and had me rocking out to his awesome moves and crazy-good voice. Next were The Front Bottoms, where lead man Brian Sella interacted with the crowd the entire set and gave the audience a really good time. Everyone knew the words to all of their songs, and the energy created by the interaction between the crowd and the musicians lent itself to a fun and energetic set. Elle King was next, with her bright blue hair and raspy voice. She faced some backlash from fans regarding her drinking, but she still put on a wonderful and engaging performance. To close out the night, Janelle Monàe really wowed fans with her nine-person band and powerful message of choosing freedom over fear. Her voice is great, her band was tight and fans really enjoyed her honest investment in her music. She also covered a Prince song. The next act, Haim, a rock band started by the Haim sisters, also covered Prince and played fan favorites like “The Wire” and “Falling.” Disclosure closed out the night with a mind-blowing light show and beats that resonated through fans’ chests.
Overall, Boston Calling was one of the most well-organized, fluid and fun festivals that I have ever attended. Staff dealt with the challenges of the weather with ease, and did their best to provide patrons with the most comfortable and healthy experience possible. The food vendors all had both healthy and delicious options, and I was really impressed by the quality of the food that was provided. They made sure that patrons weren’t just getting overpriced, greasy festival food, but an actual meal that tasted good and was well worth the money they paid for it. The diverse and eclectic acts all performed incredibly well, and no one disappointed. There weren’t even that many incidents of drunken fans that couldn’t handle themselves; as I said, it was an incredibly well-organized and fluid festival, and fans seemed to respond to that in a responsible and respectful way. Buy your tickets to the next Boston Calling as soon as possible — the expansion can only mean great things for this thrilling festival.