Boston Calling VII: The Festival in Review

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For those unaware, blue and red are mainstage and green is the new comedy/local act stage.

This past weekend was Boston Calling VII; for those unaware, it’s the newest, greatest summer music festival in New England. Since 2013 this diverse event has taken up residence in City Hall Plaza in Boston during Memorial Day Weekend and then again on a varying weekend in September.With a music lineup curated by Aaron Dessner of the National, there is rarely an act who disappoints. Beyond the performances at the festival, there’s always a variety of sponsors touting games, raffles,and free swag. And who could forget the amazing food and drink vendors they bring in. Regular offerings include Arancini Bros from Brooklyn, NY (love you guys!), Tasty Burger, Sam Adams, and Wicked Wines; there’s also a rotating roster of excellent local and national vendors including Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, Bon Me, Chicken and Rice Guys, and Wagamama. You will NOT go hungry at this festival.  And planet/animal conscious fans, don’t worry. There are always vegetarian and vegan offerings!

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I had already stuffed my face with the buccatini fritti arancino before I could snap a photo. Look at these delicious balls of joy.

If you’re willing to splurge for VIP 3-day passes (my mom and I did for the second time), you’ll be in for some excellent perks. This year’s meals were catered by Citizen’s Public House (a more upscale offering from the folks who brought you Tasty Burger) There were both meat and vegetarian options at each meal, and one meal was more delicious than the next. I enjoyed avocado cucumber sushi, panko breaded mac and cheese, barbecue pork belly, and a mini meatball sub. They also had three kinds of cupcakes! Other offerings up there included free sodas and seltzers from festival sponsor Polar (a local company whom I’ve been in a love affair with for YEARS), samples of some savory KIND bars, Terra chips from Jet Blue, and Dunkin Donuts coffee. This is a far cry from the first time I bought VIP tickets and all we got were some chips and salsa catered by Hard Rock Cafe. Other VIP perks include a nice shaded area within City Hall Plaza, a platform between the two stages for a better view (this is also for ADA access!),chairs and couches, a bar for VIPS only (cash bar, but still) and private port-a-potties. If you can get these tickets at early bird prices, it’s easily worth the extra splurge, especially if the bands are lackluster or the weather is bad. I don’t know how these perks will vary or improve at the new venue (more on that shortly), but I hope it remains comparable.

This May’s affair is flipping the script by being the last Boston Calling held in City Hall Plaza, and the first to not be followed up by a September event. The BC team will be focusing their energy on planning next year’s festival at the Harvard Athletic Quad in Allston rather than coming back in September as expected. This is part of a plan to expand the festival to include more comedic offerings as well as a film festival component curated by Natalie Portman (WHAT?!) and art installations. As a four-time attendee of the event, and someone who greatly looked forward to being able to attend another September festival now that I am permanently home from college, this cancellation has been a huge blow. I’m sure that next May will not disappoint, but I can’t help but that the attempts to expand and further diversify the event will diminish what made it so special in the first place. While it will still be taking place in the city, it won’t be in the heart of things. It won’t be all about the music and the experience. I know plenty of people will think I’m just being salty, but I don’t see the appeal of comedians and films at a MUSIC festival. For me, it’s a weekend that’s all about music, food, and fun. I don’t know that the expansion will lend itself to that.

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My classy festival style from Saturday

Now on to the actual event review. This year’s festival was…of a very mixed quality.
Friday night was easily the best lineup of the three days. Lisa Hannigan and Aaron Dessner started out the fest with some mellow rocking vibes, the perfect tunes for dinner time. Sufjan Stevens brought what could only be described as a psychedelic art-rock performance (and wacky wavy inflatable arm flailing tube men). I had not listened to Stevens before I saw him, but it did nothing to dampen his contagious energy and electric performance. He was followed up by vocal powerhouse Sia and her outstanding crew of dancers. I know my mom wasn’t as enamored with this performance as I was, but I walked into it knowing the dancers would be doing the real crowd engagement for Sia; if you’re unfamiliar, she obscures her face, typically with a large wig or costume piece, and more or less stands there and sings for her whole set. It may not be your cup of tea, but I enjoyed it. The crowd definitely ate it up too!

Day two was easily the weakest of the three lineups, in my opinion. Maybe it was the heat draining the energy from both the crowd and the performers, but I have never felt less hyped up at a show before. The bands (for the most part) barely engaged with the crowd. It’s one thing if you know a band well and they don’t say anything for their whole set, but if it’s a festival where you might know half of the bands, it’s boring when they don’t even say,”hey” (I’m looking at you, Miike Snow. You guys sucked). Headliner Robyn put on a bizzare, experimental performance that I didn’t bother staying for the entirety of. From what I’ve heard, neither did she; she left the stage twenty minutes early even after the crowd clamored for an encore. I don’t know what she was expecting as the headliner of a music festival on the hottest day of the year thus far; you can’t come up on stage and try something completely out of left field and expect the crowd to know how to engage with it. Some highlights of the day were the Vaccines, BORNS, and Odezsa. Honestly, I think they should have made Odezsa the Saturday headliner since they were much more engaging and overall fun.

Day three was INCREDIBLE. Despite the cold weather, the acts were red hot. Even artists like Vince Staples, whom I would probably never listen to on my own, were highly fun to watch. Some of my personal favorites of the day were the Front Bottoms, Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires, Janelle Monae, Haim, and Elle King. That’s most of the main stage lineup, if you’re keeping track. And that’s both wonderful and sucky; the beginning and end of the festival were excellent, but the middle was pretty lackluster. Maybe this is just because I didn’t know many of the artists on Saturday, or maybe it’s a general mistake in the creation of the lineup. I have faith that Aaron Dessner will do better next May; he has a pretty excellent track record for putting together good festivals.

I’m looking forward to next year, and I hope I run into some of you there!

All my love,
Katherine Wheel.