Boston Calling Music Festival returns to City Hall Plaza
Published: Tuesday, September 3, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 3, 2013 08:09
After a wildly successful inaugural show last spring, the Boston Calling Music Festival returns to City Hall Plaza this weekend for round two. And the September edition of the two-day music extravaganza promises to be just as good, if not better, than the first.
Boston’s first-ever major music festival, Boston Calling, a name not-so-subtly borrowed from The Clash’s “London Calling” (1979) album, was conceived by co-founders Brian Appel and Mike Snow to fill what they saw as a “void” in the city’s music scene. Before they teamed up to create Boston Calling, Appel and Snow had worked together at Boston’s arts and culture magazine, the Boston Phoenix, and at its sister alternative rock radio station, WFNX, both of which have now closed. There, the duo gained event-planning experience and forged valuable connections with City Hall, which were integral during the initial planning stages for Boston Calling.
“We had the idea and we were originally going to do it with WFNX,” Appel said. “After they stopped broadcasting we approached the city [ourselves].”
To transform their idea into a tangible reality, Appel and Snow formed Crash Line Productions, the event management company that organizes the festival. Later, Crash Line partnered with The Bowery Presents, a well-known concert promotion organization, to help book bands for the event. They also brought Aaron Dessner, guitarist and producer of alternative/indie rock band The National, on board as a co-curator.
“We met Aaron down in New York through mutual friends,” Appel said. “We started talking to him about what we were doing up here in Boston, and his reaction was very positive. He had a little bit of experience in curating festivals in Europe and in Brooklyn, and he was all for [joining us].”
Dessner’s long-standing reputation in the music world gave Crash Line’s recruiting process a notable boost.
“It was wonderful to say that The National was involved because it became easier to get other bands to play in the lineup,” Appel said.
With Appel and Snow’s hard work and Dessner’s support, the results were tremendous. With a lineup of many well-known artists, including the Shins, Matt and Kim, Of Monsters and Men and Grammy Award-winning band fun., each day of the sold-out event saw almost 20,000 fans packed into City Hall Plaza on May 25 and 26, in spite of the inopportune rainy weather.
Unlike many other high-profile music festivals like Tennessee’s Bonnaroo and California’s Coachella, Boston Calling is unique for its truly urban location. With limited space and largely concrete surfaces, Boston’s City Hall Plaza outside Government Center is most certainly not a typical concert venue. But typical wasn’t what Appel was going for.
“We really wanted to put this festival in downtown Boston,” Appel said. “It was key to the identity of what we were trying to build. [So] it was not our intention to look for a suburb.”
Before settling on City Hall Plaza, Crash Line also considered other settings like the Boston Common and the Hatch Shell along the Charles River Esplanade, but none spoke to the founders like City Hall Plaza.
Even in a smaller, more central site, the first Boston Calling went smoothly. Despite taking place just a little over a month after the Boston Marathon bombings, Bostonians were more than willing to brave the crowded masses to experience this first-of-its kind urban music festival.
“The bombings made us a lot more diligent about our safety and security plan and it also made everyone a little more patient,” Appel said, explaining that concert-goers who had to wait in twenty-minute security lines seemed to be less anxious during the entry process.
For its spring venture, September’s Boston Calling will be very similar to its debut, with just a few slight changes in music and layout. Groups like The Gaslight Anthem, The Airborne Toxic Event and headliner Vampire Weekend will play on Saturday, echoing the same indie rock feel from the first festival. Sunday’s line-up, however, will feature more hip-hop and electronic acts, like rapper Kendrick Lamar, R&B artist Solange, reggae/dance project Major Lazer and indie pop/rock headlining act Passion Pit.
The festival will also continue to allow re-admission for ticketed attendees who may want to leave the confines of the concert. This time, however, more of the food trucks stationed at the festival will be located inside the grounds instead of outside the premises. Appel hopes that this alteration, along with better signage and the returning beer garden, will make for an easy and enjoyable experience for spectators.
Boston Calling will run from 12 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday Sept. 7 and 8 at City Hall Plaza. Regular single-day tickets are $75 each and a weekend pass is $130. Both can be purchased via bostoncalling.com or at ticketmaster.com. $2 from each ticket purchase transaction will be donated to the Music Therapy Program at the Boston Children’s Hospital.