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Boston Calling Wrap-Up Report

Boston Calling Music Festival
City Hall Plaza; Boston, Massachusetts
Friday, September 25th – Sunday, September 27th, 2015
Written by Eric Riley

Pre-show Grade:
For their sixth installment, Boston Calling brought one of its broadest lineups to-date. Headliners alt-J and Alabama Shakes each are unique in their own regard, but still stood out set against most of the other acts performing. Of the five past weekends that I have attended, this lineup contained the fewest acts that excited me (though, if you read further, I’ll explain how that worked in my benefit). MisterWives and CHVRCHES were instant draws, and I was interested to see what Nate Ruess’ solo return to Boston Calling would be like. Meanwhile, the radio successes of Hozier and WALK THE MOON made them sure to bring in huge audiences. For me, the larger pieces were in place, it was just a matter of seeing who could fill out the rest of the days. C+

Post-show Grade:
Like I mentioned, when the lineup was revealed in May, I wasn’t totally sold on the majority of artists playing. Each headliner held the role because of their large fanbases, but I’ll admit I wasn’t the biggest fan of either’s music. That’s not to say they didn’t perform extraordinarily – Alabama Shakes called in a favor from the universe, closing out the weekend under a blood red moon. While I’m not a huge fan of the music, I’m still a person with working ears and [unfortunately] human emotions, and the power of the performance was undeniable. Where Alabama Shakes closed things out with crowd-shaking soul, Sunday openers Dirty Bangs delivered arguably the best performance that the yearly local acts have yet. Early Saturday, Minnesotan rap collective DOOMTREE set the standard for how bands should perform – energetic and passionate, while bringing
something new to the stage. A good live set is crucial to making new fans, and they surely made plenty; I’ve had their latest record on repeat. B

Highlight & lowlights:
As they always seem to do, each Boston band opened their respective days to decent-sized crowds. Sunday grew at a steady rate, in size, diversity, and intensity, starting with the raw sharpness of Bully and Fidlar before reaching critical mass during Hozier and Alabama Shakes. Saturday, however, saw some signs of faltering. DOOMTREE had the blooming audience rushing closer to the stage with each passing song, while back-to-back sets from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks and lone bluegrass artist Sturgill Simpson (seemingly filling the role Jason Isbell held in May) saw some attendees taking bathroom breaks and heading to the merchandise and food stands. Father John Misty’s dark, brooding indie-pop instantly picked things back up, and from then on out, the remaining artists really brought it home.

Grounds:
Much like I reported last time around, the festival makes brilliant usage of City Hall Plaza. The setup stayed the same, with the stages, vendors, restrooms, etc. in their usual locations, and this familiarity comforted any returning concertgoers while simultaneously being easily learnable for anyone new in attendance. Being set in the center of a major city is a bit of a double-edged sword – the Government Center T-stop is
still unfinished, which is more of an annoyance than a hassle, but I can understand how those who are unfamiliar with the city or the public transit system could get a little confused. The construction site was a bit of an eyesore, but the stop is scheduled to be
finished by Spring 2016, so this could be the last time that that’s an issue. Also, with the wear-and-tear of daily commutes being evident with, as one site had reported, “loose bricks are as common as flower crowns and tie-dye shirts.” That’s a bit picky, if you ask me. Also an easy fix if it comes down to it. A

Weather:
Almost as perfect as you could ask for – mid-60’s and sunny during the day, with a bit of a chill rolling in as the sky darkened. Then again, compared to the monsoon that happened Day Two last September, any bit of sun is favorable. (Even a year later, I still couldn’t be more impressed with the staff enough for how well they handled that entire situation.) A

Amenities:
Sponsors have always been a major part of Boston Calling, and this year was no different. With the usual suspects, such as Wicked Wines, Polar, Sam Adams, and Blue Stage sponsor JetBlue, coming back once more, the sense of familiarity reached further than
just the grounds’ setup. The free sunscreen and water refill stations were taken full advantage of, especially on the cloudless Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Restrooms, either in the General Admission area or the VIP section, were clean and stocked, and trash bins were emptied regularly (though attendees were encouraged to recycle whatever they could). Oh, and I had my first Tasty Burger experience. That is a very
accurately-named business. A

Overall:
This was my fifth time going to Boston Calling, and given the chance, I plan on attending every one until either it stops happening or I can’t physically go. However, this year’s may be the most honest, accurate review I can give. Each previous lineup contained a handful of artists that I am crazy for – Marina and the Diamonds, St. Vincent, and HALSEY back in May, Lorde, Childish Gambino, and twenty one pilots last September, and don’t even get me started on how packed May 2014 was. This time through, I’ll say I considered myself a fan of three, maybe four of the artists heading in. Also, on my last visits, I had always been on-site as a pit photographer rather than attending as press. So, here’s me, working a job that is not my forte, for a roster of bands that was (key-word: comparably) on the weaker side. Yet, here I am now, in the same spot I always am after Boston Calling comes to a close: sitting at my laptop, with a handful of bands that I can now call myself a fan of, writing about how incredible this young festival somehow manages to be each and every time. I can only imagine what they’ve got in store for us when May rolls back around. But,
you can bet I’ll be there to find out. A-

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