Boston Calling 2017: A Roundtable


Tim Gagnon: Alright, how’s the morning after treating you all?

Jeremy Stanley: It was the strangest thing — I woke up with the Golden Girls theme song stuck in my head.

Tim: Hmm… I’m still wearing that Miller Lite/“This Is My Flower Crown” hat. Please help me.

Corwin Wickersham: My brain is fried from scrolling through pictures for hours on end. I need to learn better discipline and take less.

Tim: No, Corwin, take more. Become the photo… let’s start with highlights and low points of Friday.

George Greenstreet: Let’s not mince words: the organization was an absolute disaster.

Tim: Damn, ok, we’re just getting into it then.

Corwin: I was trying to decide all weekend how much can we chalk up to new location/first year struggles vs. dropping the ball. The place was so fucking packed and I’ve never seen such impressive bathroom and foods lines… that was never as much of an issue at the old location.

Jeremy: Friday was almost completely a low point for me. It seemed like the festival was still being put together by the time gates opened. No one — not even staff — quite knew where anything was — perhaps a function of the festival’s first go at the Harvard Athletic Complex.

George: Agreed. Obviously some of the issues of certain areas getting congested and uncomfortable clumping in crowds are things that they can adjust as the grow into the new spot, but the long lines and credit card systems going down (which of course contributed to the long lines) were all basic things they should have planned for.

Jeremy: Simple things like signage could have alleviated a lot of the issues.

Tim: Let’s discuss festival logistics a bit later. For now, what about the music itself?

George: The music got better as the night went on. Chance and Sigur Rós were both excellent performances that made the experience well worth it. Bon Iver and Sylvan Esso might have been good if we were able to hear anything.

Tim: Personal highlight related to music: Sigur Rós, which was every bit as angelic and Icelandic as I could’ve ever dreamed it’d be. And Chance, obviously, although I showed up super late. Other highlight sorta related to music: somehow ending up in VIP with a cup of wine in hand before Migos. The low of the day: uh, the Migos set.

George: Migos was just lame. It’s a replacement that didn’t really service the Solange fans there and they didn’t even have the hottest member of the group (Offset) in attendance.

Tim: WHERE WAS OFFSET??? I heard someone near me genuinely ask if “there were three Migos,” which was hilariously sad on multiple levels.

George: For a hype hip hop crew, their total lack of stage presence was really disappointing.

Jeremy: Bon Iver was incredible, even if the crowd didn’t seem to be into it and the sound was not nearly as loud as the other stages. The performance of “Skinny Love,” a crowd favorite no one really expected him to play, was timed so well to a burst of rain that my first thought was, “seems fake.”

Corwin: The sound was definitely an issue if you weren’t up near the stage. I wasn’t THAT far back from Bon Iver and it was totally background music.

George: I’m just going to get into sound for a second while we we’re on the topic. File whoever decided to have the red stage sound like that under “baffling decisions.” Anyone standing behind the sound board tent ended up with muffled enough sound to kill the performance.

Jeremy: Is it because the Blue and Red stages could have had sound bleed issues? That’s my only theory – if you stood far back enough at the Blue stage, you’d get fragments of sound from the Red Stage.

George: They had a much better sound system on the stage next door and people filling the entire area to see sets on both. Why not just route the sound from the Red stage through the Green stage’s system and let people who aren’t up front and actually hear?

Corwin: That’s not a bad call. One thing I thought was done well: the comedy arena.

Tim: I only got to see Eugene Mirman do Bob’s Burgers songs, but also… I got to see Eugene Mirman do Bob’s Burgers songs, so I’m good with how I spent my limited time in the comedy arena.

Jeremy: The arena is one place I’m sad I didn’t spend too much time in (and then got trapped there for a brief moment when I did. More on that later…)

George: Hannibal Buress was a festival highlight for me

He really embraced the odd situation for a comedy festival. His Migos jokes at the beginning almost made that trash Migos set worthwhile!

Tim: I still think about his Young Thug bit, like, every other day, so I wish I saw that in person.

Friday Slideshow:


George: Saturday was better than expected.

Tim: Can we just start and finish our Saturday coverage with The XX? Like, that’s it for me.

George: No, we cannot. There was also a great set from Danny Brown and the most slept on set of the festival: Moses Sumney.

Tim: TRUE. My sincerest apologies to Moses Sumney… you were robbed of good sound, so you shouldn’t be robbed of appropriate praise.

Jeremy: The dad-rock vibes of Kevin Morby kicked off the day well. It was the perfect way to ease back into a festival that had some struggles.

Another favorite early-day set of mine: Brandi Carlile with three-part harmonies. With the exception of The XX, one could argue the Green and Red stages were basically Newport Folk Fest Lite, which is either your thing or not.

Of course, Mumford and Sons has never made an appearance at Newport, and (probably) never will. Even though the band is ridiculed a lot, people have told me their live show is really good. I was disappointed by how bland it was. It felt stale and oddly contractual. That is, until, an ensemble of musicians from earlier in the day joined the band for a euphoric cover of “A Little Help From My Friends.”

Tim: Damn.

Jeremy: Yes, I stayed to the end of Mumford.

Tim: You are the true journalist amongst us weak bloggers, Jeremy. I bow to you.

Jeremy: lol

Corwin: Was that after they lit the stage on fire?

Tim: Wait, what…? They lit the stage on fire?

Corwin: From a mile back, my girlfriend thought they were in imminent danger. They had literal flames shooting out of poles …sort of. Poles that looked like they were falling over.

Jeremy: As a sidebar, I know there’s a budget for these things, but I was really uneasy at every single use of pyrotechnics in the wake of the Manchester bombing. Just saying… they could have eased up!

Tim: Strongly agreed. Also, not to make things too jokey, but does Mumford REALLY need pyro? Like, does anyone listen to Sigh No More and think, “this is cool… I can absolutely picture this live with scary fire sticks and pyrotechnics”?

Corwin: I mean, if you’re gonna sing a song called “Demon”, do you want to just play to red light?

Tim: Look, man, I just write Mumford fan fiction sometimes; I don’t know their back catalog THAT intimately.

Corwin: I only know that because I heard them say it as the flames kicked in (but yes, they are my favorite band)

Tim: Also, I’d like to note that the openers this year were incredibly solid. I wandered over to Tkay Maidza’s set at Blue Stage and it was seriously one of the most energetic rap sets all weekend. Absolutely check her shit out… I have a feeling she’ll be back at a much higher slot one day.

Jeremy: Going back a bit… holy shit, did the group text light up during The XX or what? Lots of “are you kidding me?”

Tim: That “Shelter” remix tho. Are. you. kidding. me.

Jeremy: It delivered on a “hey, this band should be headlining festivals” level. When can they play here next?

Tim: I’ve always heard they’re an incredibly boring band to see live, so I was beyond stoked that everyone I’ve ever met was wrong.

Corwin: They had one of the better looking sets to shoot.

Jeremy: Wow, that stage was incredible. I was wondering how they built it out so quickly.

George: Agreed, it was a really spectacular set. It made the comedown of Mumford and Sons even more jarring.

Tim: Oh man, the fans walking out after The XX that were shit-talking Mumford was life giving.

George: I think the flood of people out of the crowds at the beginning of Mumford and Sons and the flood in immediately before Tool speaks to the questionable nature of their headliner booking in comparison to the rest of the lineup.

Saturday Slideshow:


George: That said, Tool took a lot of people by surprise. That was an excellent set that definitely made a few converts.

Jeremy: Tool was… good???

Tim: I left early! Explain to me how you’ve been converted into Tool fans! I am so fascinated.

Corwin: Was it a good set….? I just can’t get into metal of any flavor.

George: Tool was probably objectively the best set of the weekend. Metal is really not my thing and they a band where I guess I’ve always respected the construction of the music while never quite enjoying listening to it. This set was elegantly put together and completely spectacular though.

Jeremy: I found myself really enthralled by the musicianship. There was hardly anything going on on stage, but a light show and very… interesting … visuals on the screens more than made up for it. The frontman, Maynard James Keenan, wore riot-cop gear and delivered a rallying cry of unity.

George: “Don’t believe the hype, dum dums. We’re all in this together.”

Corwin: Ok, my girlfriend was trying to figure out that quote (if we even heard it correctly) and she said he was being negative, but perhaps Maynard was providing hope?

George: The brief times when Maynard James Keenan addressed the audience, he actually had something interesting to say. For a band that hasn’t put out anything in a decade, it made them feel incredibly vital, particularly in the current political climate.

Tim: I’m… actually sorta upset I had to miss a Tool set…?

Jeremy: Wow, a full-on love fest for Tool. Who would’ve expected?

Tim: ALRIGHT, ENOUGH TOOL. Speaking of metal/hardcore/things Corwin probably doesn’t like though, Converge on Sunday at the Green Stage was one of the most fucked up, best bookings Boston Calling’s ever done.

Corwin: You are correct, I did not enjoy that set… but it was fun/challenging to photograph.

Tim: Like, I never thought I’d see TWO pits at one Boston Calling set, but Converge bros GO IN. Very appreciative of that booking since, aside from them, I only wanted to see Mitski and maybe a slight hate-watch of Weezer on Sunday.

Jeremy: Oh yeah! Mitski and Frightened Rabbit were awesome and the reason why I got stuck in the comedy arena. Maybe I’ll save that story for another day.

Tim: Stop teasing this fuckin’ story! I wanna hear it!

Corwin: Mitski and the singer from Frightened Rabbit held Jeremy down in the comedy arena and tickled him until he peed.

Jeremy: Around the end of The Hotelier’s set, the Boston Calling app buzzed my phone: a promise of a special treat at the Xfinity Comedy zone. There, I was rewarded in my sprinting while wearing 2-day-old boots, with a pass to see a special solo acoustic performance with Frightened Rabbit. Naturally I went to the solo show, and had to miss out on PUP (ugh.)

The solo set was amazing, but I did not want to miss out on the start of Mitski’s set. So while “Swim Until You Can’t See Land” hit its final chorus, I cooly walked to the exit and was met by this:

Tim: Oh.

Jeremy: A few anxious moments passed, and I was thinking it wouldn’t be possible to leave. Then someone came over and let me out. Not before the garage door holding us all in there screeched in the middle of frontman Scott Hutchison’s banter…

Tim: Hahahaha

Jeremy: …Maybe we can use Corwin’s account instead?

Tim: Why not both? There was fear of being locked in, then a good ol’ tickling until you pissed… a true epic really. George, how was Major Lazer? I opted to go to Weezer.

George: Exactly what you’d expect from Major Lazer: pretty fun and totally disposable.

Corwin: I made that same mistake, Tim. Who wants to hear “My Name Is Jonas” and then some other non-hit in the first 3 songs of a festival set?

Tim: Woaaaaah, okay… honestly, fifteen year old me resurfaced and enjoyed himself throughly. And then they played their new single and I was forced back into 24 year old me’s misery of being at a Weezer set in 2017.

Jeremy: Oh man, I could not get into Weezer’s set.

Corwin: Apparently they ended with “Sweater Song”, “Island in the Sun”, “Say It Ain’t So”, and “Buddy Holly”. That I could have dug.

Tim: Please refer to this tweet regarding my feelings on that set’s end.

Sunday Slideshow:


Tim: OKAY, I know we’ve been pretty forward about the festival’s layout/general atmosphere, but does anyone have any other positives/negative points they’d like to make about it?

Jeremy: It really got better as the weekend went on. The lowest points gave way to the highest points, easily.

Corwin: Yeah, I feel like they get benefit of the doubt for one year since it was a new location. Lot of good music, but lots of problems (that can be ironed out).

Tim: I appreciated the changes they made throughout the weekend (i.e. more bathrooms near the Media area, moving the VIP section, etc.) Definitely showed they were listening to the fans/press.

Jeremy: I do wish the festival organizers were a little more upfront with messaging about simple things like rain and mud. Obviously there was going to be mud, but their social media would only call it “dampness.”

Corwin: I think they had a great food and drink selection, just not enough physical booths to handle the crowd.

Jeremy: The water stations, on a whole, were too far away from anything. One improvement I’d like to see made is more of them. There were some nice artistic touches on the grounds, too. I liked seeing the lyric things.

Tim: I thought those were weird trash cans all weekend tbh. I kept throwing emptied beer cups at them.

George: I think they definitely should have sold less tickets for the first time at the new location. I get wanting to recoup all those moving costs, but having that big an audience when you haven’t figured out how best to lay things and set up stages (as well as get beer and food to attendees without hour long lines) was pretty uncool of them towards their customers.

Wanting to make good money on a money making enterprise is totally understandable, but those tickets were VERY expensive. They could have afforded slightly smaller sales to make for a more comfortable experience.

Jeremy: Aside from it making absolutely no business sense, I agree with George.

Tim: I agree with Jeremy. Of course they want to make money and elevate Boston Calling to the status of “one of America’s premier music festivals” alongside Bonnaroo and Coachella, but I also agree that they needed WAY better spatial planning in order to meet that latter goal.

George: I think it makes business sense. Things didn’t go great this year but if they had gone worse it could have seriously affected ticket sales next year. Negative word of mouth is a powerful motivator.

Tim: I think it goes without saying that the attacks in Manchester naturally were on a lot of minds this weekend, especially security. That being said, things like inconsistent notices on bag policy (which ranged from lax to overly aggressive depending on which guard you ran into), unreasonably long waits and lines, and watching VIP attendees have to push and tackle through crowds to get to their area was a poor sight to behold, even if they got slightly better by Sunday.

I know it’s a new location and there’s growing pains, but these are the fine details that make people either happy or making overblown Fyre Festival references all weekend.

George: Every first year festival loses money. Boston Calling has been around for a while now, but this is its first year as a true multi-stage festival. I wish they had treated it like a first time trying something new rather than immediately trying to assert itself as a juggernaut on the east coast festival circuit.

That’s not to say I think they should have run it to lose money, just that with those ticket prices and that crowd they clearly made BANK this year. I’m just of the opinion that they could have aimed for slightly less to make for a smoother scale-up.

Tim: All fair points. Okay, any final notes/points?

Jeremy: Will I be back next year? Yes. Is it because I’m still trapped in the comedy arena? Who’s to say… who’s to say?

Tim: This kinda doubles as a positive and a negative, but I feel like I became a disciple of the Blue Stage this weekend for better or worse.

Like, yeah, it was basically a mile away from everything else, but Blue Stage sorta became the “outlier acts that don’t fit anywhere else on this festival” stage with a few exceptions (i.e. Converge on the Green Stage)

Deerhoof and Xylouris White were some of the most eclectic acts Boston Calling’s ever booked in my opinion and they went back to back on Blue. A majority of rap this weekend was Blue Stage (Danny Brown, Tkay Maidza, Russ, Cousin Stizz) along with revered cult bands (Buffalo Tom, Wolf Parade)

Jeremy: omg long live blue stage. best stage.

Tim: In an ideal world, Boston Calling as a whole could (and should) be more like the Blue Stage… minus the distance from everything else, obviously.

George: Despite some shoddy organization, I thought this year was enough to warrant the hype. It often felt like the organizers were leaning on the strength of their lineup and slacking in other areas but, hey, it’s a music festival. People aren’t there for concessions options and site planning, they’re there for Chance the Rapper.

Tim: Honestly, bless Chance. We did not talk about him enough. He went out to the idiot stragglers like me behind the sound booth and sang “Same Drugs” to us.

George: Honestly that was probably the highlight of the festival. Took an exemplary set and turned it into something truly special.

Tim: A+, would go to heaven as long as I could be assured he was playing a set.

[minutes later]

Tim: Corwin? Anything from you?

George: “Mumford 4 lyfe” -corwin

Tim: Hahahaha, I think we need to end on that note.

Corwin: haha, sorry, I was away from the computer, plz don’t use the mumford quote