Boston Calling Brings the Party Back to City Hall Plaza

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Posted September 16, 2013 by Sarah Bertness in Downtown Boston
Crowds fill City Plaza for Boston Calling

Launching a music festival is no small feat. Putting that festival on twice in its inaugural year—that’s bold. And that’s exactly what Boston Calling pulled off, as the two-day all-ages fest turned downtown’s City Hall Plaza into a giant dance party on September 7 and 8.

The sunny skies this time around provided a perfect weekend for those floral-crowned and cut-off-shorts-clad Bostonian youths not yet ready to part with summer. While the weather was a major upgrade after the damp and dreary freshman fest in May, a much better setup this time around kept the crowd happily migrating back and forth across City Hall Plaza, as sets alternated between red and blue stages and beer gardens.

Lineup-wise, Boston Calling’s weekend bill delivered yet again, striking a balance between genres and big and small names. Though the dance-heavy, party acts certainly could have been better dispersed between the two days, the mix of crowd-drawing names with lesser-known but talented up-and-comers was pretty impeccable. The lesser-known bands’ spark, sound, and stage presence helped them gain a whole new group of fans.

The festival also won bonus points this time around for drawing more heavily on Boston’s Berklee College of Music network, kicking off with a lively set from locals Viva Via, closing with a homecoming, headlining gig from Passion Pit, and delivering smaller venue shout-outs and a sense of hometown history from the likes of You Won’t and Bearstronaut.

The second round of Boston Calling brought two very different days of vibes (and accompanying audiences). Saturday was the mellower, more mature of the two, with acts spanning the indie airwaves from acoustic to alt-rock, soul to surf. Lucius‘ matching and mesmerizing lead duo Jess and Holly had me ready to go mod and move into their Brooklyn band commune. No doubt their debut next month will be in heavy rotation. Following an on-stage introduction by Mayor Menino, Local Natives brought the West Coast vibes of the afternoon, while Deer Tick represented Rhode Island with a much more sincere, poetic sound as they played their new album Negativity from start to finish. Vocally and visually, Bat for Lashes’s Natasha Khan charmed, The Airborne Toxic Event had me reeling back to my punk-rock roots, and The Gaslight Anthem gave the amps a workout with a set that would make the band’s main influence, The Boss, proud. The day peaked with a Vampire Weekend set that covered three albums worth of solid songwriting and got the whole crowd singing along, leaving fans dancing to their Cape Cod–name-dropping tune “Walcott” and wanting more.

Boston Calling City Plaza

Crowds fill City Plaza for Boston Calling. Photo credit: Mike Diskin.

Day two was a dance party from the very start, turning the midday downtown square into a nightclub-meets-rave-meets-mosh-pit of spirit hoods, neon paint, and body glitter. The day kicked off toned-down, but tuned to perfection, with contest-winning lineup addition Royal Teeth covering José González’ hit “Heartbeats.” Bearstronaut got people’s feet moving, which Big Black Delta continued—though, to my utter confusion, they tried to work in a Cruel Intentions-meets-Enya mix. People got twerking (call it the Miley Cyrus effect) once Aussie electronic act Flume took the stage. And the crowd never looked back, pulsating to set after set of dance-worthy perfection.

Solange left no doubt that stage presence, star quality, and a mighty set of pipes run in the family. Flosstradamus mixed in some Benny Benassi and Dr. Dre for us older-than-teenage folks, and Major Lazer brought all the bells, whistles, streamers, and strip-club vibes as Diplo ran atop the crowd in a hamster ball before ordering everyone to throw their shirts in the air. Passion Pit seemed tame following Kendrick Lamar’s lyrics, which I can only imagine gave the sign-language interpreter some serious discomfort. The interpreter may have been the true star performer of the weekend, standing front stage and vigorously signing every act’s performance over the two days. For a festival in its prime, Boston Calling gets a class-act award for incorporating accessibility for the hearing-impaired.

Overall, the festival stepped up its game this time around. Though there are still some kinks to work out as the freshman fest finds its target audience and identity, Boston Calling left crowds eager to see the festival continue to evolve. I for one am already curious to see the lineup of musical talent it’s going to bring through our beloved city next year.

Until next time, Boston Calling.

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