Boston Calling: Adventures of a first-time festival goer

About the festival

Boston Calling Music Festival was held this year at the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston, Massachusetts from Friday, May 25 to Sunday, May 27. The event boasts the biggest and best live music, comedy and visual arts acts in each category, according to the event FAQ website.

The festival looked to grow and improve from its beginnings in May 2013 where it was held at City Hall Plaza, based on the “Past Lineups” page the festival has online. Some notable artists from that year were Fun. and, my personal favorite, Marina and the Diamonds. Other top artists to note from past festivals include Lorde, Childish Gambino, Kendrick Lamar, Walk the Moon, Major Lazer and Chance the Rapper. As the festival continued, it stopped doing two shows a year at City Hall Plaza in the spring and fall. 2016 saw one festival at City Hall Plaza, and it wasn’t until last year when the music festival moved to its current home.  

Boston Calling not only grew into a different venue but it also wanted to work out a few kinks, according to an article from the Boston Globe. The largest complaints of the venue from last year’s event were the long lines for the food, bathrooms, vendors running out of merchandise and sound being dumped on festival goers and the neighborhood surrounding the new venue at the time. One of the co-founders of the event, Brian Appel, said in an interview with the Boston Globe that many new features could be overwhelming for the festival goers. Appel and his team have seen the cause of the problems and made improvements to the event this year.

“Now we’ve seen how people behaved at Harvard — which direction they turned when they entered, what they wanted to do first,” Appel said to the Boston Globe. “We made it more seamless.”

Check out this article from the Daily Campus about further changes to last year’s festival.

Read on to find out what I thought about the festival, as well as a note on the changes the organizers sought to make.

Improvements noted, especially from this lost girl

I almost did not end up covering this music festival. This 16-acre venue was not accessible to me because I could not find the staff entrance at Gate 8.

There was clear signage for various points of entries and amenities for festival goers. Some different entrances this year separated the General Admission from the VIP section. There were golf carts that provided easy and quick transportation. The multiple entrances for General Admission looked more efficient for festival attendees to enter the festival. That was not much help for me.

The volunteers at the festival were very generous and helpful in pointing me in the right direction. Each volunteer I approached greeted me with a smile and a map ready to show me how I could get to Gate 8. Finally, I reached the gate and was on my way.

A sophomore volunteer from Boston University, who asked to be anonymous for this article, said her tasks would change from day-to-day. The line-up was what had drawn this student to apply to volunteer in January.

“I love music festivals,” she said. “Stress-free…[and] interesting music.”

When asked if the student would volunteer for 2019, the question was met with an assertive, “of course.”

Fuel-up for the day

I could have started off with the music. But I am a foodie through and through and Boston Calling certainly delivered this year. Especially since food was important for me in making sure I had energy for the full day of art and music ahead of me.

There were no obnoxiously long lines for food, which isn’t surprising considering there were over 150 food vendors at the festival. If some vendors had lines throughout the day, the lines did not seem to be more than a 10 minute wait time.

Lauren King, owner of Caked Boston, had attended the festival last year and wanted to bring her one-year-old business to the festival. She had contacted the event organizers as early as December to make her vision happen.

“I was interested in small businesses,” King said when she thought about how the festival could work with her business.

King’s business specializes in popular dessert flavors turned into cupcakes. Some of the flavors she baked herself to bring for day two of the festival were the “Mint Green Monster” and “Cinnamon French Toast.” Right now, Caked Boston is only a pop-up at distilleries. This writer is crossing her fingers for a stand-alone bakery soon.

Other stops for food happened during breaks in between sets at the festival. The area housing Green Stage, Red Stage and the food vendors, among other things, also had space for attendees to sit. Attendees could sit right on the lawn, eat on the tall white wooden benches located across from the food vendors or sit at the multiple picnic tables set up just behind an art installation modeled after the Washington Monument.

“We’re going to go lay down somewhere,” an attendee had said to her friend. Comments like these were common throughout the day and the need to rest was understandable.

Check out the photo gallery below to see what foods I tried at the festival and my thoughts on what I had.

Westside Gunn and Conway want you to pass them a joint

If you both end up reading this, congrats, you were my first ever music festival performance.

These hardcore rap brothers have been making music together since 2012 and have developed large amounts of mixtapes and albums, according to an article by UndergroundHipHop.

“Thank God he gave us drug dealing,” was what one of the brother rapped to the curious attendees.

The attendance of the performance was low at first but the crowd began to grow as the brothers worked to get the crowd amped up. At one point, one of the brothers commented on the blandness of the crowd and wanted someone to pass them a joint.

At the end of the their set, the brothers left the audience with a final conductor’s flourish to the hand waves of the crowd and the line, “Have a good time. Don’t hurt nobody.”

Lillie Mae’s fiddle playing made me want to go back to high school orchestra

American country musician Lillie Mae turned the skeptical listeners into country music fans, at least during her set. Personally, I am not the biggest fan of country music. Hearing Mae’s music changed my perspective of what kind of country music was out there.

Mae’s strong vocals and endearing personality covered the Green Stage she performed on. Her strong fiddle playing took the lead, along with Mae’s lyrics about broken hearts in “Wash Me Clean.”

Before playing “The Last Time” Mae commented that “of course” her instrument would get out of tune with a laugh before launching into the song.

So Natalie Portman sings now?

No, Harvard Alum and actress Natalie Portman does not sing, but she did curate an amazing line-up of artists to go along with clips of films on a large screen in the Arena, one of the four venues that performances are held. This particular festival event was titled “Natalie Portman and Friends.” The friends part was not revealed until the show began.

According to a poster from the festival website, Portman had curated the event’s film festival. She called it “The Female Gaze” and it ran last week for three days at the Brattle Theater. The name for the film festival came from the idea that similar storylines have “female tropes” that are different depending on the storyteller, Portman said.

“It makes it an even more special opportunity to watch these incredible films on the big screen at one of my favorite movie theaters,” Portman was quoted on the poster.

A projector with the Boston Calling logo overlooked the arena, with the floor dotted with circular tables and chairs, creating an almost intimate, poetry club feeling in the vast space. The Harvard Hockey sign, meanwhile, was lighted by the glow of the projector.

The first special friend that appeared on stage was American artist St. Vincent, who stood before the screen as her music compositions for the song played over the first set of films shown to the audience. The crooning sounds created a gruesome, anxious feeling of life or death. The crowd was at rapt attention as the drama unfolded on the screen.

The next section of the performance featured Portman herself reading a poem she said was dedicated to Malcolm X as another film was being played above her.

Portman delivered inflection in her reading, ending the poem’s last line with conviction.

“A nude man,” Portman said.

The last act was a musical performance by up-and-coming, literally masked and mysterious, New York rapper Leikeli47.

As Leikeli47 rapped in the foreground, four silent films were playing successively in the background as back-up dancers also accompanied the performance garbed in black.

“Let’s celebrate these women,” Leikeli47 proclaimed before launching into her first song. While rapping, she even gave University of Connecticut alumna Maya Moore a shout-out as one of these women to be celebrated.

She rapped lines such as, “So what we got an attitude,” that questioned common comments about women and their mannerisms. “Black will never die,” was another line from Leikeli47’s song that made her message clear.

Leikeli47 thanked Portman towards the end of her performance for inviting her.

“To include a new artist like me, I will never forget this,” she said.

Daniel Caesar made people cry

No kidding. I handed a girl next to me a fist-full of tissues towards the end of this Canadian singer-songwriter’s set. She looked as if she really needed them, especially after Caesar sang crowd favorite “Best Part.” Another stand-out song was “Japanese Denim.”

The crowd was rowdy when Caesar showed up late to his set. However, all was forgiven as soon as he walked on stage and started crooning into the microphone, singing about love.

“I love you,” Caesar shouted out in between breaks of songs.

One of my favorite songs of his set was “Get You.” The drawn out vocals floated and settled over the crowd. There were half-closed eyes and slow head nods to the rhythm of the song.

Fifth-semester UConn communications major Jennifer Luo “loved” the performance.

“He was very true to what he sounds like in his music,” Luo said. “He was so good.”

My only question for Caesar would be how was he able to sing so well in the heat wearing a sweater. As cool as it is having your name on your sleeves, he must have been sweating buckets. In all seriousness, if you want to keep a crowd of college-aged students calm, call Daniel Caesar first.

Tyler, the Creator thought that Boston Calling was better than Coachella

American rapper Tyler, the Creator appeared on a raised platform of the Delta Blue Stage with the album art of his most recent album “Flower Boy” in the background.

He had the crowd singing for him on “Boredom.” Right after the song, the lights cut out, shrouding the audience in darkness. There was only an unknown voice to fill the void.

“It’s your time right now,” the voice said. “You are great.”

A special side-note, and I’m sorry to all his mega-fans fans reading this, but his hair was the most striking part. It was reminiscent of sunflowers growing on his head.

About halfway through his set, Tyler, the Creator spoke about how it was “cool” that people liked his music, despite the fact that his albums sounded so different from each other, he said.

“It’s weird when my fans say that they knew me before this or after that,” he said. He then played “IFHY” off his 2013 album “Wolf.”

Tyler, the Creator spoke about how he rewrote a song after coming back from a concert in Europe. He realized that people only danced to a few songs when he was there. He took the music home and perfected it so that anyone with any language could connect to the song.

That language would translate to dancing “when that bass hit” he said.

“Gotcha n***** that worked,” Tyler, the Creator said.

Jack White’s bass guitar has a mind of its own

American musician Jack White closed out day two of Boston Calling with, for lack of better wording, electrifying bass guitar.

The crowd moved to the strings of the bass guitar handled under the lead singer of the White Stripes. The bright blue lights brought out the concentration and content look on White’s face on the jumbotron.

The strong sounds of White’s vocals and guitar carried me to the exit of the festival as I walked out of my first day of my first music festival.

Finals thoughts about my first (second) day of Boston Calling

I was impressed by the amount of porta-potties for festival goers to use. There did not seem to be a line whenever I passed by, and when Mother Nature called to me, I did not have to wait either.

The efficiency of the staff impressed me as well. There seemed to be a job for every volunteer and staff member that made the festival run smoothly without attendees taking notice of them.

One of the amenities that was really helpful at the festival and that I took advantage of were the water filling stations. Bringing a reusable water bottle to the festival not only kept me well hydrated throughout the event, it also promoted a healthier lifestyle for the environment.

Sound was a problem for Boston Calling last year. From what I could hear, the sound was centralized to where it needed to be and did not bleed into other stages.

Finally, the variance in ages of the crowd also surprised me. I saw seemingly high school and college aged attendees, but I also saw some hip older adults. I see you, all the moms and dads putting on a front that they have to be at Boston Calling with their kids but secretly jamming out when they think no one is looking. Other older adults were feeling the energy and excitement of the artists just as much as the generation preceding them.

See you at the top on Boston Calling day three….maybe

As you read this, I will be attending the last day of the festival. Maybe, just maybe, I will take the advice of the Instagram poll and go on the Ferris wheel.

Follow our Instagram story @the_dailycampus for the most up-to-date coverage on what I will be up to next.


Kimberly Nguyen is the associate managing editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.nguyen@uconn.edu.