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Boston Calling Music Festival – Harvard University Athletic Complex – Boston, MA – May 26-28, 2017 (A PopEntertainment.com Concert Review)

Boston Calling Music Festival – Harvard University Athletic Complex – Boston, MA – May 26-28, 2017

On May 26-28, the Boston Calling Music Festival took up residence in its new home, the Harvard University Athletic complex. The larger venue allows for approximately 40,000 attendees – double the capacity of the former City Hall Plaza location – and an expansive lineup of nearly 50 bands and solo artists.

As a member of the media for Boston Cannons lacrosse games at Harvard Stadium, I was familiar with the maze-like layout of the athletic campus. Therefore, I was skeptical that organizers could efficiently support multiple stages and tens of thousands of music fans. Like much of Boston, the complex has been built up over time around a central structure and then migrated in whatever direction space allowed. And yes, over the course of three days, the layout did cause issues. But long lines for bathrooms and food were mainly a result of the foot traffic funneling into only one of the two footpaths connecting the stage areas on opposite ends of the festival grounds.

Having traveled constantly back-and-forth between the stages on all three days, I can report that the pathway straddling the Storrow Drive perimeter was under-utilized. If you took that route, you came across additional food options and unused porta-potties lined up as far as the eye could see. The true flaw of the event revealed itself at the end of each night: most attendees arrived at the event via the Red Line subway stop in Harvard Square and those people all departed through a single, narrow pinch point on the northeast corner of the venue. This issue will need to be addressed next year, but is certainly not a difficult challenge.

Above and beyond logistics, music prevailed on all three days. Day one was solid, despite an afternoon shower and a 9pm deluge that messed with my carefully planned game plan – with a camera on each shoulder, it was wise financially to take cover when the heavy rain came down. Vundabar, Lucy Dacus, and Sylvan Esso all performed well early on as the crowds filled in, and Migos stood in for the festival’s only cancellation. Many agreed that Bon Iver was the strongest act of the day, followed by Chance the Rapper. Sigur-Rós was a close third and Deerhoof also held their own as a puzzled-but-impressed crowd looked on.

The turf on the athletic fields dried up for day two, and the lineup was impeccable all day long. Mac DeMarco was clearly having the most fun of anyone during the early hours, and Danny Brown, Tegan and Sara, and The XX were notables at the mid-way point. The 1975 delivered a studio-quality performance, before Mumford & Sons closed out with the best-received performance of the day.

Run the Jewels dominated day three early, commanding a huge crowd. Flatbush Zombies and Cage the Elephant prevailed as the loudest (prior to Tool) and most energetic acts, respectively. Day three featured several outstanding local Boston bands that I’ll be checking out in the future, including Piebald and The Hotelier. Mitski seemed to maintain a serious expression throughout the duration of her set, though my camera captured a momentary smile. Weezer was a pleasant surprise. They sounded great, as did the final act of the weekend, Tool. Tool just simply delivered on all levels, as expected.

As with all music festivals, I recommend buying a pass for all three days – it’s just the best way to do it. You feel like you are getting your money’s worth. Even if you leave early on one of the days, you are fully immersed in music. It’s a long enough span of time that you can make a new start from, or take a pleasant step back into, whatever was going on in your life before the event.

So did Boston Calling make the move from one of the better second-tier festivals into the top group? Based on my experience, and based on the quality of the Aaron Dessner-curated lineup, yes. This author is scoring the event with an A-, for a freshman GPA of 3.67, despite some flaws that can be easily remedied next time around when the now once-a-year event resumes in 2018.

Ross Edmond

photos by Ross Edmond © 2017

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