Wellesley has its share of great music, from public and private K-12 performances to the local symphony and choirs to shows at local colleges Babson and Wellesley College (including hot or emerging music stars at annual Spring concerts…i.e., The Decemberists, Major Lazer, Kid Cudi).
But I have to say my favorite local music event is a tad beyond Wellesley: The Boston Calling music festival that previously has been held on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends in Government Center in Boston, but in 2017 will shift to 20 acres of Harvard University’s sports complex in Allston for Memorial Day weekend. Performers include Tool, which hasn’t played in the area in years, Mumford & Sons, Chance the Rapper, Weezer and dozens more (including my current favorites, Car Seat Headrest and Mitski). In fact, twice as many acts will appear as during the 2016 event.
I’ve been attending Boston Calling since it started in 2013, and while the weather for this rain-or-shine event has ranged from gorgeous (blood moon over Alabama Shakes in the fall of 2015) to rainy (Shins in 2013) to crazy lightning (Lorde, fall of 2014), the music and line-ups have rarely disappointed (ahem, Robyn). For those like me that enjoy up and coming acts, it’s been great to get up close for performers like Bully, Okkervil River and Courtney Barnett, but it’s also fun to watch the big acts like The National, The Pixies, Vampire Weekend and Sia against a backdrop of dazzling lights at night. There have been memorable moments, such as seeing Boston Mayor Tom Menino, not long before he passed away, come out on stage before the Local Natives performed to welcome the crowd. Or seeing Deer Tick perform their brand new album live. Catching Beck live was a real treat.
Government Center served as a fun venue, with organizers allowing patrons to go in and out of the concert to take advantage of local eateries and establishments on Saturdays and Sundays (enjoyed popping out of the concert a couple of years back to meet friends visiting from California who happened to be congregating at the Union Oyster House just outside the Boston Calling gates). I have great memories of hanging out on lawn furniture, watching Patriots games on a big screen in a game area set up at Government Center, and listening to music in the background.
While the typical age of attendees is late teens to early 30s, I’ve seen plenty of high school kids and depending on the acts (The Replacements, etc.), older “kids” like myself, too. I’ve also come across plenty of people from Wellesley at the event, including Babson, Wellesley College and Wellesley High students (and sometimes their parents).
I’ve been to other big music festivals in recent years, including the camping-out craziness of Firefly in Dover, Del., and the increasingly overcrowded Newport Folk Festival (awesome setting though, against the water). Boston Calling can get crowded too, but in general I’ve found it roomy enough, with the option to get fairly close to the stage even for bigger acts if you navigate cleverly. Security at the event has been attentive, but not overbearing, which has helped to give Boston Calling a relaxed atmosphere that’s not common at a lot of big attractions these days.
Boston Calling is by far the most convenient of the big festivals to attend for people living in this area (and this year will technically be a few miles closer), and its line-up always stacks up well against the others, especially if you’re into newer music like I am (and if country music isn’t really your thing, though I will say the countryish acts they have had, like Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell, are top-notch). Boston Calling also gives a nice nod to local acts, like Lake Street Dive and Palehound.
It should be interesting to see how the larger venue at Harvard works out, but I think most regular attendees are up for the new twist (the Government Center bricks can wear you down when you stand for hours). It looks as though there will be more VIP-type options available at the new venue, for example. Boston Calling this time around also will feature a “film experience curated by Natalie Portman” (past events have included comedians in addition to music).
If you’re planning to hit Boston Calling without your family, for 3 days on Memorial Day weekend, it can be a tough call (actually, everyone in my immediate family has attended the show at one point or another). I advise being really nice to your family in the weeks beforehand and carving out some family time during the morning hours. Keep in mind that the show runs Friday-Sunday, so you do still have Monday to recover and grab quality time with your loved ones.
Early bird tickets have sold out, but regularly priced ones are available, and many are hopeful that single-day tickets will go on sale once the daily lineups are released. For college students, it’s also worth checking to find out if any discounts are available for those attending your school (I know there have been for at least some Boston-area schools in the past).
(Oh, and I really hope Boston Calling can snag The Strokes one of these years…)