When you enter the transformed City Hall Plaza during the one of the bi-yearly weekends of the Boston Calling Music Festival, it is hard to imagine that, just two short hours ago, the square functioned as a part of the downtown cityscape of Boston. Complete with a monstrous stage, a collection of white-topped tents and, most importantly, acres of shrieking fans, the area is completely made over to create that special festival experience where every concertgoer, veteran and newbie feels at home.
But you don’t have to kiss your mom goodbye or find someone to feed your cat for four days. Rather, festival-goers can jam to their favorite indie bands, rock a flower headband and even get a little sunburnt — all without having to sleep on the floor of a tent next to some guy named Jim who hasn’t showered in three days. While all of that definitely has its own appeal, festival lovers can find a whole new experience to love in Boston Calling.
Whoever doubted whether Boston could have its own weekend-long music festival clearly underestimated the power of two dedicated guys — not to mention the entire city itself.
Mike Snow, COO of Crash Line Productions and co-founder of Boston Calling, said the idea came to him and his partner, Brian Appel, a few years ago when they took note of all the music lovers in Boston. They saw the opportunity for Boston to have its own music festival and thought that City Hall Plaza would serve as the perfect outdoor venue.
“My partner Brian and I had run a lot of events over the years for media companies here in Boston,” Snow said. “We had always wanted to fence in City Hall Plaza and use it as ticketed venue site. So him and I worked on it for about a year, working with the city to get all of our permitting. And then once we had that in place and our lease for the space, we formed our company and off we went.”
Boston Calling has created a special brand for itself within the bevy of music festivals popping up all over the country, offering up the entire city of Boston as well as the fenced-off festival experience.
“Ultimately, it is a festival, and we think the surrounding area makes it easy to get to,” Snow said. “You can go home — it ends kind of early. You can come in and out during the weekend. I think that when you look at the Boston Calling brand, what we’re doing on that end, that is certainly leading to people being responsive and enjoying the event.”
The festival’s open invitation to attendees to explore what Boston has to offer has established the weekend-long concert as a positive force in the eyes of businesses and city officials.
“What has really helped is everybody who comes down to the festival gets to enjoy this whole area,” Snow said. “People come over to Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall to eat before or after, people go to the bars, people go to all the shops. Our attendees seem to really have embraced coming down here for the day, seeing a couple bands, walking around, checking out the Common, coming back and seeing another couple of bands.”
This city-wide embrace of the festival along with the smaller capacity of the Plaza has allowed Crash Line Productions to put on two Boston Calling Music Festivals every year: one in May and one in September. The decision to give Boston two concert-filled weekends per year was initially just a test to see if the city could handle it. Obviously it could.
“It was kind of an experiment to see if Boston could support basically six festival days a year,” Snow said. “But it’s a really cool music city. There are a lot of great venues in the city already.”
Judging by the success of last year’s festival dates and the tickets already sold for the upcoming dates in May, the people of Boston and its surrounding areas are very interested and plenty willing to see their favorite bands in the sunny warmth of May and the September chill. The festival attracted roughly 20,000 people for each of the previous dates, with the May 2013 dates selling out right away and the September 2013 dates selling about 70 percent of tickets, said Snow. He expects this year’s festival to sell out as well.
“The biggest thing has been every single person that has come to this festival,” he said. “When you see the amount of social media that comes out of that Plaza during the event, it’s really every one of those people who has really thrown our event individually. It’s just picture after picture and kind notes, and all that stuff that comes out of that Plaza. In this day and age, if you put on a good event and people have a good time, that’s the kind of stuff that really spreads your event like wildfire.”
The social media has been one of the most defining aspects of Boston Calling. An overflow of positive reactions to the festival on social media has shown those who might not know about the festival what Boston Calling is all about and why they should come be a part of the fun.
But Boston Calling has not only caught the attention of legions of music-loving New Englanders, but some pretty big-name bands as well. The dates last May boasted an eclectic group of musicians, from indie-pop royalty fun. to brooding rockers The National to whistling folk hero Andrew Bird. September’s dates saw the performance of swiftly rising hip-hopper Kendrick Lamar, pop songstress Bat for Lashes and preppy indie kings Vampire Weekend.
A festival that can attract such huge artists and even larger crowds not only proves that Boston can handle a music festival of this caliber, but that Bostonians and other New Englanders support it, too.
“As long as you get bands that a lot of people like,” Snow said, “I think there will always be strong attendance here, but clearly, the city of Boston and the state of Massachusetts are ready to have a music festival.”
The third Boston Calling music festival kicks off Memorial Day weekend in City Hall Plaza with headliners Jack Johnson, Modest Mouse, Death Cab for Cutie and The Decemberists.