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New York has the Governors Ball. Chicago has Lollapalooza. New Orleans has Jazz Fest. And now, if all goes according to plan, Boston will have a signature music festival to call its own.
Boston Calling will be the first multiday, multistage, ticketed rock festival held on City Hall Plaza. The event, planned for May 25 and 26, could draw as many as 20,000 fans. Event organizers Crash Line Productions are expected to announce the festival today.
Boston Calling (the title was inspired by the classic Clash album “London Calling”) is the brainchild of Brian Appel and Mike Snow, cofounders of Crash Line and onetime colleagues at radio station WFNX.
“We saw that there was a void for a music festival,” said Appel, a New York native who moved to Boston in 2003. “We thought that the location was overlooked by lots of people because of preconceived notions of the barren landscape. [W]e thought that we could do a really nice job and turn it into a wonderful outdoor concert experience in the middle of the city.”
The lineup includes many high-profile rock acts, including recent Grammy winners Fun., as well as the Shins, the National, Of Monsters and Men, the Walkmen, Andrew Bird, Ra Ra Riot, St. Lucia, the Dirty Projectors, Matt & Kim, Cults, Youth Lagoon, local acts Caspian and Bad Rabbits, and others.
“I think when you start talking about bands like the National and Fun., I think this really speaks to a younger generation that makes up a giant percentage of the population of our city,” said Chris Cook, director of the Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism, and Special Events. “Other cities have major signature music festivals. This has the potential to be that, and that’s very exciting.”
The festival is being bankrolled by Crash Line’s board of directors. Appel and Snow decline to name them, saying only that they are “in the media” and they “were willing to participate in the initial up-front expense.” As with other events held on City Hall Plaza, the festival will pay a set $200/hour usage fee for the site, which will go directly into the city’s general fund.
The unforgiving brick and concrete surfaces of the plaza may not seem especially suited for a two day festival, but Boston Calling backers plan to “soften up” the landscape a bit, Appel said. “We want to make it a comfortable experience for everybody but, at the same time, we embrace the fact that it’s downtown Boston and don’t want to transform it into something that it’s not.”
Snow promises the sound system is being carefully designed. “We brought in sound engineers who have done testing from every point on the plaza to make sure that the system we’re putting in place is perfectly tailored for the event space and minimize any bleed into the public outside of the event.”
Appel and Snow began cooking up the idea for the festival after modern rock station WFNX-FM went off the terrestrial airwaves last year. (It is now an Internet radio outlet.) Both had been involved in mounting free WFNX events at City Hall Plaza, and Snow, a Melrose native, had attended other concerts there, including the massive “Mixfest” shows put on by WBMX (then 98.5) in the late ’90s.
But Boston Calling, its sponsors hope, will become an enduring part of the city’s identity.
Appel and Snow have asked National guitarist Aaron Dessner — also a Crash Line founding partner — to curate the festival in conjunction with booking agents and ticketing partners, The Bowery Presents. Dessner, who has curated other music events, jumped at the opportunity.
“When the guys approached me about starting a festival in Boston it really clicked in my brain from having played in Boston over the years so many times, at all levels, that it was an odd that there wasn’t a major annual festival in the Boston area, just because it is such a great music scene,” said Dessner. “Boston is every bit as strong as Chicago or San Francisco or any of these classic music towns.”
“For us, to be able to do something like this that hasn’t been done in town, with a great lineup, is something that I think is big for the city, something to put us on the map of festivals,” says Josh Bhatti, a Plainville native, and head of the Boston office of the Bowery Presents, which books Royale and the newly opened Sinclair in Cambridge among other venues. “It’s not like it’s Bonnaroo or Lollapalooza right out of the gates, but I think it’s a really well-constructed festival. None of the sets are overlapping, so you can see every single band that is playing over the weekend.”Continued...