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Toward the end of the inaugural Boston Calling Music Festival last May, the organizers had a surprise in store for the crowd that had packed City Hall Plaza. Right before the indie-rock band the National closed out the two-day event, the first of its scale and scope in the heart of the city, a video announcement was made: A second edition would happen in September, bringing to town Vampire Weekend and Passion Pit as the headliners. Audible gasps rippled through the audience, which was estimated at 19,500.
Now comes word that a third installment of Boston Calling is set for May 23-25 (Memorial Day weekend) again on City Hall Plaza. The lineup, curated by Aaron Dessner of the National, is especially heavy on artists from indie-rock and Americana circles. Jack Johnson, Death Cab for Cutie, Modest Mouse, Tegan and Sara, Phosphorescent, the Head and the Heart, Jenny Lewis, and Kurt Vile and the Violators are on the roster, and organizers say one more big act will be announced later.
“We were so thrilled with how last year went, and we’re ready for another one,” says Brian Appel, who cofounded the festival with Mike Snow in collaboration with the folks at Bowery Boston.
In retrospect, Appel and his team at Crash Line Productions knew from the start that Boston Calling would have two installments last year but wanted to keep it under wraps. Both were so successful that the organizers have expanded to include a Friday night concert this year, which will feature Johnson as the headliner, along with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Cass McCombs.
In a nod to the local music, which Appel says is an important part of Boston Calling’s programming, two Boston-area bands are also scheduled to perform: Tigerman WOAH! and Magic Man.
“We knew that we couldn’t just book what was popular or on the radio,” Dessner says. “There had to be music that people might not have heard of yet. I’ve always liked that about festivals, being able to discover new bands, and I think we pulled that off with the first one.”
They learned lessons from the debut event that carried over into the next one. For September they arranged the two stages to face each other, rather than use the smaller one off to the side that posed difficult sight lines. In a refreshing break from most festival setups, Boston Calling got it right from the beginning: Bands perform one at a time, which means you can see everyone on the lineup.
There was also a noticeable shift in the mood and audience of September’s edition, pitched more to younger fans interested in hip-hop, R&B, and DJ-driven dance music. Passion Pit and Vampire Weekend headlined that weekend, but Kendrick Lamar, Major Lazer, and Flosstradamus were the other big draws.
That was by design, says Appel: “We knew we wanted to branch out with that one to see who else we could attract.”
May’s lineup is closer in spirit to the inaugural Boston Calling, with a strong bent toward established acts who can help sell out a major three-day festival.
“I think it’s exciting to have seminal Pacific Northwest bands like Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, and Death Cab,” Dessner says, adding that Phosphorescent and Kurt Vile made two of his favorite albums last year. “Now that it’s more established, I think people know that Boston Calling is an incredible day of music and a good time.”
The presale for tickets begins Wednesday at 10 a.m. at www.bostoncalling.com and www.ticketmaster.com. Three-day general-admission passes are $150 (and $250 for VIP three-day passes). Tickets for Friday performances as well as two-day and three-day passes will go on sale Jan. 31.
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