Believe it or not, Memorial Day weekend is already almost upon us, which means that the 2018 Boston Calling Music Festival is only a day away from bringing music, comedy, food, and art to the Harvard Athletic Complex.
Many things remain the same as last year: There are three music stages, a comedy and entertainment arena, rows of food and drink vendors from local businesses, and a giant Ferris wheel. But there are also a number of changes. To help you get the most out of your 2018 Boston Calling experience, we’ve put together a guide to what you should know before attending the festival May 25-27.
How should I get to the Harvard Athletic Complex?
Last year, we summed up how you should travel to and from Boston Calling in two words: public transportation. The same is true this year, and perhaps even more so, as the festival is no longer partnered with parking app Propark, and won’t have a dedicated taxi stand. The festival released a transportation video on YouTube that lets people know to take the Red Line to Harvard Square, then walk down JFK Street and across the Charles River to the athletic complex entrance on North Harvard Street.
And just like last year, as the festival lets out, Boston Police will handle traffic flow to ensure that festivalgoers can leave safely, according to Boston Calling co-founder Brian Appel.
“At around 9 p.m. each night, as we see people begin to make their way out of the show, Boston Police will coordinate with Massachusetts State Police and Cambridge Police to make the call on when to restrict traffic on North Harvard Street, up over the bridge, and into Harvard Square,” Appel said. “It’s just a much safer way to get everyone out of the festival at the end of the night.”
How can I avoid long lines?
One of the chief complaints of Boston Calling attendees in 2017 was long lines, with some concertgoers waiting more than an hour just to enter the festival, and others complaining about significant wait times for food and restrooms. Appel said he believes the festival has addressed each of these issues this year, starting with the entrance slowdowns.
“We were able to add 50 percent more entrance lanes,” Appel said. “Last year, there was some construction happening on the site that prevented us from using as many entrance lanes as we hoped.”
In 2017, one area of the festival — a pathway between the blue stage and green stage with plenty of bathrooms, food, and premium beer from Danish brewery Mikkeller — went underused all three days, with crowds congregating at the vendors and bathrooms in the center of the festival grounds instead. Appel said that the festival has worked on that problem in a couple of ways.
“Last year, there were some pinch points around the food area, partly because we didn’t have as many vendors as we would have liked,” Appel said. “This year, we’ve added 50 percent more food vendors, and have spread them out more across the site. We’ve also worked with the vendors to make sure they’re all accepting RFID payments from the wristbands, and that all the internet connectivity is better than last year, so that process will all be sped up.”
Interestingly, festival organizers took a different approach with the restrooms. Rather than spread them out, they’ve consolidated them into two large areas.
“With restrooms, I think last year we didn’t have signage as clear as we should have,” Appel said. “We had pockets of 20 restrooms here and 20 restrooms there, and people are creatures of habit and go to the first restroom they visited. So the bathrooms in highly trafficked areas were getting way more usage than we’d anticipated. This year, we’ve consolidated to only large restroom areas around the site, with really big, clear signage about where they are.”
In terms of how to avoid long lines, we would advise checking the festival map below before arriving on the grounds, and both registering your festival wristbands to enable cashless payments and keeping cash and a debit or credit card on hand in case the wristband system goes awry.
Who should I see?
With three music stages and the comedy/entertainment venue all operating throughout the day, plenty of overlapping set times will make for difficult decisions. The festival’s three headlining acts — The Killers on Friday, Jack White on Saturday, and Eminem on Sunday — are the only artists whose sets will happen during times at which no other artists are scheduled to perform.
Beyond that, personal tastes vary, but here’s one suggestion for each day of the festival: Aaron Dessner of The National was once again in charge of curating the lineup for the festival, and his band will perform on the red stage on Friday from 8 p.m. to 9:15 p.m. Annie Clark, better known as rocker St. Vincent, will be on the green stage from 6:45 p.m. to 7:55 p.m. on Saturday. And singer-songwriter Khalid, who just took home a Billboard Music Award for best new artist, will perform on the red stage from 7:55 p.m. to 9:05 p.m. on Sunday.
As far as the comedy/entertainment arena, Harvard grad Natalie Portman will open each day with a “Natalie Portman and friends” set, which will feature female artists performing at the festival. Several of the hosts of of political podcasts Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It either grew up in Massachusetts or went to school here, and will perform on Saturday from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. and Friday from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., respectively. And comedian Cameron Esposito, a Boston College grad, will do a 20-minute set on Sunday from 5:35 p.m. to 5:55 p.m.
In terms of local musicians, a trio of acts from the Boston area will all perform on Sunday. Hip-hop duo STL GLD will be on the red stage from 1 p.m. to 1:30 p.m., indie rockers Weakened Friends will be on the green stage from 1:35 p.m. to 2:15 p.m., and in a last-minute addition to the lineup, hip-hop artist Cousin Stizz will replace Stormzy on the red stage from 5:55 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.
What items can and can’t be brought through security?
Even though Boston Calling is an outdoor festival, zero cigarettes, cigars, lighters, or tobacco of any kind will be allowed through security.
“Boston Calling is a No Smoking Festival,” the event website reads. “Due to the composition of some of the fields, cigarettes will not be permitted on site and will be confiscated.”
Other banned items include vape pens, illegal substances, bags or backpacks larger than 12-by-12-inches, professional cameras and recording devices, squirt guns or spray bottles, laser pointers, chairs, strollers, picnic blankets, and umbrellas. For a full list of prohibited items, check out the Boston Calling website.
What should I eat and drink at the festival?
We have a more complete guide to Boston Calling’s food and drink offerings here. Two of the many, many highlights: The Smoke Shop will once again sell The BBQ Bomb, a giant waffle cone filled with pit beans, mac and cheese, cole slaw, and choice of brisket, pulled pork, or smoked chicken, all topped with pickled hots and barbecue spices. At the Commonwealth booth, the restaurant will serve up a sandwich called the Italian stallion (salami, capicola, mortadella, provolone, hots, lettuce, tomato, oil and vinegar), which you can pair with an order of duck fat fries.
Can I still buy tickets?
While several ticket types have sold out, you can still find many tickets available on the Boston Calling website. At the time of this article’s publication, you could still buy single-day general admission tickets for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for $105 plus fees, as well as single-day VIP tickets for Friday and Saturday for $229 plus fees. You could also still buy a three-day general admission pass for $289 plus fees, for those who want to see the full festival.
What should I do before and after the show?
The shows at Boston Calling are all done before 11 p.m. (much to the relief of Allston residents, we’re sure). But after that, you can find Boston Calling after-parties all three nights at The Sinclair in Cambridge, with doors opening at 10 p.m. and shows starting at 11 p.m. The Friday night after-party featuring Questlove is sold out, but Saturday and Sunday shows featuring the Oh Sees and Cashmere Cat, respectively, still have tickets available for $20 each.
Plenty of bars and restaurants will be on alert for more customers before they head over to the grounds, as well. One higher-end option is Les Sablons, where beverage director Jackson Cannon will mix up cocktails named for Boston Calling acts. You can try a Perfume Genius (stirring gin, vermouth, bitters), a Paramore (tall Tennessee whiskey and ginger), or a Thundercat (punched up rum and citrus) for $13.