It seems I must have subconsciously been waiting for the perfect occasion to visit Boston, but when I saw the lineup of the 2017 iteration of Boston Calling Music Festival, it was a no-brainer. It also marked the first year the 8-year old festival would occupy a new location – the pristine grounds of the Harvard Athletic Complex in nearby Allston. With my bags packed, camera in tow, and the promise of an unforgettable time, I boarded a Greyhound bus that was packed to the gills and put my faith in music on the line.
Day 1 began as any great festival should: with throngs of eager fans racing each other across the field to the first stage to get the best spot against the rail for local act, Vundabar. The indie-rock outfit, lighthearted and in great spirits, opened the festival with enough easy-going tunes, and lo-fi garage rock to get the early crowd off on the right foot, with the song “$$$” in particular that had about a 2 minute long all out jam at the end that I absolutely loved. They were continually entertaining to watch from start to finish, with the drummer frequently pulling the goofiest faces, and lead singer Brandon Hagen joking about Solange’s sudden exit from the lineup.
At the larger Green stage next door, Lucy Dacus’ set, while only partially mired by a steady beat of rainfall, went off without a hitch. Having seen her play Brooklyn Steel recently, I was already well aware of the kind of musical chops she had, and she certainly managed to deliver in this festival setting. The singer-songwriter, armed with a haunting voice, made ample use of every second of her stage time alongside her band, playing a cohesive set that ebbed and flowed perfectly.
Back at the smaller Red stage, Whitney, a band whose name has literally been uttered from everyone’s mouths on social media all of a sudden was just beginning their set. Sat behind a drum kit front and center, and taking on vocal duties, Julian Ehrlick was the perfect picture of quiet confidence. I would describe their sound as heavily folk influenced with some elements of pop and rock peppered in.
Walking back over to the Green stage, I saw the lone mic stand and the lighting rig arrangement and I could barely contain my excitement. Francis and The Lights, easily one of my favorite artists right now upped the energy of the day tenfold. The crowd that assembled for his set was definitely the largest of the day, and rightfully so. Clad in all black, except for a vibrant burgundy Balenciaga Harrington jacket, and dark shades, Francis danced across the entire stage at least 12 times, stopping only to hit a spin or tap some notes out on keys. Having seen Francis perform in the past, at both Eaux Claires festivals and at a small room in Brooklyn, I knew what to expect and wasn’t disappointed at all. Judging from the crowd reaction, they weren’t either, and it only heightened the hysteria when Chance The Rapper bolted out from side stage to perform the dance the duo perfected in the recently released video for “May I Have This Dance.”
The crowd quickly switched gears from watching Francis dance his heart out, to doing quite a bit of dancing on their own for Sylvan Esso’s set. Once again, I am very familiar with the kind of frenzy they can stir up with their brand of electronic pop, with Amelia Meath’s steadfast vocals layered, over Nick Sanborn’s intricate beats. Arms and bodies flew into the air with reckless abandon as Meath gyrated across the stage armed with a sly smile as if to say, “don’t fight it.” By the time “Just Dancing” entered the setlist, I was praying for some divine intervention to happen so I could suspend time long enough to enjoy their set repeatedly. Latecomers sprinted across the field to catch the tail end of their set like moths to a flame.
Settling back down a bit into easy-going territory on the Blue stage however, Mac DeMarco’s set, full of casual debauchery and usual “Mac antics”, I was surprised at how devoted his fan base was. Cheers for Mac guzzling his beer, or puffing wantonly on his cigarette were ginormous, as was the volume of fans singing along word for word to each song. Even debuting a new song didn’t phase his fans; they were in it for the long haul. My only experience with Mac in a live setting was our showcase 2 years ago at The Surf Lodge, and I can attest that he was just as entertaining and zany then as he was here.
Now I would be lying if I didn’t tell you how fast I booked it back to the Red Stage for Bon Iver’s set. It’s no secret the Wisconsin band is one of my favorites and by the looks of the crowd that had gathered in anticipation; they were a favorite of many. The usual “excuse me, I’m trying to get to my friend” people pushing to get to the front were out in full force. So many folks eager to get a glimpse of everything and everyone onstage, when in reality, the massive visual element of the show is best viewed from further back. The imagery from the highly experimental album, 22, A Million, was on full display in conjunction with each song played. Again, as no stranger to both Bon Iver’s live performance and music, I knew what to expect. The folks standing around me however, had a much more profound experience. I watched one man stand completely still, jaw-dropped watching and listening to a wholly arresting rendition of “715 CREEKS,” while another young lady standing next to me with her boyfriend looked almost on the verge of tears listening and watching the projections during “21 MOON WATER.” As if on cue, the clouds opened up once again, dousing us with another downpour.
Preparing myself for another gut punch in the auditory and visually stunning department, Sigur Ros’ set was a master class delivered flawlessly. Initially shrouded behind a murky screen, Jonsi’s voice saturated the air. Many absorbed the moment simply with their eyes shut. By the time the entire band emerged from behind that screen, the entire backdrop of the stage was illuminated by led lights, in what looked like the outer reaches of some foreign galaxy. This time, it was me who was jaw-dropped watching in rapt attention. Sigur Ros’ music is already so gorgeous, the added visual element brought it over the top. I swear if I didn’t have a legit job to do I would have been laid down in the grass bawling my eyes out and pondering the meaning of life in the torrential rain.
After a back-to-back assault on my emotions and the subsequent catharsis, Boston Calling did us all a solid and decided to send us back to our homes with the memory and uplifting energy of having Chance The Rapper headline. Chance is having the best year ever, if you didn’t already know. The indie wunderkind has appeared virtually everywhere, and did so without the backing of a major label. He has been a testament and a triumph for the music industry and I just felt so happy for him watching him close down the first night of such an important festival. His stage was also very visually appealing from my spot way in the back, alternating from his own image, to spaceships, beams of light, and various forms of graffiti and lettering. Seeing the same people who were proudly walking the grounds in their hats emblazoned with the signature “3” logo finally get to see Chance perform was one of the true highlights of the festival.
So that was Day 1. Much more to see, do and experience on Day 2 and 3.
Article: Lesley Keller