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Don’t let the weather fool you, we are amidst music festival season. Coachella has come and gone, Bonnaroo is just around the corner, and Boston Calling was on Memorial Day Weekend. This is the year that Boston Calling makes a statement to the festival world and tries to cement itself as a contender for the years to come. Since it started in 2013, Boston Calling would take place twice a year, once in the Spring and once in the Fall in the middle of the city at Boston City Hall Plaza. This year, the organizers decided to switch up the pace by changing the venue (Harvard Athletic Complex) and doubling the lineup size into doing away with the twice a year formula.
The new location boasted 3 stages, lots more room for festival goers and could run all they way till 11:00pm without breaking any noise ordinances. Like any event in Boston, parking would be a nightmare and Public transportation is the best bet for travel purposes. The Festivities got underway Friday afternoon and to the dismay of many, there had been a downpour of rain the night before and it did not take long for much of the field in front of two of the three stages to turn into sludge. Mud was ankle deep in some spots and it surely separated the wheat from the chaff in terms of who would let a little mud ruin their weekend.
Before I continue to talk about how the festival when I have to make one thing clear. I was given a Media Pass to cover the festival and there is a difference between a Media Pass and a Photo Pass. The difference in the two is that a Photo Pass grants you access to the photo pit for the first 3 songs of a set but then you have to leave the area, while a Media Pass gets you into the festival with a professional camera and you can shoot from the crowd but have no access to the photo pit. This meant that if I wanted to get good images of bands I had to get to a stage early and hold my position to get pictures of their performance, this becomes problematic when you have headliners like Justin Chancellor, Danny Carey, Mumford and Sons and Chance the Rapper because people obsess over these acts and will get to the front as soon as humanly possible. So, on two of the three days I had to post up for around 5 hours to get images of the headliners. This would mean I would have to miss out on some acts in order to get a good spot to others. I am very happy with the images I got but I would have also like to photograph Danny Brown, Oh Wonder, Run the Jewels, The xx, Weezer and more. Back to what I was saying…
Local Boston trio Vundabar kicked things off and about 4 songs into their set the rain started. They were welcomed by fans near and far from the Boston area. Next Lucy Dacus gave everyone some Virginia twang to brighten their day. Whitney, an indie pop band with ties to Unknown Mortal Orchestra played and the rain coats started to move around and dance as the set went on. As I was leaving this area of the grounds I bumped into my most anticipated artist of the day, none other than Mac DeMarco. He was waiting for a Golf Cart to take him over to his stage for his set later in the day. I shook his hand, Told him I was a big fan, wished him a good set and shaped a quick portrait. All the way across the ground to the Delta Airlines sponsored Blue Stage was San Francisco hailing indie rock vets Deerhoof. After a one of the band members broke a string drummer, Greg Saunier decided to try his hand at some stand-up comedy to pass the time. Next up was Car Seat Headrest, who I had been looking forward to seeing and they did not disappoint at all. Mac DeMarco followed them with a fun loving good time filled with Cigarettes, Jameson shots and a bunch of laughs. Mac broke a string as well and the band decided to kill time by covering Vanessa Carlton’s “a thousand miles” but with their own little twist. A few songs later Mac Brought a fan up on stage who said they skipped prom to go to the show so Mac Granted him a slow dance. on stage. Then I ventured back into the swamp to catch some of Migos, who were the last minute replacement for Solange who dropped out the day before the festival and then caught some of the Bon Iver set. I am not familiar with his music but you better believe i am going to become familiar with it now.
Sigur Ros was going to be over lapping with Chance the Rapper and I decided to just commit to Sigur Ros. I had seen them before and it was a mind bender of a show. This time was even better because the rain picked up even harder during the set and added to the already intense at most that was being built. When Sigur Ros had finished I walked by Chance the Rapper’s set and there were so many more people than I had expected. I got picture of him looking like he was levitating and decided to head home
Jam Packed day. I decided that I wanted to catch Alexandra Savior and Strand of Oaks at the Red stage because they were back to back. Saviors debut album “Belladonna of Sadness” is a beautiful project filled with darkness and emotion. Her performance reflected that but the 12:30 high noon sun didn’t contribute to the atmosphere. She even performed her Song “Risk” from the True Detective Soundtrack.
Strand of Oaks was a rocking good time as expected. He played songs off all of his projects and sang with some serious conviction. I left the read stage and headed to the Blue Stage To see Boston’s own Cousin Stizz. The Blue Stage was host to a slew of Rap shows on Saturday. I was expecting to catch the end of Russ because thats what the schedule told me would be happening. But Russ’ set started close to an hour later than it should. I wasn’t a fan before the set and when he kept saying “They are trying to get me off stage but fuck that!” it wasn’t helping his case in my opinion. I am not blaming him for the hour long delay there easily could have been some technical difficulty but I think it’s a shitty move to cut into the time slot of a Local Performer who a lot of hometown fans came out to support.
Anyway, Stizz killed it. Burnt it down. “500 Horses” “No Bells” and “Shoutout” were the highlights. Stizz called it a Family reunion and told everyone that they were officially part of the family from that day forward. Unfortunately, I had to miss Oh Wonder’s set because of overlap with Stizz and the fact that I had to start staking my claim to a good spot for Mumford and Sons set. I got some food, some waters, and some beers and nestled in for the long haul.
I caught some of Brandi Carlile from afar and thoroughly enjoyed it. She paid tribute to the Boston Culture with a Red Sox hat and thanked the large crowd for being there. Next up was a person favorite of mine Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats. They have been all over the country performing in support of their recent commercial success. It was a bluesy rocking good time which I have come to expect from seeing them live. The xx and The 1975 filled the gap between Nathaniel and Mumford and I held my ground in order to get good shots of Mumford. I could see the stage from where I was and The xx killed it. They played music from all of their albums and even gave Jamie xx a mini-set of his own to perform some of his stuff from his solo record.
When it was finally time for Mumford and Sons, I forgot about how much my knees hurt from standing there for 5 hours. The boys gave it their all from the start and were very high energy. The setlist spanned new and old music and I have officially branded their live performances the an adult sing-along. Mumford and Sons gets a lot of negative reviews from people and media outlets for being cookie cutter or bland and in a way I can see where those people get that. I completely disagree because I have seen their Live performance twice now and it continues to be one of the better shows you can see. Marcus Mumford brought out Aaron Dessner of The National (who also curates the festival every year) Brandi Carlile and Nathaniel Rateliff to do a cover of the Beatles “With a Little Help from My Friends”. It was a wonderful way to close out Day 2 of the festival.
I will admit, Day 3 got off to a slow start for me. I woke up on my friend’s couch in Quincy, Massachusetts and could barely walk. I was sunburnt and generally drained. I wanted to get up and go around 10am but I was completely unable to do so after what I put my body through the day before. I walked into the festival around the time Boston’s own Converge was performing on the main stage. I really wanted to cover this show but unfortunately, I missed it. I heard great things from friends of mine who did make it and I suggest checking them out if they are playing in your city.
I got a good spot for Flatbush Zombies which I knew was going to be a party. Once the show started I got my wits about me again and was having a blast. High energy, crowd surfing, drug use promoting a good time. The Zombies played a bunch of new music which leads me to believe we are getting some new project soon. One of the members of the Three-headed dragon, Meech, Jumped into the crowd and I got a pretty cool shot of him in the crowd going ape shit crazy. After the show, I decided to head over to the Main stage to get a good spot for Cage The Elephant and Tool. Again I would be missing a favorite of mine Run the Jewels but I have covered them recently and I had a feeling Cage the Elephant was going to be the best show of the weekend.
Oh boy was I right. Cage MURDERED. From beginning to end Cage the Elephant gave everything they had to the Boston Calling crowd. The songs off their newest effort “Tell Me I’m Pretty” really help balance their set thanks to the Dan Auerbach production and 60’s vibes. Cage represented Nashville as good as anyone can by absolutely rocking out. Highlight songs for me included “Too Late to Say Goodbye” “Come a Little Closer” and “Shake Me Down”
Then it was time for Tool. I had never got into Tool because.. well honestly I don’t even know why It just missed me. I had seen and heard of the band but I never checked out their music. I knew that people worshiped the band as royalty and that they are one of the White Whales of concert photography because they rarely play shows. I was excited to see what all the buzz was about. Lead Singer Maynard James Keenan came out in full riot gear and performed in front of a backdrop of trippy and disturbing visuals that Tool has become known for. People around me were freaking out and absolutely loved every second of it. I was enjoying it for sure but felt indifferent overall. I was impressed with the musical ability of Adam Jones (guitar) Jason Chancellor (bass) and David Carney (Drums) but I felt like it wasn’t quite living up to the acclaim that everyone had built up for the band.
(TIME WARP) It has been three days since I saw the show and after editing my photos and reflecting back on the whole weekend Tool was way better than I initially gave them credit for. I think following Cage the Elephant was tough because it was just so good but its nearly impossible to compare the two. I have been listening to Tools music a lot since the show and I would consider myself a fan now. Better late than never I guess huh?
Boston Calling 2k17 as a whole, A+. I had a blast. I initially was sour about the photo pass and I did miss some shows that I really wanted to see but when I committed to seeing a few bands those bands crushed it. Looking forward to the next one.