Anna Cieslik ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Editor
It seems like every major city hosts a music festival now, so it came as no surprise when Boston finally got its own last May with Boston Calling at City Hall Plaza. The two-day outdoor fest in the middle of the city first took place over Memorial Day weekend, but the creators shocked everyone when they announced that Boston Calling would be coming back just a few months later for a second round over Labor Day weekend. This might seem a bit ambitious for a brand new festival, but Boston Calling is not messing around here. With Vampire Weekend and Passion Pit headlining the September festival, along with Kendrick Lamar, Local Natives, Major Lazer, The Gaslight Anthem, and a plethora of other artists supporting, it’s quite clear that the festival means business.
Emertainment Monthly was lucky enough to talk with Brian Appel, one of the co-founders of Boston Calling, about the festival and let’s just say that we’re more excited than ever for Labor Day weekend to get here.
Emertainment Monthly: First, can you give us a little background info? How did Boston Calling even start to form and come about?
Brian Appel: The way it got started was a partner who I work with here, Mike, and myself were working together at the Boston Phoenix newspaper and WFNX radio and we spent several years doing events on the city of Boston property and bringing bands for WFNX and doing concerts on Lansdowne Street. We learned how to do concerts and we learned how to work with the city of Boston to bring events together so when the Phoenix started to go on the decline and FNX actually went out of business, we thought that there was an opportunity utilizing what we learned from doing shows and what we learned from working with the city of Boston to bring a larger scale event to City Hall Plaza. We thought that that space was overlooked by a lot of people for an event space and that they couldn’t see the potential of it. They just thought that it was an open spot and we thought that there was an opportunity to create something there.
EM: Why do you think it took this long for Boston to have it’s own festival of this caliber?
BA: I think there are a lot of reasons. Number one, there’s not a lot of space in Boston proper to do a big outdoor event. So you’re sort of limited in that regard. I also think that the venues in the city like the Bank of America Pavilion and the Paradise [Rock Club] and the House of Blues and the Royale and all these places do a pretty good job of filling the demand for live music but there was that hole that we thought was there for a music festival. This is a city that has had a mayor for 20 years and things have been done in a very smart and efficient way and it took a long time to be able to convince him and his team that this was something we could execute in a safe manner. I think all the work that it takes leading up to actually getting city approval is a deterrent for a lot of people to try and do something like this.
EM: What unique challenges do you think you guys faced with putting together a festival in a major city?
BA: There are lots of challenges with doing an event in the middle of the city. I mean, for as big as City Hall Plaza is in square footage, it’s really laid out inconveniently in a lot of regards. It’s become a game of inches and feet in regards to making everything fit on that particular site. That’s one of the challenges we face an awful lot – how we’re going to lay everything out so that it maximizes the crowd experience. I think we run into an issue with so many eyeballs on it. You know, this is right in the mayor’s backyard. If this was out in a big field in the middle of nowhere, I think there wouldn’t be as many people watching everything that we do. But that’s okay. The fact that it’s right in the mayor’s backyard means that we’re working extra hard with police, with Boston EMS, the fire department, and then special services to make sure that everything goes flawlessly.
EM: Aaron Dessner, a member of the band The National, is credited as a co-curator of Boston Calling. What’s it like having an actual musician signed on as a co-curator?
BA: It’s been really wonderful to be able to work with Aaron and get his insight. First of all, [The National] were the first band that committed to play in the May festival. One of the biggest pieces of a music festival is the bands of course and when you’re a first time, unproven entity, it can be a bit challenging to get bands to commit to playing your event, especially bigger bands that have an established fan base. So when they came onboard and said hey we’re going to take the jump with you guys and do this, it was a big deal for us. Not only did it provide a headlining act for us for our first festival, but they’re a band that a lot of other bands really respect and want to play with and like what they do so once The National was committed to play, it became a little bit easier to talk to other bands and say hey, The National is going to be there, this is a real thing and we think you should get involved. So it’s a really interesting take on the booking process when you’re working with someone who’s that intricately involved in the music industry.
EM: You already put on another festival of the same name back in May. What made you guys decide to plan a second one so fast?
BA: Our intention was always to do two a year. We didn’t announce it until after the first one, but we thought that given the size of the festival, which is about 20,000 people a day, and given the size of the city and the way the population of Boston ebbs and flows with people leaving for the summer and all new people coming back in the fall for school, we thought that this city has the size to sustain two midscale festivals, which is what I consider our size to be.
EM: The lineup is very eclectic. How did you guys go about choosing the different artists?
BA: For September, we started with our headliners. That’s a very important part of the puzzle because you want to make sure you have bigger names at the top that a lot of people have heard of so that they’re compelled to look at the rest of the lineup. So it started with Passion Pit and then Vampire Weekend and once those were confirmed, we were able to start building out the talent underneath them. And what we thought would make sense for the September show right when all the students are coming back is to put a little bit of electronic music on the bill, a little bit of hip-hop, a little bit of R&B, and then a little bit of alternative rock and then some indie rock so that it was well-rounded for a large swath of the population that lives in the city in September.
EM: How exactly do you go about integrating the city of Boston into the festival?
BA: Aside from the actual integration where we use city land and city police and city vendors and all the people that we bring in to operate this event that are Boston-based, we also really strive to make this an event for the public where they feel like they’re getting a real Boston experience, and that comes from our location and our desire to make this a readmission festival. So if you buy a ticket, you’re able to come, see a couple of bands, and then you’re free to leave and go to Faneuil Hall or go to the surrounding areas and check out what downtown Boston has to offer and then you can come back.
EM: What’s one thing everyone should know before attending Boston Calling?
BA: I think you should come open minded and learn about new music who you may not have heard before. Sometimes the hidden gems are the ones playing earlier in the day. Maybe you’ve never heard of them, but these are carefully curated bands and DJs that we thought would really be an exceptional addition to the Boston Calling lineup. If you really want to get the true experience, come early in the day and see some of those younger bands.
EM: Personally speaking, who are you most excited to see this upcoming festival?
BA: I’m a big fan of the Gaslight Anthem. I think they bring a lot of energy to their live show and we’ve worked with them in the past when we were at WFNX so I’m excited to see those guys again and see what they do live. I think that they’re a little bit under the radar. They’re fans are diehard and then I think that a large portion of the population hasn’t had a chance to see them yet so hopefully this crowd that comes for Boston Calling and gets to see them for the first time will get to see what all the excitement is about. And then I’m excited to see what happens when you put EDM [Electronic Dance Music] out on the plaza. I think there’s going to be a lot of people coming that are excited to see Major Lazer and Wolfgang Gartner and Flosstradamus and Flume so I think that the Sunday lineup is going to be really interesting to see how the whole day flows.
EM: So can we expect Boston Calling to be here to stay now that you’re close to having two festivals already under your belt?
BA: It’s certainly our hope and our intention to be here and be a regular, recurring event. We certainly look to be back in 2014 with another strong year. Our plan is to be around for as long as the city will have us.
Boston Calling isn’t until September 7th and 8th, so there’s still plenty of time for you to buy your ticket if you haven’t yet! And keep an eye on Emertainment Monthly because we’ve got something special coming for Emerson College students looking to find a way in to the fest.