Advertise with The Big Takeover
The Big Takeover Issue #94
MORE Concerts >>
Subscribe to The Big Takeover


Shop our Big Takeover store for back issues, t-shirts & CDs

Follow us on Instagram

Follow The Big Takeover

Boston Calling - Harvard Athletic Complex (Cambridge, MA) - 24-26May 2024

29 May 2024

Another Memorial Day weekend, another edition of Boston Calling. By far the region’s largest music event, the festival has now been held six times on the sports grounds of Harvard University, increasing considerably in capacity from the original site at City Hall Plaza. If you look back at the prior lineups, the festival still appears to be in search of its voice, and with the exception of 2020 when guitar-oriented Gen X favorites Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine and Foo Fighters were slated to headline (only the latter would re-book for the first post-pandemic event in 2022), it’s been a ‘be all things for all people’ type of programming with mixed results, at least for my tastes.

And increasingly it’s clear that as a 58 year old, I’m not in the target demographic any longer. Of all the 51 bands who played, only Trey Anastasio is older than me, and by a scant year. That’s ok, good music doesn’t have any sort of age-centric gatekeeping built in, but there was definitely more than a hint of unfamiliarity when scanning the daily schedules. That’s what streaming services help address, so there’s no reason to not at least get a fleeting knowledge of who’s showing up to play. Friday always tends to be the lightest day especially if people didn’t take the day off or skip out of work early, but the Green Stage area was consistently full with pop offerings via Luke Hemmings, Renée Rapp and headliner Ed Sheeran.

Saturday had a strong C&W theme running through it, and Miller hopped on board by giving out free Lite-branded cowboys that were perched atop many of the festival attendees. Tyler Childers closed out the night with a large band playing his finely-honed Nashville songs which were fined-tuned in the studio by his pal Sturgill Simpson. At the opposite end of the grounds newcomer/Tik Tok star Jessie Murph was playing her brand of whatever it is she does. Tik Tok does have a strange influence on popularity and I’m not sure it’s an agent of good. Red Clay Strays and Ward Hayden and the Outliers drove their trucks a bit closer to the boundaries of my limited tolerance of country music, defined pretty well via this meme.

The Red Stage closer described as Trey Anastasio and Classic TAB (Trey Anastasio Band) got the the spasmodic hippie dance moves going via a slew of Phish songs, so I guess his classic stuff is just the material from his more well-known main gig. In this setting, influences such as Little Feat and The Allman Brothers were easier to discern.

The final day came with the third straight day of early nice summer weather, and a whole lot more people. Like, a lot more. I heard that Sunday was the only day to sell out of single day tickets and I believe it. I got on site around 1:45 PM as per the other days and already there were long lines at the free water station near the entry arches, and open space in general anywhere near the Red or Green spaces that wasn’t VIP (or the VIP Platinum for the true 1%ers) was scarcer than an ivory billed woodpecker. By the look of it, it was this day that really underscored the popularity differences between the adjacent Green and Red Stages and the Blue Stage on the opposite far end of the grounds.

(photo courtesy of Boston Calling/Alive Coverage)
The festival made some adjustments based on feedback from last year which helped. One change was to open the cut through from the back of the food vendors at the center of the grounds, near the Dunkin’ Donuts pop-op installation to everyone. This was previously closed only to media and working personnel and helped address some of the flow issues as people tried to get from the north to the south ends. The merch issue was similarly fixed with two locations, so no one had to spend over an hour in line like last year.

Now to the things they still need to work on. Once the crowd settled in for Chappell Roan’s set mid-day at the Green Stage, it never relented. Too much overlap with fans wanting to also see The Revivalists, Megan Thee Stallion, Hozier and festival closer The Killers. There are plenty of Instagram posts about people’s negative experiences of being trapped like a prehistoric bug in amber, unable to move in any direction and I experienced that first hand when i undertook the arduous journey of leaving Fleshwater’s set at the Orange Stage and enter behind the Red Stage soundboard for Hozier’s performance. What should have taken less than a minute was more like 15 or 20 minutes, and holding a camera over my head did little to part the crowd as there was literally nowhere to go. If someone had a real emergency, getting out of the crowd would not be an easy task. Indeed, on my way in I saw a group of people trying to get out. Frustrated by their lack of advancement, one guy suggested to his friend “just start pushing.” Yeah, that’s never a good idea in a jammed crowd but luckily no domino effect of falling humans took place.

(photos courtesy of Boston Calling/Alive Coverage)

The festival has acknowledged this issue today in a social media post and really the only thing I think they can do is either cut capacity across the board (which is not happening) or do a better job scheduling people’s “must see” acts at the Blue Stage so that the masses are spread out a bit more. Last year was a bit tight on the north side but not nearly like Sunday; Flaming Lips and King Gizzard did draw a good crowd in 2023, but this year they really should have put Megan Thee Stallion or Hozier on Blue. It was MTS’s first Boston-appearance so a big crowd draw shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, and clearly Chappell Roan has big things in her future, calvaries of Pink Ponies dressed for the occasion and jamming the Green Stage area early. A theory of mine is that the festival must have had a different Sunday headliner for Blue Stage in mind that fell through, as Alvvays was the last band announced in the lineup, somewhat weird for a headliner not to be secured much earlier. And speaking of headliners, I can’t imagine there are a ton of Killers fans just waiting to see them headline Boston Calling again after just six years of doing that same thing; aren’t there other headliners out there? It’s not like they didn’t play here just 20 months ago. And while I am railing against The Killers, I would be remiss to not mention their dickish move of holding a ‘secret’ show at The Paradise on Saturday. Now, after shows have always been a thing and Frank Turner played on Friday, but somehow The Killers forgot the ‘after’ part of the equation, and overlapping the festival is not a good look.

Let’s see what changes are in place for 2025. One last thing – it’s a small but irritating item that stuck in my craw, and that’s the applied ‘tax’ on food. Though it was not much money personally, the typical 6.25% Massachusetts state sales tax on prepared food suddenly ballooned to 12% and that was my experience at three different vendors. No vendor I asked could explain why, and if the average person spent $30 on food and drink each day, someone pocketed an extra 200K… not bad work if you can get it.

Selected highlights of the festival:

“This is an acoustic guitar. It’s also a punk rock show. Do not be alarmed, we know what we’re doing. And remember, it’s a participatory event.” Frank Turner and his Sleeping Souls played a workmanlike performance, with a high dose of energy the way they always do. No surprise that Turner was in a couple of emo/punk bands before starting his solo career and his path might have been similar had Billy Bragg listened to The Descendents instead of Phil Ochs or Woody Guthrie. Turner mentioned that this was show number 2884 for them, and there’s no slowing in sight.

One thing that Boston Calling has increasingly gotten right is their attention to local bands. The original site had some locals on the main stages and gradually added a smaller satellite stage. At the current location, this has morphed into the Orange Stage, midway between the Blue and Red Stages and showcased a wide variety of talent and musical expression. Paper Lady gave us a killer version of “White Rabbit” and reminded me a bit of ’90s indie/grunge, Hole in particular on set closer “Violet”. Kei brought a boatload of dancers and hip-hop energy, along with a healthy smattering of local team gear. Cakeswagg upped that ante with her own personalized set of Nikes, and JVK was an unrelenting girl-positive punk rock blast. Fleshwater was really the only band all weekend with a toe or two in heavy riff territory, making us all long for that time Converge was a late fill-in for 2017’s event. Along with “Divine Sweater* and Beach Weather, Bad Rabbits got to play on one of the larger stages, and it was full-circle for them as they were the very first band to play a note at the inaugural Boston Calling back in May of 2013.

The pop sensations on Friday were actually pretty solid, if not my particular cup of meat. Luke Hemmings has carved out a successful side gig from his regular day job as guitarist for Aussie boy band wonders 5 Seconds Of Summer and Rapp has turned her acting skills into success on the musical stage, a burst of high energy that perhaps was her apology for a local slight. Ed Sheeran is the ultimate busker’s dream, a guy who started out on sidewalks and now sells out stadia and still comes out on stage by himself, creating all the music via loops of his vocals and guitars and occasional percussion from drumming his acoustic guitar body. Props to the ginger!

Khruangbin and Leon Bridges were two acts I’d already seen prior to the festival that I was really looking forward to, and they even collaborated on “Texas Sun,” but as they played different days Bridges had to play it without the trio of Speer, Lee and Johnson backing him. Looking retro cool in a wide wale corduroy jacket and chunky shades, the master of neo-soul and his band sounded fantastic. I was unsure of how the compact, minimal psych/funk sound of Khruangbin would relate to a daylit audience but no need to worry, these are pros at work. Subtle choreography and sly sideways glances are the benefit of being up close when they play, and they were a clear highlight of Saturday. They’ve come a long way since playing Great Scott in 2016, deservedly so.

Alvvays are a band that Big Takeover readers need no introduction. Mining the best parts of the 80s/90s shoegaze and indie rock guitar scenes like Pale Saints or Velocity Girl or Dolly Mixture or any random band from Sarah Records, they understand that it’s not just the textures and tones but the underpinnings of a great song that really make the strongest connections with people. Molly Rankin’s pure voice gave a floating sensation on the very seductive pull of “In Undertow.” I had to make the fraught journey through Hozier’s crowd to the far end where they were playing in time to photograph one of the first three songs, and glad I made the effort. No need to fight the throngs and watch The Killers from hundreds of yards away, this was the perfect festival closing set for me.

Photos from Friday:

Photos from Saturday:

Photos from Sunday: