Boston Calling is an unusual festival in two ways: it happens at Boston’s City Hall Plaza, in the middle of a major city, and it now happens twice a year. This presents various challenges for the festival organizers, but they seem to handle everything with good humor and intelligent problem-solving. Much was made of the fact that the T station closest to the festival was closed for construction this year, but it was still very easy to get into the festival and back out to the surrounding restaurants and stores, and the festival provided just about everything we needed, including great food (gourmet grilled cheese, the Red Sox team’s “official” burgers, wood-fired pizza and doughboys). Sam Adams was a major sponsor, and festival-goers were allowed to roam the premises with cups of beer (a change from last year’s festival).
Day One was a warm-up of sorts: the show started at 6:30 and featured only three bands. Cass McCombs took charge like a headliner started with dreamy folk rock that seeped out to all corners of the plaza like golden late-afternoon sun.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros upped the crowd participation, as lead singer Alex Ebert spent most of his time pacing back and forth on the edge of the stage, and jumped down to lean over the barrier into the crowd within the first few songs. Jade Castrinos was missed, but Ebert asked the crowd to fill in and sing her parts, and they gladly did.
Boston’s new mayor, Marty Walsh, came out to speak to the Boston Calling fans and to give Boston Calling his blessing. (He said not to worry, that he wouldn’t sing a song, which had fans chanting “Sing a song! Sing a song!”) Despite the fact that Walsh chose not to honor that request, the weekend was characterized by good will toward the city of Boston.
Jack Johnson, Friday night’s headliner, was the anomaly in the festival lineup musically, but he might be the best at festivals. Even on a cold night in Boston (“you call this summer?” he said), his beachy, feel-good vibes warmed people up (even if they were too preoccupied with being cool to admit it). He also focused on crowd participation, inviting a young guitar player who had held up a sign onstage to play with him. She played along very capably, and then (of course) pushed her luck to take iPhone selfies with Johnson and the band, as well as a shot of the crowd. The night ended with appreciation for a great first day and hopes that the weather would start feeling like the beginning-of-summer weekend we were there to celebrate.