This weekend, Boston Calling is back. But this year, for the first time, the music festival is saying farewell to its digs at Boston’s City Hall—where it’s been held since it debuted in 2013—and setting up camp at the Harvard Athletic Complex.
The move to Harvard marks Boston Calling’s biggest event to date, with headlining sets from Chance the Rapper, Tool, Mumford and Sons and Sigur Ros and appearances from Solange, Bon Iver, The XX, Weezer and dozens more. (Also: There’s a Ferris Wheel. And a virtual reality experience.)
We sat down with festival co-founder Mike Snow to chat about making the move, what’s new in 2017 and how the Greater Boston community of music lovers has helped Boston Calling grow.
Scout Cambridge: You’ve had a very successful few years in downtown Boston—why the move?
Mike Snow: We were at City Hall Plaza for all of these events, and basically, we just ran out of space. A music festival, sort of by definition, is a larger event that we were running, with curated food and different art installations—we’re doing comedy—and we just didn’t have the space to do any of that. We honed our skills as operators as far as learning a space and building a team to execute a safe event, and then the next, natural move was doubling the size of the event.
We wanted to keep it within Boston city limits, and if you live around here, you know that those kinds of spaces are supremely limited. But we had a lot of interesting talks with Harvard over the years, and we were able to come to an agreement to use their space for Boston Calling.
SC: So you’ll be able to accommodate a larger audience, more bands, more food…
MS: Yeah, it’s larger in every sense. Yes, we can accommodate a larger audience—we’re going from six acres on the plaza to 16 acres over at the athletic complex. But it’s still an urban festival. We don’t have parking or camping; we still strongly recommend that people take the T. We’ve gone from two stages to three stages, and one of the stages is actually, physically bigger, which allows you to book bigger bands that need bigger production.
SC: What are you most looking forward to at Boston Calling 2017?
MS: I live mostly on the operations level. I know everything that goes in and everything that comes out—I’m the first one in and the last to leave. That feeling of accomplishment is always one of the joys of running a festival, when you’re building it and just trying to meet deadlines, and then you open the doors and people start enjoying it and interacting with everything you built. You learn instantly the things you did right or could do better (or potentially, did wrong), and that’s what we live for.
On the personal side, there’s of course a couple of bands I’m looking forward to seeing. If I see a half-hour’s worth of music a day, that’s pretty good. The event’s running pretty smoothly. I pick those half-hours carefully. But seeing people enjoy what you put out there—that’s the really rewarding part of this job.
SC: What are some things you’ve learned running this festival for the last four years? You’ve retooled the offerings a little over time, going from bi-annual to once a year, things like that.
MS: The key is that this surrounding Boston area and people throughout New England want a music festival. That’s probably the thing we confirmed that we didn’t know when we started this company. We thought they did, but now we know.
This year, we went to a specific kind of wristband, so that people can get it in the mail and can come through the gates faster, which we didn’t do before. You learn about different vendors that you can seek out to add different things. We’re working with the group over at Tribeca to do a virtual reality experience this year. You know, I’ve never had a Ferris Wheel at one of my events before, so I learned all about how a Ferris Wheel gets put together. There’s a wide range of uninteresting things—and I guess interesting things—that I learned throughout this process.
SC: I was going to say, I think I might actually find it interesting to learn how a Ferris Wheel works.
MS: Listen, just go on YouTube and type in “giant wheel assembly.” You’ll learn that it’s hilariously difficult.
SC: Anything else you’re thinking about as Boston Calling gears up for its biggest year yet?
MS: We’ve got a great community around this festival that enjoyed it at City Hall Plaza for three and a half years, for seven events. We have them in our consciousness, we want them to be way more comfortable at this event. It’s bigger, and we know that community may have preferred a smaller vibe and a more intimate show, and that’s not lost on us. We’re focused on making sure our past attendees and our past community is really going to embrace this site and not feel like all of the sudden this is something different.
Plus, their feet and their knees and their backs are going to hurt way less, because they’re not standing on those bricks for three days. [Laughs] Hopefully, that community will only grow.
Boston Calling comes to the Harvard Athletic Complex (65 N Harvard St., Boston) May 26-28, 2017. More info, including tickets and the full festival lineup, are available here.