This past weekend, thousands of people crowded Boston Square for the ultimate Northeast indie music festival: Boston Calling.
Boston Calling is a three-day, multi-stage festival that provides music enthusiasts with some of the biggest artists in the world, as well as some of the more “underground” bands. This year’s festival entailed a very chill vibe, a reflection of the lineup and the weather.
As the festival was just about to get underway, it was announced that Boston Calling would be making significant changes going forward. In past years, there have been Boston Calling Festivals in the spring and fall at Boston’s City Hall Plaza, but from now on there will be only one weekend per year and beginning in 2017 it will happen at Harvard University’s Athletics Complex.
To start the show on Friday night, Lisa Hannigan & Aaron Dessner performed a sweet, intimate set. Dessner is best known as a member of The National, and has co-curated the Boston Calling artist lineup since the festival's first year in 2013.
Sufjan Stevens took the stage next, providing a wacky yet intriguing performance. The crowd was very receptive of Stevens’ quirkiness as he smashed his banjo to pieces against the stage, strapped a disco ball to his chest, and played the recorder.
The most extraordinary and anticipated act of the evening was pop singer Sia. After the crowd chanted her name over and over, Sia was led onstage, but only stood in the far left corner, on a small platform. Sia did not leave this position for the rest of her set. She sang with her infamous black and white wig covering her eyes, and let other performers act out her songs.
As Sia sang hits “Cheap Thrills,” “Big Girls Cry,” and “Chandelier,” the performers did interpretive dance moves. A large white screen was set up at the back of the stage, and when it was presented on the side screens, it looked just like the well-known music videos.
The most intense point in the night was the performance for “Elastic Heart.” Since the video came out in 2015, it has received over 600 million plays on YouTube. Even for those of us who had seen the video many times, it was still possible to get chills during the powerful performance. The two dancers ran around each other in a cage simulation, but at the end of the song, only the little girl escaped, leaving the man behind.
Between songs, Sia did not speak a word nor introduce herself, yet her singing was powerful and consumed everyone. The only thing she said to the audience was a grateful “Thank you,” as she was led off the stage.
On Saturday, the festivities began again, as indie rockers The Vaccines, City and Colour, and Courtney Barnett took the stage. English band The Vaccines definitely stole the show, even in the blistering heat, with their alternative classic rock sound. Lead vocalist Justin Hayward-Young was charismatic and pulled the crowd into every song. Even new fans were hyped up and jammed along to their older hit song, "If You Wanna."
Music junkies and flower crowned fans flooded Boston again on Sunday as the weather cooled down. Midway through the day, Charles Bradley's voice came to life throughout the venue, and a huge crowd formed to see the R&B singer's funky and soulful set. With his bedazzled suit, Bradley stole everyone's attention.
Immediately following Bradley, indie rock band The Front Bottoms performed on the opposite stage. The Front Bottoms had the biggest crowd thus far in the day, to hear the band's quirky and relatable songs. Lead singer Brian Sella was extremely interactive with the crowd. Sella expressed how excited he was to be at the festival, performing with so many well known and well respected acts.
Although The Front Bottoms aren't exactly radio hitmakers, the crowd knew most of their songs, screaming back the lyrics to their most popular songs: "Au Revoir," "Cough it Out," "Swimming Pool," "The Beers," and "Twin Size Mattress." The four band members joked around the whole set, and finished by telling everyone to spread the word about their music and especially their 2015 album, Back on Top.
The other highly anticipated act of Sunday night was Elle King. When she hit the stage with her blue hair and bell-bottom jeans, she simply laughed and took a drink. Her raspy voice was intriguing as she sang her popular 2012 tune, "Playing for Keeps." One memorable thing King did was introduce every song before she played it. King is definitely spunky and humorous; she provided many anecdotal stories about break-ups and mishaps. She mentioned, "I can't lie- I'm always drunk in this town," and "I've only been dumped once, and that'll never happen again."
Throughout the set, King joked about being a role model and said, "I'm sorry for who I am," as she continued drinking. With her acoustic guitar and banjo, King swooned fans to her songs "Ex's and Oh's," "Where the Devil Don't Go," and "Under the Influence."
Boston Calling had a nice variety between both popular and up-and-coming artists at this year's festival, which included 29 acts total. Over the course of the three days, impressions were made and new fans formed.
All photos by Olivia Perreault.