In the past music festivals were sporadically strewn throughout the spring and summer. Events like New Orleans Jazz Fest, SXSW, and Lollapalooza were mainstays and people rarely traveled from their locals to attend. Now it seems like there is a festival each weekend and more and more are being created. In such a saturated environment, the independent Boston Calling Music Festival stood out as a uniquely curated showcase featuring artists from all genres.
The seventh festival, which will be relocated to the larger Harvard University athletic fields in 2017, brought thousands of guests to the three stages in City Hall Plaza. While headliners like Sia, Robyn, Disclosure and HAIM garnered attendees, it was the midday acts that drew on their cult followings to pack the plaza. When interviewing the crowd, many in the front row stated they had been there since the gates opened so they could see The Vaccines, Courtney Barnett, BØRNS and Janelle Monáe. One guest bought a three-day pass just to see Christine and The Queens.
The acts were as diverse as those in attendance. On Friday, Sia wigs littered the crowd in anticipation of the Australian singer’s performance. Though Sia stood in the corner during her entire act, her vocals coupled with the intensity of her dancers closed the night on a strong note. Earlier, Sufjan Stevens destroyed the stage (and his banjo). He opened his set wearing massive angel wings and neon war paint. During the performance he transitioned from wearing the wings, to a balloon costume to become a large, silver-tinseled monster.
Lizzo opened the jetBlue Stage on the hot and sweaty Saturday. The rapper/singer brought her bad girl mantra of self-adoration and background dancers complete with gold super soakers.
The talented and raucous guitar playing of Courtney Barnett made people forget about the ninety degree heat. The Australian singer-guitarist does not converse with the crowd when she is on stage and instead, plays a tight set allowing her songs to do the talking. She writes conversational lyrics that describe precarious situations and colorful characters we all want to meet. ODESZA held the last slot on the Xfinity Red Stage Saturday night. Two keyboard and drum setups anchored the platform against hypnotic panels as the American duo hammered out tribal beats to electronic tracks. The horn section peppered throughout the performance added a unique layer so not to create a traditional DJ set.
Prior to Robyn taking the stage, it was announced that during upcoming performances Robyn would be playing all remixes of her music. She stated in a press release that “Remixes make me listen to a song in a different way; they stretch you out as a listener and leave space for other things that a pop song usually doesn’t.” Once Robyn floated on stage in her red Adidas jacket and ruffled pants and the first remix of “Who Do You Love” started, the audience understood her message- this would not be a sing-a-long set, but a fast-paced, dance your face off night.
Christine and The Queens stole Sunday with their 1:30 PM set. The performance- complete with choreographed dancing- was reminiscent of Michael Jackson at his height, but Christine’s music and presentation is all her own. On stage, the French singer, delivered a heart-felt speech about acceptance and how each of us contribute to the overall beauty of the world. She compared different artists like herself and Beyoncé, to the flowers she held in her hand and stated each artist contributes to make a beautiful flower garden. The set was one of the most talked about shows of the weekend.
Rapper Vince Staples followed. The Long Beach native brandished the microphone with authority and instituted perfectly placed pauses so the audience could take in his lyrics. Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires played the most emotional set of the festival.
The “Screaming Eagle of Soul,” who was homeless for a time and released his first album at age 62, seduced the audience and then brought them near to tears during “Changes.” Years of hardship are seen on his face and when he belts out is tracks you can feel the pain and joy behind the lyrics.
The witty Elle King raised a glass to the crowd, downed some whiskey and launched into a bluesy journey of self-expression, humorous tales and brutal honesty. Janelle Monáe was wheeled onto the stage and presented to the crowd in a bird-like straight jacket. As soon as her wings opened she began belting hits like “Yoga.” HAIM entered the smoke filled stage amped. Este (bass) began the banter early (giving a shout out to the photographers who “make [her] look pretty”) and then launched into “If I Could Change Your Mind.” The sister trio brought out Christine and The Queens during a Prince cover of “I Would Die 4 U” and all individuals on stage broke into a choreographed dance. Disclosure finished the weekend with a manic electronic set that left the crowd on a high that will carry them through to Boston Calling 2017.