The year of 2019 is a big one for Boston Calling. The festival will see its tenth iteration this year, a notable milestone for one of America’s newer festivals and, as ever, the lineup features a positively stacked roster of talent covering a wide array of genres. If anyone had doubted the wisdom of the fest’s move from the compact City Hall Plaza where it was born to the vast Harvard Athletic Complex where it now lives, the sheer number of acts speaks for itself. In addition to the roughly forty musical acts taking the stage, there’s also the Arena, featuring comedy and mixed-media performances, a unique flourish from Boston Calling that in previous years has drawn the likes of Natalie Portman, and in 2019 boasts an impressive lineup including comedians Fred Armisen and Jenny Slate, as well as electronic music pioneer Imogen Heap.
Musically, there is truly something for everyone built into the 2019 lineup, with the festival striking that ever-elusive balance of popular, upcoming, and niche artists. Friday boasts a titanic trio at the top of the bill, with the danceable, pop-infused R&B of Janelle Monae leading into 2018 breakouts Greta Van Fleet, and culminating with indie rock superstars Twenty One Pilots. Sunday delivers a hip-hop-heavy schedule with Sheck Wes, Logic, and Travis Scott guaranteed to go “Sicko Mode” by the end of the night. The bill is still plenty varied, rounded out by the likes of revenant popstar Marina and indie darling Snail Mail throughout the day.
But of all three days of the festival, the Boston Calling cup runneth over most profoundly on Saturday. Rap and R&B lovers will have plenty to look forward to in Denzel Curry, Princess Nokia, and Anderson .Paak; while indie rock fans will revel in the sounds of Scottish song smiths Young Fathers, Hozier, and Mitski, the latter of whom nabbed many Best-of-2018 accolades for her stellar LP, Be the Cowboy. Capping the night are Aussie psych-rockers Tame Impala, ensuring that this Saturday threatens to be the strongest single-day lineup ever featured at the Boston fest.
This skillful curation is partially the handiwork of Aaron Dessner, guitarist for The National, who will be performing at the festival as part of Big Red Machine, his indie supergroup with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. And further down the lineups are even more hidden treasures, like UK punks Shame and Black Star, a collaboration between Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) and Talib Kweli.
Boston Calling has always been unique not simply for the strength of its artist selection, but also for its setting and atmosphere. While the areas around the stage are full of eager fans, as one might expect, there’s plenty of room to move elsewhere, and it’s not uncommon to find concertgoers lounging in the sun on the verdant Harvard football fields, enjoying eats and beverages served up by the dozens of Boston-area vendors lining the perimeter of the space. It has the relaxed, open feel of a more rural event, but without all the negatives of folks living in tents and the like – and all conveniently nestled into the Allston neighborhood of Boston. This is a festival that has always had its fingers very firmly on the pulse of what Bostonian listeners want out of a music experience, and 2019 is looking to be no different.
Preview by Collin Heroux