Boston is calling: annual music festival makes a big return

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Boston Calling / Alive Coverage

Grandson crowd surfing on the first day of festivities.

Boston Calling, one of New England’s biggest music festivals, finally returned this year after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic. 

The festival started out with a bang, having quite the crowd gathered from day one. Boston Calling had four separate stages for its performances this year, including one stage just for local artists, allowing the event to present its biggest lineup of local talent to date. They also had a very impressive food and drink lineup spanning down the entire side of the Harvard Athletic Complex, where the festival took place for its fourth year in a row. 

Nothing says you’re at a music festival quite like a drink being triple its usual price, but they have to upcharge something besides the ticket I suppose. Though we learned early on to bring our own reusable bottles as a small bottle of water was $2.50 each, there was definitely some food that was worth the money. The inclusion of local Boston businesses was also a great thing to see, like Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, Love Art Sushi and Fomu Ice Cream. 

There were even a handful of vegan options, which was nice considering it can be difficult to find something to eat at events when you have dietary restrictions. We tried the Tasty Burger veggie burger, which was very plain as they didn’t include the basic lettuce and tomato, it was just a burger on a dry bun. Nonetheless, the burger was good for being plain and wasn’t wildly expensive either.

My favorite of the festival was the vegan gyro I had from Greco, which had pea protein meatballs, onion, tomato, french fries and marinara sauce inside. Though it may sound like a unique combination, it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. 

From Cheap Trick and The Struts to HAIM and Avril Lavinge, there was music for people of all ages and interests to enjoy. 

As we awaited the very first act of the festival, Paris Jackson, we overheard attendees discussing their excitement for the other acts of the day, one person noting they specifically bought a day one ticket over the other two days just to see Avril Lavinge, and who could blame him.

Jackson entered the stage right at 2:00 p.m. on Friday in an effortless boho outfit complete with sunglasses and mesh patterned pants. The artist looked cool as ever as she sang her first song of the set with her hands in her pockets.

 Jackson picked up her guitar for her second song, “Lighthouse” which was just released on May 20. Though Jackson was giving the crowd major rockstar energy with her tattooed arms and angsty singing, her two guitarists stole the show a little bit for me. The two men were so into the set that it was hard not to shift focus to them as the two hair flipped, laughed together and switched places on stage, you could see their passion for music radiating off them. 

Overall, Paris showcased her beautiful voice for the festival’s opening act, and though most of her music was downtempo with a melancholy feel, the set felt just right and the entire crowd was entranced with her in front of the Red Stage.

After Jackson’s intro act, we checked out the edgy Pom Pom Squad on the Delta Airlines Blue Stage. Though we hadn’t heard of this particular band prior, the band drew just as big a crowd as the other acts, having people lined up to see them. 

What I really enjoyed throughout the festival was how happy and excited all the artists seemed to be there, it made the festival that much more special. The first glimpse we saw of this dynamic was with Pom Pom Squads’ lead singer Mia Berrin, of Brooklyn, New York as midway through her set she told a story of how it was her dream to be performing here. 

When I was 18 my mom sent me to a music festival, and I was so excited after the festival that I decided to go home and start and band.” Berrin told the crowd. “And this was one of the festivals my mom and I wanted to go to.”

After the sweet sentiment, the band continued their set, which was another amazing performance. Berrin showcased her angelic voice during the eclectic, grunge rock set with songs like “Cake” and “Forever.” Much of the performance gave a 90’s alternative rock vibe, which was undoubtedly a good setup for Avril Lavinge who performed on the same stage later that day. 

A staunch alternative to the first two acts, we also saw Grandson perform on the Green Stage giving the crowd a hard rock/hip-hop sound. The lead singer Jordan Edward Benjamin, had a voice reminiscent of Tyler Joseph of Twenty-One Pilots, with some Gorillaz vibes mixed in. Though not exactly my style, the set was very exciting and interactive with the crowd, the lead singer telling watchers to “Have some f***in fun” and to create a mosh pit for them at 3 p.m. 

Benjamin also recognized the Foo Fighters, who were the original headliners for the festival supposed to perform on that very stage, telling the crowd that they’re sending their love to the band right now, as they pulled out due to the death of their drummer, Taylor Hawkins, earlier this year. 

One of the best acts of the day was The Backseat Lovers, who had a solid fanbase in the crowd despite being one of the lesser-known acts, with the crowd singing along to most of their set the entire time. The band played beloved songs “Kilby Girl” and “Maple Syrup” which had the crowd dancing, singing and cheering along throughout their entire set. The band had an excellent sound with great guitar and some of the best vocals of the entire day. 

Personally, my favorite part was how sweet and humble the lead singer, Joshua Harmon was during their performance. After every song he’d say “thank you” to the crowd while smiling from ear to ear, making for a very sweet watching experience, and I myself couldn’t help but smile after every song too. The lead singer told the crowd they had just gone on their first Europe tour and this was their last stop before they “get to go home and hug their moms” so they wanted to make the most of it, and there’s no doubt they did with their wholesome and passionate set. 

One of the last acts we caught of the day was The Struts performance on the Green Stage, drawing one of the biggest crowds of the entire day thus far, solidifying their fanbase as the crowd roared when they arrived at the stage. 

The band put on a high-energy performance for the first day, jumping around, clapping and pointing at the crowd. The lead singer Luke Spiller was excited to be in the states exclaiming, “Finally The Struts have come back to Boston baby!” and said, “God Bless you America” after performing “Put Your Money on Me.” Paris Jackson even came back to the stage for their set to perform the song the band has with Jackson “Low Key in Love.” The band also performed some of their best songs “Kiss This” and “Body Talks,” Spiller showcasing his powerful vocals throughout the set.

Though we didn’t get to catch some of the biggest acts of the day like Avril Lavinge and Nine Inch Nails, the festival certainly lived up to my expectations and was well worth the experience and the next two days’ performances were just as incredible. If you’re someone who enjoys live music and concert experiences, Boston Calling was the place to be.

Follow Abby on Twitter @astreabbs