By Kiri Coakley, news correspondent
Festival enthusiasts converged this Memorial Day weekend in Boston’s City Hall Plaza for the final installation of Boston Calling at its current location. The diversity of genres from indie folk to pop and rap showcased popular artists including Sia, Disclosure, Robyn, Vince Staples, Janelle Monáe and City and Colour.
This year also featured a third, smaller Verizon Stage which housed comedians to complement the festival headliners on the larger Xfinity Red Stage and jetBlue Stage.
The two main stages held what most came to see: Musical acts, which were dominated by female artists. Friday, the first night of the festival, saw Irish crooner Lisa Hannigan and musical curator Aaron Dessner open on the jetBlue Stage. Their ethereal, indie harmonies eased the audience into the evening.
Sufjan Stevens took the Xfinity Red Stage with a fiery opening that contrasted with the melancholy tone of his recorded albums.
“A while back I got really sad to ‘Carrie and Lowell,’ Northeastern third-year bioengineering major Gabe Goodman said. “I’m pretty removed from that state now, but I was ready to get sad with Sufjan tonight. When he paraded onstage with a neon angel-winged suit I knew he wasn’t going to let that happen.”
In the middle of the overall upbeat performance, Sufjan Stevens slowed down.
“I think I’ve earned the right to sing about death, if you don’t mind,” he announced before launching into a sincere rendition of “Casimir Pulaski Day.”
Almost half an hour later, headliner Sia took the stage. Opening with “Alive,” she struck a stark contrast to the previous two performers by taking to the back of the stage while wig-adorned dancers visually interpreted her songs. Sia reclaimed “Diamonds” from Rihanna, to the delight of the audience, and entertained the crowd with a stripped-down, emotional “Titanium.” Day One was brought to a close with fans enthusiastically singing along to the Australian singer’s “Chandelier.”
“I like that I can watch Sia, eat a lobster roll and drink canned wine,” 25-year-old Katelyn Alfano, a Boston local stated.
Saturday afternoon’s round two brought with it weather in the high 90s and a sky so clear that the first sign of a cloud caused the thousands jam-packed and exposed in the Plaza to spontaneously cheer. Those who got to City Hall early enough were pleasantly surprised by 28-year-old indie hip-hop artist Lizzo and her soulful voice.
Later in the afternoon, Børns got the crowd grooving with an overall enjoyable set that included a unique cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes.” Courtney Barnett brought the mood back up by finishing with the sardonic “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party,” providing yet another strong performance by a female artist.
City and Colour’s Dallas Green gave the crowd a folksy, melodic performance including the popular “Lover Come Back” while the sun set on the hot day. As night hit and the stage lights turned on, Swedish indie pop band Miike Snow set a more upbeat mood that continued with American indie electro-pop duo Odesza. Robyn closed out the night with a set of unique live remixes, including nine that she will be releasing in the coming month, according to a May 28 press release to the media coverage for Boston Calling.
Boston local Michael Christmas opened Day Three, rapping with the passion needed to warm up the crowd Sunday.
Later in the afternoon, rapper Vince Staples took the stage to loud applause. The 22-year-old’s hyped-up set had fans shouting along to “Señorita” and jumping with the beat.
Elle King (of “Ex’s & Oh’s” fame) took to the Xfinity Red Stage in the early evening with a devil-may-care attitude.
“Boston–I don’t know what it is about this town. I can’t lie–I’m always drunk when I’m here,” she proclaimed amidst her empowered set of unique country-rock songs.
Shortly after, Janelle Monáe rolled onto the stage, bouncing up for a high-energy performance that got the chilled audience grooving along. She closed her set bathed in purple light, performing Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” dedicated to him, her “mentor and idol.”
The next act to take the Verizon Red Stage was Haim, a band of sisters, who also performed a striking Prince tribute, covering the late singer’s “I Would Die 4 U.” Christine and the Queens, a French group that had received a warm reception earlier in the day, joined them onstage for the performance with impressive choreography. Boston Calling concluded with a bass-heavy set led by English electronic duo Disclosure.
Isolated from the two main stages, the smaller Verizon Stage hosted several music acts and featured comedians such as Ken Reid and Orlando Baxter picked out by Boston’s own Lamont Price.
“I think it’s a bit of a rough crowd,” Sara Lubeck, a 27-year-old who works with homeless veterans through Caritas of Austin, said of those standing around the third, smaller stage. “It’s removed from everything else. The music [from the other stages] is just so loud, so you can’t really hear other people applauding. The idea [of a comedy stage] is great – it has worked at festivals in Austin – but the execution was not good.”
Hours before doors opened Friday, Boston Calling announced that the festival was moving to Harvard which will allow them to allocate more space to comedy, arts and film curated by Natalie Portman in addition to the musical performances. Moving forward with these changes, it will be seen if the organizers of Boston Calling can maintain the popularity of the festival shown by progressively larger attendance to each of its seven installations to date.
Photo by Brian Bae