Q&A: Co-founder of Boston Calling previews 2019 festival

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Q&A: Co-founder of Boston Calling previews 2019 festival

Eminem performs at Boston Calling 2018 as the Sunday night headliner.

Eminem performs at Boston Calling 2018 as the Sunday night headliner.

Courtesy Ty Johnson

Eminem performs at Boston Calling 2018 as the Sunday night headliner.

Courtesy Ty Johnson

Courtesy Ty Johnson

Eminem performs at Boston Calling 2018 as the Sunday night headliner.

Morgan Lloyd, deputy lifestyle editor

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Boston Calling returns to the Harvard Athletic Complex May 24-26, featuring headliners Twenty One Pilots, Tame Impala and Travis Scott as well as a first-ever appearance by the Boston Ballet. Brian Appel, a co-founder of Boston Calling, spoke about what to expect from this year’s bigger-than-ever festival. Responses were edited for length and clarity.

The News: Especially this year, you have a lot of artists performing in different styles, from rap to rock to comedy and the Boston Ballet. What is it that you would say about such a diverse group that appeals to Boston Calling festival-goers?

Brian Appel: I can’t speak for any particular festival-goer, but our general sense is that when people look at the lineup, they find three or four bands on any given day that are appealing to them, and that’s their decision on why to buy a ticket. But our hope is that they come and see things beyond just the bands that they were excited about and really have a new type of experience. The Boston Ballet is a perfect example. We know that lots of people who are coming to Boston Calling have likely never seen the Boston Ballet, or maybe any ballet for that matter. So we’re thrilled that [the Boston Ballet] is coming and will provide a really exceptional performance for attendees who get to experience that. Maybe that’s a new opportunity for the attendees to see and enjoy a new type of entertainment.

When people ask me for recommendations on how to get the most out of the festival, I always say to get there early, to go and see bands or performances that were maybe not on your list. It’s surprising, the elements of the festival people get most excited about.

TN: What is it you would say is different this year compared to previous years?

BA: This year, one of the changes we have is that the arena — which was very popular last year and the year before — is going to be going all throughout the event as opposed to shutting down at like 5 or 6 o’clock. Once the comedy is done and the ballet and those types of performances, we have either bands or DJs that will be performing into the night at the arena. So that will be a nice, different environment that we’re creating in there this year.

TN: You have three very different headliners this year in terms of musical style. What is it about each of them that will connect with the audience?

BA: Well, we’ve had Twenty One Pilots before, back in 2014. They were on at like 4 o’clock in the afternoon, and we were just so impressed with their energy and their connection to the audience. Obviously, we’ve all seen their [ascension] over the last couple of years and how big they’ve become, so we were honored and thrilled to invite them back, and so humbled that they’ll headline for us this year. Their live show is unbelievable, the energy that they put off, so that’s what we’re excited for Friday night.

Saturday night, with Tame Impala, same thing we had them play back in 2015 on a Friday night. The bill was Beck and Tame Impala, which is kind of amazing looking back. They were fantastic when they played last time in Boston Calling, and that was one of the last times they were in Boston too, so they haven’t been here in a couple of years. They just had Coachella, and it was amazing, so we know they can certainly deliver a great live experience.

And with Travis Scott, one of the biggest hip-hop artists in the world, his live show is just so electric, and the audience is just so ravenous for him and his performances. He came and played TD Garden here back in December, and it was just electrifying. So we can’t wait to see what he does on an outdoor stage.

Illustration courtesy Boston Calling
This year’s lineup includes headliners Twenty One Pilots, Tame Impala, and Travis Scott.

TN: Now, the festival has been going on long enough that you’re starting to see folks like Tame Impala or Twenty One Pilots, who were playing in the afternoon a couple years ago, come back as headliners. How does that feel to see artists rise to perform on the big stage?

BA: That’s one of the coolest parts of the whole experience for me and for our team, because we love when we look back at old posters for Boston Calling and see artists who were early-part-of-the-day bookings that are now headliner level. There’s a lot of instances like that. We’re so proud of our friend Lizzo, who played for us at Eaux Claires, another festival that we run, a couple years ago as well as at Boston Calling, and now she’s on her way into superstardom. There’s a dozen stories like that from past Boston Calling performers. It’s a lot of credit to our talent booker, who has a really good sense of who are rising stars and who we should put on the bill. A lot of times he’s just right about that stuff, and we book bands on their way up to the top.

TN: So people should get there early to catch the opening bands they might come back as headliners in a few years.

BA: Yeah, a couple of years ago we had Halsey perform, and I think she was actually a late addition to the lineup somebody had found out. I don’t remember the specific circumstances, but it was something like we had said on Twitter that we had a spot open, and there was this little groundswell of commentary from people telling us to book Halsey. So we did, and she played at like 1 o’clock in the afternoon for a half hour, and she had a couple hundred fans that were there and really excited to see her. Now she’s one of the biggest performers in the world. Those types of things happen all the time; you see a performance in the early part of the day that you weren’t expecting, and then you hear a few years later that they’re megastars.

TN: If you had to pick one thing, what would you say you’re most excited for in the festival this year?

BA: Oh, man. Well for me, on a personal level, I’m excited that the Boston Ballet is coming. I have been working with them directly, and they’re such a great institution in Boston and so well-regarded around the world, so the fact that they want to come perform at our event is a thrill for us. On the musical side, this lineup feels really exciting for me from top to bottom. There’s a lot of stuff in there that we’re excited about. We had Odesza a couple of years ago at City Hall Plaza, and they just have incredible energy live, so we’re thrilled that they’re coming back. We had Hozier a couple of years ago, and I think it’s one of the best performances we ever had, so we’re thrilled he’s coming. There’s just a lot, right? If you look at each individual day, for me there’s just five or six things that are so exciting, and if I can find a couple of minutes to sneak off and hear some music, I always try to do that.

TN: It seems that a lot of the bands you have on the bill are well-known for energetic live sets. Is that something that you really try and seek out?

BA: That was actually one of the themes that we were working on this year when we were in the early days of the curation. We just felt like one of the things that we should really try to put forth to the audience this year is the theme of energy, to try to book acts that really bring you up to the next level. I think we’ve all been to shows or festivals where sometimes, in the middle of the day, you need a little bit of energy, you need a little bit of a kick. So we really tried to curate a lineup here that was energy from top to bottom.