Boston Calling returns after two-year hiatus


Boston Calling is set to return this spring for the first time since 2019, featuring a record number of artists with ties to New England and the Boston area. Photo courtesy of Ty Johnson.

Julia Yohe, news staff

Boston Calling, Boston’s annual Memorial Day weekend music festival, is set to return May 27 – 29 for the first time since 2019. 

Boston Calling is a three-day-long music festival featuring rock, indie and alternative artists, as well as comedians and celebrity hosts, such as Natalie Portman and Michael Che. Since its debut in 2013, the festival has grown into a much larger event with over 35 food vendors, bars, a 100-foot ferris wheel, art installations, life-sized games and more. It first opened as a two-day, biannual event with half as many artists and no special guests before shifting in 2015.

The festival was put on hold in early 2020 when COVID-19 first struck Boston. This spring, however, the festival will make a comeback with headliners and rock and roll bands Foo Fighters, The Strokes and Metallica, along with 48 other artists. 

“We are so thrilled to bring Boston Calling back,” wrote Boston Calling co-founder and CEO Brian Appel in a lineup press release. “[This year’s lineup] not only signifies a return to the things we love, but it also celebrates some of the world’s most renowned acts, exciting up-and-comers and Boston’s talented music scene.” 

This year, the festival is also featuring a record number of artists with ties to New England and the Boston area.

“Knowing how much Boston musicians endured during the pandemic, it was very important to us that Boston Calling 2022 shine a spotlight on local and regional artists more than ever before,” Appel wrote in the press release.

The organization’s dedication to uplifting local artists is not going unrecognized. Boston native and Northeastern alumni Cliff Notez is a hip-hop artist and filmmaker who explores Blackness and Black culture through his art. He is set to perform on the last day of the festival.

“I’m about to be on one of Boston’s biggest stages with a bunch of my friends throughout the day,” Notez wrote in the press release. “To say we dreamed of this at some point is an understatement.”

Peach Tree Rascals, another band performing on the last day of Boston Calling, is a music collective from San Jose, California. Despite releasing music as early as 2018, they found their claim to fame during the pandemic when their 2019 song “Mariposa” went viral on TikTok. Because of the band’s pandemic-era start, they were unable to meet their fans until August 2021, when they performed at the Wonderbus festival in Columbus, Ohio. 

“For a while, there were no opportunities to engage with our fans except through social media,” wrote Ruchi Parikh, a media manager for Peach Tree Rascals, in an email to The News. “It means a lot to us that we can finally get to perform for our fans. We build off their energy, and it’s an incredible feeling.”

The revival of large music festivals across the country brings with it concerns of the spread of COVID-19. Boston Calling will be held in Harvard University Athletics Complex in Allston, an outdoor event pavilion. According to the Boston Calling website, the health and safety protocols Harvard’s Athletic Complex has in place by the time Memorial Day weekend rolls around will apply to the festival. 

Although some are concerned with how a music festival could affect COVID-19 infection rates, most view the recovery of live music as positive. Jeff Dorenfeld, a professor at Berklee College of Music with over 30 years of experience in the music industry, runs a three-semester-long course in which students prepare for and perform in professional summer music festivals. The loss of live music was personal for him and his students.

“For us, it was a big deal because the students worked all fall and all spring to prepare to go to a festival,” Dorenfeld said. “And they never got to go to a festival. It was a change to my whole life.”

Dorenfeld and his students are anxious to get back to the stage.

“We need to get back to normal, but we need to get back to normal in a cautious way,” Dorenfeld said.

Barry Luxton, a long-time Boston resident and Guitar Center employee, has been in the music business for almost 50 years. 

“I started way back with a high school theater group in 1979, mostly as a stagehand and sound guy,” Luxton said. “I did that for a whole lot of years with different bands, a lot of local Boston bands back in the ‘80s. And now I’m at a point in life where I got my dream job: I work in a toy store.”

As someone who has built a life around music, Luxton sees live music’s revival as a good thing.

“I think [the festival is] fantastic as long as the infection rate [for COVID-19] stays down and they can do it in a somewhat-controlled way,” Luxon said. 

Oliver Tree, another artist performing at Boston Calling, held a concert at Boston’s House of Blues March 11. Concertgoers were packed into the sold-out show, a concerning sight to see in pandemic times. But Oliver Tree fan Kiara Benac was not worried.

“I know everybody moves at their own pace,” Benac said. “But I think it hit a point where we’re seeing the numbers, and also recognizing that we don’t know what the future holds, and so if we’re able to experience these memories and especially do something that is meaningful to us like seeing these live shows, it’s to a point now where we have to experience that as safely as we possibly can.”

Before the pandemic, concerts were a big part of Benac’s life. Now, she could not be happier that live music is coming back.

[I] went to concerts a lot,” Benac said. “And then with COVID, that’s something we didn’t have. So to have it back is almost more meaningful and more special now because it’s the songs that helped me kind of get through COVID.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that people are “less likely to be exposed to COVID-19 during outdoor activities, even without the use of masks.” Boston Mayor Michelle Wu announced an end to Boston’s mask mandates in all public spaces except in indoor public establishments, including gyms, bars, restaurants, museums and entertainment venues, effective March 5. 

Dorenfeld said he anticipates a high energy turnout for Boston Calling this year. 

“Everything was such a loss and it’s great to see it come back,” Dorenfeld said.There’s so many shows happening and so many are selling tickets and selling out. There’s lots of pent up demand for it. They want to participate in music.”