Read: Boston Calling Recap – Day Two

With some days passed since the festival end, a few of Front Row’s writers share their thoughts on this year’s festival. This is day two:

I’m not old; I’m only 28. After spending Saturday at Boston Calling, though, I sure feel old. By the end of the day I walked around confused, hard of hearing, and imbued with an overwhelming sense that I’d lost touch with what’s cool.

Throughout the day, I found myself playing the anthropologist, watching youthful college kids dance, smoking futuristic vaporizers as they snapped, grammed, and tweeted everything in sight. Who are these people? Where did they come from? As with many moments in life, a Simpsons reference can encapsulate my feelings: “ Am I so out of touch? No, It’s the children who are wrong,” Principal Seymour Skinner said while looking for a truant Bart Simpson in a history museum.

I was confused for much of the day. Confused why people want to wait in line for 30 minutes for a Tasty Burger when there is another Tasty Burger down the street selling the same burgers for less and without a line? Confused why inebriated adults love bubbles so much? Confused why people cheered music drowned out by heavy bass? Confused why festival goers love a crown of flowers as much as Mel Gibson loves a crown of thorns?

Most of all, I found myself confused by the message that Boston Calling was pushing.

One of the main artworks at the festival was a truncated reproduction of the Bunker Hill Monument. The four sides of the miniature monument featured graffitied slogans and images evoking multiple social justice and civil rights movements. Woody Guthrie, Gandhi deejaying, “Speak Volumes,” and a Guy Fawkes mask plastered one side. The other sides were tagged with a Black Lives Matter insignia merged with the head of Billie Holiday, a black power fist, and sayings like “One Love” and “No Justice, Just Us.”

The scene at the 2017 Boston Calling Festival, Boston, MA.

The original Bunker Hill Monument was made to commemorate the Battle of Bunker Hill. It memorializes a war and battle that was fought to oppose the oppression of a dominant ruler. Russ Bennett, the designer of the reproduction and of the festival told WBUR that they “updated [the monument] a little bit with some graffiti.” I assume he means to reflect the movements and icons that have been on the forefront of fighting oppression for the last century and a half.

Something about the images and the way they were used by the festival felt wrong. It did not feel right watching concertgoers Instagram themselves holding beers in front of DJ Gandhi. Instead of representing an ongoing fight for civil rights, it felt like an appropriation of issues and icons to help induce an empty sense of righteousness. For just $120 dollars/day, you can participate in an act of protest against the many civil rights infringements and injustices that are not only happening in this country, but around the world. A form of solidarity and protest that is even more useless than #activism; perhaps you could call it commercial activism. Along with the festival’s red stage, this act of social justice is brought to you by XFINITY.

Maybe I am overthinking it. But maybe the festival curators should have thought more about constructing an obelisk with insensitive icons for Boston Calling after the city has faced multiple incidents of racism, including SNL’s Michael Che calling Boston the most racist city in America.

Since the 60s, music festivals have been a haven for countercultural politics. Attendees and musicians protested against civil rights violations and the Vietnam War at Woodstock and the Newport Folk Festival. People famously booed Bob Dylan at Newport Folk when he went from protest folk to ear blasting rock. The point is, the sentiments that were painted on the updated Bunker Hill Monument are not out of place at a music festival. At those festivals, though, the countercultural and social justice politics were not manufactured to curate a feeling.

Despite this I did have some earnest moments of enjoyment. Boston Calling producers made a noticeable effort to bring more diverse acts to the festival, prominently featuring rap and hip hop aritsts throughout the day. The decision to diversify is commendable and a welcome change to the pop and indie rock line up of years past.

The addition of the comedy arena was excellent as well. Seeing Pete Holmes, Hannibal Buress, and Tig Notaro in one weekend was wonderful.

And of course, I did hear some great music. Moses Sumney’s layered vocal loops was a highlight, though his music, more subtle than many of the other acts, was drowned out by crowd noise and the blue stage. An amazing act? Yes. An amazing act to see at a festival? Probably not. And later, Oh Wonder played breezy Britpop, fitting well into the cool Saturday afternoon vibe, moving the crowd again.

Saturday night ended with headliners the 1975 and Mumford and Sons. The 1975 set was densely packed with a youthful crowd screaming for lead singer Matt Healy as if he were Paul McCartney at Shea Stadium, evincing the most fervent fan presence of the night. One seemingly sober young gentleman near me screamed out the lyrics to each song, dancing into the darkening night. He announced to everyone around that the 1975 were his favorite band, while bopping and yelling at the crowd, “Clap you inbred animals! Clap!”

Mumford and Son drew a more mellow, older crowd. The band forewent lights and theatrics to captivate their audience. With acoustic instruments and anthemic folk, they were able to enrapture their audience, proving even more impressive just after the 1975’s light show.

One of the more memorable moments of the day took place during Tegan and Sara’s set. The band exuded a joyful 1980’s cartoon aesthetic with their colorful large inflatable balloons, Trapper Keeper visuals, and upbeat pop music. During their show, a girl no older than five, played and danced in the mud with her mother near me, encapsulating why people come to music festivals. We go looking to achieve a childlike bliss, an escape from the normal day to day, a place where we can go to shed a layer of reality, and try to become absorbed by the joy of music. This little girl reminded me of a music festival’s purpose.

When I think of the little girl, the 1975’s biggest fan, and others I saw Saturday singing along to their favorite bands, it is hard to be cynical. Uninhibited joy can have that effect on people. Cultural appropriation and the commercialization of social justice: bad. The life-affirming levity of great music: good. Hopefully Boston Calling will focus more on the latter next year.

You can find a full gallery of photos from day two here.