Issues with acoustics, size plague festival

When I first heard of Boston Calling last spring, I was ecstatic that Boston was finally joining the ranks—or jumping the bandwagon—of major cities with music festivals. It seemed like every other city had at least one music festival—Lollapalooza and Pitchfork in Chicago, Governor’s Ball and Electric Zoo in New York, and SXSW in Austin—and, finally, one would be in the city I consider to be my own home.

I couldn’t wait to listen to some of my favorite artists while lounging in the grass of the Boston Common, but of course, it turned out that City Hall Plaza would actually be home to Boston Calling. And for as long as Boston Calling calls the concrete jungle of City Hall Plaza its home, Boston Calling will never be Lollapalooza, Governor’s Ball, or even Philadelphia’s Made in America for the following three reasons:

  • Acoustics – Though easily accessible by public transit, the concrete, brutalist monstrosity of City Hall Plaza definitely wasn’t made for concerts. The mass of concrete reduces the transmission of sound waves, which means the sets have to play their music extra loud, with speakers blaring. In addition, the sound pollution of the traffic on Cambridge and Congress Streets distracts from the sets. This results in a very loud, very low quality listening experience that mandates earplugs.
  • Concrete and brick don’t make for an acoustic friendly backdrop.

  • Size – Another problem associated with Boston Calling’s urban setting is the absence of communal space. Between the crowds surrounding the two stages lays little room to congregate with friends or to sit down and relax while watching a set. Other urban music festivals, such as Lollapalooza in Chicago or Governor’s Ball in New York, avoid this problem by hosting the festival in city parks that offer lawn space for blankets and chairs, creating a more comfortable listening atmosphere.

    Firefly Music Festival in Delaware has the right idea.

  • Lineup – Last May’s Boston Calling had a lineup to impress alternative and independent rock fans, ranging from hipster-pleasing Youth Lagoon to indie sweetheart Andrew Bird and alternative rock gods, The Dirty Projectors. This time around, it seems like Calling tried to diversify, including hip hop arts like Kendrick Lamar, as well as mainstream alt-pop, such as headliners Passion Pit and Vampire Weekend. The diverse lineup meant fewer people liked a majority of the bands, which resulted in smaller crowds than in May.
  • Kendrick Lamar played September’s Boston Calling.

      I’m glad Boston is experimenting with music festivals, and I will likely attend next May’s festival to see what bands they book and how the festival is improved. Nonetheless, I think that Boston Calling will continue to hover below the music festival giants of other cities as long as it’s hosted in City Hall Plaza.
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