‘Boston Calling’ interview and recommendations

May 3, 2019

Interview with Boston Calling Co-Founder Mike Snow

“I grew up here and I grew up jumping on the train to see punk rock shows in Kenmore Square. I love being here and being about this place,” said Boston Calling Co-Founder Mike Snow in an interview with The Brandeis Hoot.

We asked Snow why it took so long for Boston to get its own music festival. “There’s not much usable land,” he said. But Snow and other festival organizers seized on an ideal location: Boston City Hall Plaza. “Where we started was seemingly inhospitable to larger companies,” he said. But that location soon filled with festival-goers, leading to a need for a change of venue.

But part of it is a cultural mindset. “Some of it is we’re mean and stuck in our ways, we’re pilgrims and we can’t do what others can do; some of it is really preventative of growing an arts culture. This place feels so progressive, and then sometimes you see some headlines and you’re like we haven’t advanced at all,” he said.

A mission of Boston Calling is to be a beacon of art culture. “We are part of the arts in this city, and you want to see more art and public art and the celebration of culture and art in this city.”

That means innovating in a crowded festival market. Snow said that the festival aims to embrace its unique Boston identity, while also utilizing available space at the festival’s current location, the Harvard Athletic Complex, to experiment. Last year, that meant hosting a feminist film festival curated by Natalie Portman. This year, Harvard’s hockey arena will feature stand-up from Michael Ché, Jenny Slate and Fred Armisen, as well as more intimate performances from Yaeji, Princess Nokia and the Boston Ballet.

One fact about festivals is that many people are not experiencing them sober. We asked Snow what substance he recommended patrons use responsibly in order to best enjoy the festival. “Oh God, that’s a weird one,” he said, which was a fair response. “Be safe. You’re there to enjoy yourself. I guess I’m really nerdy and… I’m a sober music person.”

Best of the Fest

A few subjective picks for the best performers to see at the festival.

Tame Impala

It’s been four years since Tame Impala released their last album, the incredibly popular “Currents.” Lead singles “Patience” and “Borderline” impress with their shimmering chord progressions and laid-back drum beats.

Tank and the Bangas

Tank and the Bangas first made waves winning NPR Music’s 2017 Tiny Desk Contest. The New Orleans-based group combines hip-hop, soul, jazz and R&B in an organic way that sounds fresh and original. If their charming personalities and jazz flute aren’t enough to persuade you, I don’t know what will.

Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

The Melbourne band, also known as Rolling Blackouts C.F. makes great rock music—contemporary, yet with a discernible 80s influence. Their song “French Press” is an excellent sampler of their work: a rollicking elegy to the end of a relationship.

Princess Nokia

Destiny Frasqueri, who performs as Princess Nokia, is a rapper of Puerto Rican descent. Her music examines identity and celebrates life in New York City. From the lo-fi mumble rap sound of “Bart Simpson,” to the affirming power anthem “Tomboy,” Princess Nokia is a versatile performer with a lot to say.

Mitski

At first glance, Mitski’s music is catchy alternative rock. When you stop and think about the lyrics, the power of Mitski Miyawaki’s songwriting becomes apparent: the desperate longing mooring the organ-based “First Love / Late Spring;” “Don’t wait for me, I can’t come” she sings as acoustic guitar bursts into a metal song on “Your Best American Girl;” the melancholy isolation underlying last year’s earworm “Nobody.” Her set should be great.

Travis Scott

Despite his lackluster Super Bowl 2019 performance, there’s still hope that the “Sicko Mode” rapper can impress. Travis Scott is an acquired taste for sure. But this writer at least likes him unironically (“Astroworld” was good!). You’d be a fool not to see what spectacle Scott has in store.

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