A Q&A with Boston Calling producer Brian Appel
by Ben Stas (English/Journalism), published August 12th 2013
The inaugural edition of the Boston Calling Music Festival took place in May, bringing two days’ worth of music to a sold-out crowd at City Hall Plaza. Sunday night’s headlining set by The National was prefaced with the surprise announcement that Bostonians would only have to wait until September for the festival’s second round. With the tried-and-true two-stage setup, and a diverse lineup including the likes of Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit, Kendrick Lamar, Solange, Local Natives and more, Boston Calling would return to the plaza on September 7th and 8th.
As that big weekend draws closer, Tastemakers had a chance to chat with festival producer and co-founder Brian Appel about the logistics of a twice-a-year Boston festival, and what attendees can expect from the September edition.
Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): Firstly, the May edition of Boston Calling seemed to go remarkably well for an event in its first generation. From your perspective, what are the things that were particularly successful then that you’ll be aiming to replicate in September?
Brian Appel (BA): I think the bands were fantastic, and that’s what makes or breaks a good music experience for people. We hope that September lives up to the bar set by the May artists. The city was very happy with the way the plaza was laid out and the way security was handled. Behind the scenes logistics went very well.
We happened to bring a crowd in that was very calm and peaceful and there to have a good time. The weather was inhospitable, and I think the weather did contribute to the calmness and patience. We were right after the marathon bombing, so I think people and their perception of public events changed. Waiting in line for security was not a big deal.
TMM: Was there anything that didn’t go as well as planned?
BA: I think that there were some things with the layout that with September we’ll be changing around. Some things will be obvious, some will be subtle.
I took for granted that the site is a little bigger than I thought it was. [People were asking] “Where are the signs? I can’t find where I’m trying to go.” There will be much better signage.
TMM: So the festival settled on City Hall Plaza – were there any alternate locations being considered?
BA: We looked at other locations. We wanted to be in Boston proper; we weren’t really interested in the suburbs. There’s a very limited number of spaces available for this. Parks has a couple of regulations that wouldn’t have worked for us, so we couldn’t do it on the Common or at the Hatch Shell.
We like the plaza. We found a lot of pleasure in laying out the event on the plaza and hope it stays there for years. We also don’t mind the fact that it’s brick. Wet grass and mud does not make for a good weekend.
I think for the folks out there that think the obvious choice would be the Common or the Hatch Shell, you’ve gotta understand the regulations are different. We wouldn’t have been able to do a ticketed event or have a beer garden. [It] makes it next to impossible to pull off a music festival.
TMM: Was the plan always to make Boston Calling into a multi-installment event? That feels like a unique model for a music festival.
BA: That was always the plan. The way we thought of it was, we’re in the center of a major city that has a significant ebb and flow in population. Boston tends to double in size September 1st. We’re not producing a 50,000-person festival. We felt that the city’s size would be able to accommodate two festivals.
TMM: Are there any plans for expansion beyond that? More days? More stages?
BA: I think not at the moment. Our hope is to break off and do a little bit more with local bands, tie in the local bars and restaurants in the days leading in. We love the South by Southwest model, where there’s a lot of activity in a city the week or two leading up to an event.
TMM: As far as booking the lineup goes, what is the strategy for Boston Calling?
BA: For May we were a little more in genre with alternative and indie bands. With September we branched out a little bit. That was mainly because we know the hip-hop and EDM is appealing to a wide swath of the population that tends to live in Boston in September. We wanted to be inclusive in that fact. We wanted to curate a festival that would appeal to a lot of different types of people.
TMM: How about the distribution of artists by day?
BA: I think with September, Saturday is a little more indie and alternative and Sunday is more EDM, R&B and hip-hop. We haven’t seen a gigantic difference in ticket sales; people tend to buy weekend passes. A lot of people said, “we’re open to coming and seeing all of it.”
TMM: On the subject of curation, how did Aaron Dessner of The National become involved with both the May and September editions?
BA: He became involved because some of our partners down in New York are friends with him. We met him over a year ago now. He thought it was a great opportunity. He raised his hand and said he’d be happy to be a part of it.
TMM: The festival hosted local acts like Caspian and Bad Rabbits in May, and then you’ve got Bearstronaut and You Won’t in September – is bringing in local bands going to be a recurring feature?
BA: We always anticipate having local acts. I would look for that to expand in the coming years. We partner with Bowery Presents; they run the Royale and Sinclair. They have a pretty good handle on the local scene. We talk about which bands fit our bill. We also partner with Sonic Bids. The way that that works is for bands that want to play the festival and we don’t know about them, they can submit their press packages. It’s a great opportunity for bands who have yet to be discovered to get a chance to play.
Boston Calling’s September edition happens Saturday the 7th and Sunday the 8th, and single day and weekend passes are available now.