Tucked into the heart of downtown Boston lay a sacred gem, a space for 22,000 audiophiles to exist for three days on the melodies and spirits of their favorite performers. Once the first note from the first act sounded into the air, City Hall Plaza transformed into a sprawling dance hall. The celebratory atmosphere was alluring and contagious, gathering onlookers and sneaky listeners on the outskirts of the plaza. Festivalgoers, once inside, were instantly transported to a cozy atmosphere full of great music, great local food, and great local beer. It was a riveting kickoff to what is sure to be an endless New England summer, uplifting the souls of all festivalgoers.
The third Boston Calling music festival kicked off Friday night, May 23rd with the first of three jam-packed lineups. A smaller day than the rest of the weekend, the Friday night addition was a lovely start to the weekend long festival. Fans milled about waiting for opener Cass McCombs to come on stage, most wondering who he was and what he would sound like. To resounding cheers McCombs and his backing band took the stage for a mellow, brooding performance to ease listeners into the festival. They played at a very mellow pace with a few minor, experimental breaks in an otherwise calm ambiance. McCombs, a songwriter based in Baltimore with California roots, offered a simple “Thanks!” to the crowd before launching back into a song titled “Angel Blood”. The band has a sort of garage band vibe with a touch of Lou Reed coming through, a very relaxed start to the summer festival.
Most interesting act of the night went to Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, with singer Alex Ebert looking like a prophetic, charming, pirate gone rogue, while the band’s music calls for jumping and hollering and foot stomping. This quick set proved just that, and Ebert appeared looking like singing wayward pirate. Opening with “Man on Fire”, the crowd bobbed their heads and sang along. Ebert has an incredible ability to naturally engage with the audience and turned the plaza into a cozy spot with a bonfire type feel, with everyone dancing and singing and enjoying the moment. He fed off the crowd, singing, it felt, to each individual. During one song, Ebert went into the crowd, took a fan’s phone and climbed back on stage to take a video, remarking, “Oh it looks good; you’ll never forget this shit!” Ended set with their hit that essentially put them on the map, “Home”, introduced by Ebert’s tuning his whistling muscles. Claiming they were about to do a never before done acoustic version of the high spirited song, Ebert coaxed the audience into singing the song verse by verse which fell apart for a few seconds but picked back up with glorious pace as the whole band chimed back in on all instruments and the audience roared the chorus and jumped and danced around.
In a true nod to summer, Jack Johnson came next, carrying on a similar unifying feeling that Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes had started. He transported the audience to a campfire on the beach replete with singsongs and smiles. The audience danced and swayed and was surprisingly energetic for Johnson’s notoriously mellow tunes. Coming on stage, Johnson remarked in a call out to his Hawaiian roots and carefree style, “You call this summer? I had to put some shoes on!” Johnson played classic and newer hits, and the crowd sang to each one in what felt like a celebration of the upcoming summer. In one of his last songs before his encore, he called a fan on stage that’d held a sign asking to sing the song “Banana Pancakes” with him. To the cheers and support of a joyous crowd, Johnson introduced Fernanda, set her up with a guitar and a microphone, and launched into the sweet love song.
Johnson came back out for an encore with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes and they did a surprising rending of the Beatles’ “Rocky Raccoon” and Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released”. All told the night was a delightful and charming introduction to the weekend long festivities, a four hour-long sing-a-long, a foretelling of the days to come.