Boston Calling, Crash Line Answers

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Crash Line Productions co-founders Brian Appel and Mike Snow learned a lot from their time at Boston Phoenix and the late, great WFNX.

They learned to partner with the best concert promoters. They learned how to excite a crowd. And, crucially for Boston, they learned how to partner with City Hall to get things done.

City Hall Plaza has seen concerts before. So has Boston Common, the Esplanade and Copley Square. But the scope of Crash Line’s Boston Calling festival is bigger and it’s impact more significant. I spoke with Brian Appel, co-founder of Crash Line, to hear what it takes to make Boston rock.

A two-day festival demands much of its attendees, and City Hall Plaza, given its brick pavers and brutalist architecture, might not seem a first-choice venue for bare feet and summer sun.

Notably, it was the only public space large enough to accommodate the festival. Boston Common is too small for the expected crowd of 20,000 and the Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, though a favored site, was unfeasible. “This is on City Hall property because the DCR [Department of Conservation and Recreation] does not allow fenced-off, ticketed events,” said Appel. “We have a nice relationship with City Hall from doing events for the last few years.”

Experience with City Hall, which Appel and Snow gained producing events for Phoenix Media and WFNX the last several years, may prove the lynchpin to their company’s– and Boston Calling’s– success.

The City of Boston seems late among other American cities to host a distinctive urban concert. San Francisco hosts the fifth Outside Lands festival in Golden Gate Park this summer. Chicago’s Lollapalooza is in its eighth year in its current form. New York’s Governors Ball was launched in 2011. Crash Line Productions, named from the New Jersey Devils’ hard-hitting mid-’90s combination of Bobby Holik, Randy McKay and Mike Peluso, instead takes the smooth approach to bringing a similar event to our city.

“We got the opportunity to do some great events in conjunction with City Hall in Downtown Crossing and Lansdowne Street,” said Appel, referring to events in years past such as the Downtown Crossing Block Party and WFNX Clam Bake. From these experiences, “we learned to work with City Hall to make permits happen and to ensure public safety.”

Creating an enjoyable, safe environment for attendees is a priority, and Appel is aware of the design challenges faced City Hall Plaza and Government Center at large. “We’re aware that the space is a little barren,” he said. “If we’re going to ask people to spend their money and holiday weekend with us we want to make sure the space is inviting.” Crash Line is working with design teams to “make sure the plaza is lit well. We’re going to create little oases for you to get food, get shade, or go to the beer garden.”

There will be two stages erected on the plaza, though no bands will play overlapping sets. One stage will be constructed along Cambridge Street, opposite The Kinsale, and face City Hall. The second stage will utilize the amphitheater space near the JFK Federal Building already present in the plaza’s design.

No traffic will be interrupted on Cambridge, Court, New Sudbury or Congress Streets, said Appel. Though the venue is open air, it won’t be the same experience outside on the sidewalk. “We’re working with Boston Police and Boston Fire to make sure the area is laid out safely and efficiently. We will have security moving people along so as not to block the sidewalks. There won’t be a lot to see or hear outside.”

Taking a cue from Wilco’s Solid Sound festival and All Tomorrow’s Parties, a decade-old UK festival, Boston Calling’s lineup will be curated by Aaron Dessner, guitarist for The National, one of the festival’s headline acts. The National is no stranger to such planning: the group curated last year’s All Tomorrow’s Parties and evidently forged strong ties with acts worldwide. “A lot of bands were excited to play with The National and that they had come on board,” said Appel.

Strong ties to talent also explain Boston Calling’s strong lineup. “We brought in Bowery Presents to help with talent buying,” said Appel. “They have a partner, Higher Ground Music, in Vermont, that helps put together the Wilco festival.”

Though similar to aforementioned festivals Outside Lands and Governors Ball, Appel and Boston Calling maintain humility. “We aspire to be there,” referring to the impact of these well-established urban music festivals. “Those festivals have cut the path. It’s presumptuous of us to compare ourselves. We’re not at 60,000 or 80,000 attendees and never will be. We’re exceptionally appreciative of the bands participating and the City of Boston working with us.”

Advanced ticket sales for Boston Calling begin Friday. The festival will be held May 25-26 in City Hall Plaza and features a program curated by Aaron Dessner of The National including Fun., The National, Andrew Bird and other high quality acts.