Crash Line Productions is back with a second Boston Calling, and we couldn’t be more excited. There is another tremendous lineup, including Kendrick Lamar, You Won’t, Okkervil River, Vampire Weekend and Passion Pit. We Love Beantown will run a preview of the acts to catch, as well as reporting from the festival.
We like to explore how the festival uses City Hall Plaza, and how it has changed since May’s first event. We got the skinny from Mike Snow, co-founder of Crash Line, which produces Boston Calling. Check out the festival map above and you’ll see the short answer: it’s changed a lot.
Comparing this weekend’s event to the first festival in May, the stages are in completely different places, as is the main entrance. VIP areas have better sight lines, even if those VIPs would need to change locations depending on which stage they want to watch.
The biggest changes are the locations of the stages. The Blue stage, where main acts Passion Pit and Vampire Weekend will play, is flat against the north edge of the plaza, rather than on an angle as in May. The Red stage is more-or-less directly across from this about 500 feet away (88.1 smoots, for those keeping track). Mike Snow wrote in an email interview, “I am most excited about the new stage positions; this will open up the festival so that performances on both stages can be seen and enjoyed to the fullest.”
He’s right: the major advantage to audience members compared to May is being able to stay in one place and watch all bands, though there will be north-south movement to whichever stage is active. Snow wrote there will be “faster access in the short down time between acts (there are no overlapping sets).” It’s a major improvement to the overall atmosphere from May, where the the audience stuck to the north side of the plaza between two perpendicular stages while the south side remained largely open.
The City Hall stage, used in May as the secondary performance stage, is now a centralized merchandise tent. It is part of a larger entrance area that incorporates the information booth, toilets and ID check for the beer gardens. Snow wrote, “We have reorganized the event a little to give everyone more space by the entrance, better access to info, sponsors, food & Merchandise [sic] while the show is going on.” In May I enjoyed the City Hall stage and was surprised by the charm of a site typically used only as a pedestrian pass-through to the North End. We’re back to using it as a pass-through, but even so, this design is an improvement for reasons other than music viewing.
In May, the entrance gates were in front of the Government Center MBTA station. The gate area was too wide, creating odd, unpredictable queuing that backed up into the narrow area on the south side of the plaza near State Street. Entering audience members were dumped into the middle of City Hall Plaza with no particular orientation: it wasn’t obvious where beer, toilets or even the City Hall stage were located. By moving the entrance east to Congress Street, the audience is channeled through a passage that can intrinsically answer all their questions with less effort. Queuing will also be easier along the Congress west sidewalk because most of the pedestrian through-traffic is across the street near neighboring bars like Union Oyster House and Bell In Hand Tavern.
Both beer garden areas worked well in providing a separate refuge from the main audience pit, and their locations have not changed. Each spot was well-chosen: in May, the space underneath City Hall was particularly welcome during Saturday’s rain. The other, larger beer garden is among the rows of trees and benches that run parallel to the Federal Building on the north side of the plaza. Like the City Hall stage, it was the first time I had ever seen this area of the plaza used in any reputable way. Despite the shade and benches, the space was uncomfortably narrow, excacerbsted by the lack of sufficient, distinct space for pedestrian traffic and for sitting with your beer. Moving the garden entrance to the large plain in the middle of the plaza may make for improved pedestrian flow and including exits in the garden itself will make it safer. Even so, neither beer garden offers solid views for either stage, so audience members will need to choose between engagement in their music or their Lagunitas. It’s a tough decision, but a decent compromise for what I suspect was a hard line imposed by the city and Alcohol Bureau commission.
The fundamental challenge of Boston Calling is working with a sub-par site. Government Center has been challenging since its construction in the mid-1960s, and this festival is the best use of the space we have has seen. But Crash Line’s Snow and co-founder Brian Appel experiment and learn on the fly, improving the experience. In May, each festival component– from beer gardens to the food truck annex to both stages– worked well alone, yet the flow from one to another was confused. Entrances and particularly exits, both for the beer gardens and for the festival itself, moved around throughout the day like in the Wonka Factory. This weekend’s festival promises to be a significantly improved experience. Crash Line has learned much and the Boston festival-goer is better for it.