Cultural Commentator

6 Lessons Music Festivals Should Consider to Stop Sucking

Cultural Commentator

6 Lessons Music Festivals Should Consider to Stop Sucking


The second Boston Calling music festival took place this past weekend over two days at Boston’s City Hall Plaza. The event, with headliners like Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit, and Kendrick Lamar, drew an estimated 15,000 attendees per day, and was widely seen as a success musically, but perhaps more importantly, logistically. It’s obviously not easy pulling off something of this scope, especially in a city whose permitting process is so labyrinthian, with constant push back from the iron-fisted No Fun Police, (aka the actual police). But Crash Line Productions handled most of the obstacles deftly. Here a few lessons that more festivals would do well to keep in mind from someone who hates festivals.

Get small. One regular complaint you’ll hear at larger, more sprawling festivals is how so many acts jammed onto so many stages makes it impossible to see everything, or sometimes even anything. Everything ends up feeling rushed and disposable. A huge lineup may be good for maximizing potential ticket sales and buzz, but sometimes keeping the focus smaller is better for fans for both practical and existential reasons. Instead of the persistent nagging dread that comes from wondering if you’ve chosen poorly by camping out in front of one stage instead of the next that you’ll get at a multi-stage festival, two stages total on either end of a contained area eliminates that sense of buyer’s remorse. Perhaps not so great if you hate the next band up, but there’s something to be said for being encouraged to check out an act you haven’t heard of because they’re all that’s playing.

Keep it quick. That said, if there are only two stages, it’s imperative that you keep things running smoothly. For the twenty odd acts over the weekend there were more than a few times that the next band would be launching into their opener just as the final chords of the previous set were still reverberating. No one wants to stand around in a crowd waiting for music to happen.

Support the scene. More festivals should think of their opening slots as a sort of pre-season showcase for the city’s standout local acts. I’m not saying you shouldn’t fill the rest of the slots throughout the day with underserving locals out of some sense of obligation-booking, but if you’ve got the talent, show it off. Today’s openers could be tomorrow’s headliners, as in the case with Boston’s Passion Pit here. Earlier performances from could- and should-be-national bands like Bearstronaut, Viva Viva, and You Won’t proved this in Boston’s case.

In through the out door. Most big concerts feel like dystopian authoritarian nightmares now. Allowing for re-entry may be a headache for promoters worried about underaged drinking off premises, but it’s so much more enjoyable to be able to come and go as you please at a concert, particularly one that runs from the morning to the night. Perhaps there’s a band you want to see early, but you don’t want to, or can’t, stick around all day waiting for the headliner. It’s supposed to be fun to see music, not feel like you’re in band jail.

Don’t kill my vibe. Jokes about the BPD aside, it was actually a surprisingly non-threatening environment. Sad to say, but it’s nice not being assumed to be a criminal at every turn. Despite drug overdoses from “molly” being in the news of late, including a death in Boston last week, for the most part fans, even the young “twerking” ones were left alone. (21 reported arrests out of 30,000 isn’t bad!) Bag searches on the way in may have rankled some, but there’s little getting around that at any big event at this point. Police seemed to ignore heavy wafts of marijuana smoke throughout as well. This is Massachusetts, but one can still be ticketed for smoking.

Urban setting. City Hall is an oddly laid-out plaza, but one major thing it has going for it, concert-wise, is a distinct lack of mud up to your tits. Most festivals like this will either be in a city park, or somewhere out in the boonies, but having the event inside the city proper not only eliminates the dusty, rainy, mud-caked experience, it also adds to the sense of scenery. It’s just downright cool to be in the middle of the city with looming buildings around you while you’re outside listening to music, and it makes residents, and people from the suburbs feel a sense of civic connectedness. Plus, being able to take multiple forms of public transportation to the show as opposed to sitting in traffic for seven hours is a blessing.


Photo via Boston Calling on Facebook.