17 things we learned at Boston Calling Music Festival 2017

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From Chance The Rapper's moped to Whitney's love of 'Golden Girls'

Boston. Sitting right on the east coast of the USA, it’s a seafood haven that’s home to the Red Sox, Harvard, and late May’s Boston Calling Music Festival. The formerly bi-annual event now takes place just once a year, and this time it’s in a new location. Here’s 17 things NME discovered on our first outing there.

1. Harvard’s athletics grounds are mint

For its eighth edition, Boston Calling has moved from its city centre location to new grounds over the Charles River from Harvard. This is Harvard’s athletics complex, where the grass is mostly astroturf and the food stalls are laid out properly and there’s little to no soundclash between stages.

Boston Calling 2017

Ty Johnson

2. Chance The Rapper has a sweet moped

Opening his triumphant headline set on Friday night, Chance arrived onstage on a miniature motorbike, crashing it off to stage right and leaping up to play a fire-backed ‘Mixtape’. Below you can see a clip of the showman doing the same at NYC’s Governors Ball on June 4.

You can see the Chicago rapper’s ‘3’ merch everywhere in the crowd as he takes us on an uplifting tour of third album ‘Coloring Book‘, while also playing choice Kanye collabs (‘Waves’, ‘Father Stretch My Hands’, ‘Ultralight Beam’) and his early mixtape hits, like ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’. Still – that moped though!

3. Two Migos is almost as good as all three

…or maybe not. Mega-hyped trap trio Migos were the last-minute replacements for considered R&B star Solange, who’d pulled out. They began their set with a 20-minute hype set from DJ Durel, before two of three Migos members finally arrived onstage. Takeoff and Quavo did give it some, and ‘Bad and Boujee’ went down awesomely with the crowd, but the missing member made the vibe weird. We still don’t actually know where Offset was.

Migos 2017 Boston Calling Music Festival - Day 1

Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Boston Calling Music Festival

4. Francis And The Lights and Chance The Rapper are actual dancing buddies 

You’re about to see three stellar pictures in a row, featuring the Bon Iver collaborator and potential Rice Krispie elf, Francis Farewell Starlite. In the below pictures the Francis and The Lights man is joyfully dancing through the crowd, then dancing in sync with Chance The Rapper on their recent collaboration ‘May I Have This Dance’, then giving Chance a ruddy great hug. Please enjoy:

Francis and the Lights 2017 Boston Calling Music Festival - Day 1

Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Boston Calling Music Festival


Francis and the Lights Chance the Rapper Boston Calling

Taylor Hill


Francis and the Lights Chance The Rapper Boston Calling 2017

Ty Johnson

Note that Chance didn’t actually sing anything: he just came out onto the Green Stage several hours early to perform a single dance with Francis. That’s true friendship.

It sort of begs the question: why was Bon Iver not there to perform his and Francis’ song, ‘Friends (feat. Bon Iver)’, given that he was playing on the same day at the same festival? Maybe we’ll never know, but we do hope they’re still, uh, ‘Friends (feat. Bon Iver)’.

5. Seafood is pretty much everywhere in Boston

The city’s on the seafront, so lots of places you go to eat will offer oysters or calamari or a variety of fish. The place in this picture is called Beat Brasserie and it’s something like the jazz place in La La Land: it’s a Somerville jazz and blues bar and restaurant that serves up good vibes with every marine-influenced plate – in our case, via the bossa nova greatness of the Esperanza Spalding collaborator Nadia Washington.

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6. Cousin Stizz is a local hero

Saturday on the Delta Blue Stage finds Boston rapper Cousin Stizz buoyed by his hometown crowd. This year he’s enjoyed guest features from G-Eazy and Migos’ Offset, but it’s his completely solo stuff that plays best. As he pulls out the dollar-eyed ‘Gain Green’, even the festival’s security are getting down.

Cousin Stizz Boston Calling 2017

Natasha Moustache

7. The Red Sox presence is strong

Everywhere you look about the festival site, people are wearing mysterious caps and other apparel with the notched ‘B’ logo. For strangers to this phenomenon, this is the Boston Red Sox ‘B’ – a logo just as loaded with meaning as the New York Yankees’ intersecting ‘N’ and ‘Y’.

Boston Calling 2017

Kyle Klein

Here’s a closer look.

Boston Calling 2017

Kyle Klein

Even Washington’s folk star Brandi Carlile is wearing one, and she’s from the other side of the country. That’s how important the Red Sox are around here.

Brandi Carlisle 2017 Boston Calling Music Festival - Day 2

8. Dunkin’ Donuts are sponsors of… the temperature?

Baseball is actually so important here that we had to go and see what it’s all about. We headed to the Red Sox’s game against the Texas Rangers just in time to hear the proud PA announcement that Dunkin’ Donuts were sponsoring the temperature announcements (62.5ºC – or, dear reader, about 17ºC).

Bit weird, yeah, but the actual baseball was brilliant: nine innings, many strikes and many balls gave us a proper baseball education from a team that won 11-6, and looked like this:

Pittsburgh Pirates v Boston Red Sox

Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Fenway Park, where Boston play, is the oldest baseball stadium in the USA, and it’s now flanked on most sides by outlets of ’47, the multinational sportswear franchise founded by Italian Bostonian Arthur D’Angelo back in (you guessed it) 1947. These days it’s co-run by Arthur’s four sons, and their stores are where everyone is getting their ‘B’ hats from. In the shops they also sell products ranging from Red Sox wristwatches and Red Sox Christmas hats to actual red Red Sox socks. Mind-blowing.

TEXAS RANGERS vs BOSTON RED SOX

Matthew Thomas/Boston Red Sox

9. NME and Boston go way back

While we’re getting into Boston culture, let’s head over to Newbury Comics, a comics-turned-music shop founded by MIT students in 1978 that’s since become a chain of 29 stores across New England and New York. The original store, which has always been located on the town centre’s Newbury Street, used to be a hotspot for NME readers in the late ’80s and ’90s, recalls regional manager Sean O’Brien.

“We were one of relatively few places in our area that would get NME,” he told us, “and we’ve always been fast, so the perception was we’d have it out on the shelves first. People – sometimes lots – would line up waiting for it to get to our store. There was a mix of camaraderie and competitiveness between those who were there at the same time every week, and their conversations almost always turned into contests – who had seen what band, who had the most arcane musical knowledge and so on.”

Newbury Comics Boston

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10. Samuel Adams makes Boston Lager, but it also makes lots of other things

On a morning trip to the Boston brewery, NME learned that Samuel Adams produces not just its famous Boston Lager but many dozens of different varieties of ales, lagers, porters, stouts, and one aged beer called Utopias that’s 28% alcohol and tastes a bit like port. They also make several strains of barrel-aged Belgian beers unified by a common ingredient they call Kosmic Mother Funk. Handle with care.

Samuel Adams Brewery Boston

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11. Tegan and Sara are queens of the inflatable

Back at Boston Calling we can’t stop gawping at the Canadian pop twins’ incredible inflatables. They may have a song called ‘U-Turn’, but there is no way they should ever turn their backs on these glorious T&S balloons. Look at this one: a ‘T’ that’s also a flamingo. Brilliant.

Tegan & Sara 2017 Boston Calling Music Festival - Day 2

Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Boston Calling Music Festival

12. Whitney love Golden Girls

Shall we talk about how Whitney’s heartbroken, brass-backed Americana nourishes your soul? Or how singing drummer Julian Ehrlich sometimes sings with his arms behind his back, like Liam Gallagher? Or how bassist Josiah Marshall gets to chug beer in the meantime?

Whitney 2017 Boston Calling Music Festival - Day 1

Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Boston Calling Music Festival

Let’s talk about all those things, plus how they covered Lion’s ‘You’ve Got A Woman’, and NRBQ’s ‘Magnet’, and still found time to play an unreleased song about partying called ‘Rolling Blackouts’ and also cover the Golden Girls theme. What a brilliant, strange, lovely set. We’re a little bit in love.

13. The weather in Boston makes you feel at home

On Friday it was cold and rainy and everyone got drenched. Then on Saturday it was a bit too sunny, to be honest, and some people got burnt.

Boston Calling 2017

Ty Johnson

14. Danny Brown still <3 KoRn 

This isn’t entirely new information – it’s more of a timely reminder, following his fourth album, 2016’s electrifying and unsettling ‘Atrocity Exhibition’. Years ago the Detroit rapper explained to FACT all about his favourite record of theirs, ‘Issues’, and last year he tweeted: “KoRn changed my life”. At Boston Calling, he repped his faves with a skull-adorned t-shirt.

Danny Brown 2017 Boston Calling Music Festival - Day 2

Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Boston Calling Music Festival

15. Majid Jordan have their priorities in order

Majid Jordan’s set-up and vibe is similar to Rhye‘s: Majid Al-Maskati provides the sultry, Sade-y vocals and Jordan Ullman is on production. The R&B duo co-produced Drake’s ‘Hold On We’re Going Home’ and have similarly dreamy cuts in ‘Her’ and ‘A Place Like This’. Al-Maskati interrupted their sun-dappled performance only to tell the crowd: “This is what life’s all about”. Priorities.

16. The xx + Tegan and Sara = true friendship

The xx played straight after Tegan and Sara on the Xfinity Red Stage. They’d bonded backstage (evidence below) and The xx’s Oliver Sims went on to describe their shared performance space as “the unofficial gay stage feat. Jamie xx”, both onstage and off. Dons, the lot of them.

17. ‘Somebody Else’ is surely The 1975’s most-filmed song

The 1975 2017 Boston Calling Music Festival - Day 2

Taylor Hill/Getty Images for Boston Calling Music Festival

Nobody else at Boston Calling receives excited screams quite like The 1975 do. Almost 18 months into their ‘I Like It When You Sleep’ tour the band are a well-oiled machine, careening through openers ‘Love Me’ and ‘Ugh!’ to fans’ delight, while the now-famous illuminated totems behind them glimmer and glow. Wherever they perform – from Glastonbury or The O2 to this Harvard athletics pitch – it’s always a spectacle.

Days after making a speech onstage in Detroit in which he responded to May 22’s deadly Manchester attack by saying he was “fucking pissed off”, Matty Healy tells the audience that the band is from Manchester, adding: “This is a festival, this isn’t our show, so we don’t have time to go on some big diatribe about compassion. But this song is about universally loving anybody.” The band then play ‘Loving Someone’ while strips of rainbow lighting arc over the crowd.

It’s a poignant moment, but the song that connects most with the crowd – and this has been the case for some time now – is ‘Somebody Else’. Their second album’s indecisive, morose centrepiece is a total jam and gets almost every fan close to the stage recording it on their phones. From a distance, the blue haze each device captures creates a mesmerising ripple of light and, for those of us enjoying the gig IRL, it’s strangely beautiful.