Go be­hind the scenes be­fore Bos­ton Call­ing

Mu­sic festival de­signer Russ Ben­nett hopes to take Bos­ton Call­ing to the next level.

Where Boston - - CONTENTS - By Mike Hodgkin­son

THE COUNT­DOWN to Me­mo­rial Day week­end has be­gun, which means only one thing for fans of great live mu­sic: Bos­ton Call­ing is just around the cor­ner. As the city pre­pares for Chance the Rap­per, Mum­ford & Sons and Tool—not to men­tion a sup­port card packed with sonic won­ders, from Buf­falo Tom to Flat­bush Zom­bies—the festival or­ga­niz­ers are busy en­gi­neer­ing a ma­jor up­grade. No doubt about it, 2017 is go­ing to be huge, be­cause this is the year when Bos­ton Call­ing grad­u­ates from tal­ented up­start to festival cir­cuit main­stay.

This per­fectly scaled ‘Goldilocks’ mu­sic festival (nei­ther too small nor too big, but just right) has been built over five years and seven it­er­a­tions on these core es­sen­tials: a rock-solid com­mu­nity vibe steeped in di­ver­sity, both sonic and cul­tural; and an eclec­tic ros­ter built around clev­erly se­lected head­lin­ers and a rich vein of lo­cal bands. These cor­ner­stones are set to re­main in­tact but the for­mula, es­tab­lished in de­but year 2013, has been tweaked by ne­ces­sity: It’s all about lo­ca­tion.

This year’s change of digs, from the bru­tal­ist con­crete-scape of City Hall Plaza to the big-sky river­side play­grounds of Har­vard Ath­letic Com­plex, adds a whole new di­men­sion to the

“We try to put a lit­tle joy and hu­mor in ev­ery­thing we do. Oth­er­wise it might be se­ri­ous” Festival de­signer, Russ Ben­nett

tried-and-tested equa­tion. What’s more, Bos­ton Call­ing is no longer a bian­nual event: there’s now just one yearly shot at festival per­fec­tion, spread over three days. The me­ta­mor­pho­sis should be spec­tac­u­lar.

To ac­cent the new vi­sion for Bos­ton Call­ing, Han­ni­bal Buress has been re­cruited to host a ‘comedy ex­pe­ri­ence,’ fea­tur­ing Tig No­taro and Pete Holmes. The bulk of the festival’s trans­for­ma­tion, how­ever, has been trusted to a man whose name may not be straight­away fa­mil­iar: a man who wears his beard wizard-style (long and white) and hangs out in a tree house deep in the forests of north­ern Ver­mont.

Russ Ben­nett—de­signer, builder, thinker, sculp­tor—will in large part de­ter­mine the look and the feel of Bos­ton Call­ing. What mu­si­cal cu­ra­tor Aaron Dess­ner (from in­die band, The Na­tional) has done for the lineup, Ben­nett will echo in the space and the aes­thet­ics. “We try to put a lit­tle joy and hu­mor in ev­ery­thing we do,” he tells us. “Oth­er­wise, it might be se­ri­ous.”

It was while work­ing on the first big 3-day camp­ing festival held by leg­endary jam band Phish—in Platts­burgh, New York, 1996—that Ben­nett be­gan to re­shape festival cul­ture as it’s cur­rently un­der­stood. “There wasn’t re­ally a lot thought about fes­ti­vals: peo­ple would just put up a stage. So we be­gan to think we should cre­ate a place of cen­tral congress, just like in a city you have parks and stuff like that, and bring more art into the mix. That’s how we got started in this crazy thing.”

Since then, Ben­nett has worked on all of Phish’s out­door ex­trav­a­gan­zas, and left his mark on Bon­na­roo, Out­side Lands and Ve­goose, among other ma­jors. If you’ve ever mar­veled at a strange and won­der­ful festival art­work, there’s a de­cent chance that it was con­ceived some­where in Ben­nett’s lim­it­less imag­i­na­tion. Con­nect­ing all his work is the same ques­tion: “How do we cre­ate the en­vi­ron­ment that peo­ple will thrive in and the op­por­tu­nity for cul­ture to ex­ist? That’s re­ally what we’re af­ter,” he says. “Peo­ple want to re­late to each other, es­pe­cially with to­day’s media driv­ing wedges wher­ever it can.”

So what does Ben­nett have planned for Bos­ton Call­ing? “We don’t need to do Paul Re­vere on a horse, but we do want to think a lit­tle bit about the his­tory and depth of Bos­ton. Peo­ple came here and started a new thing, you know, much to the cha­grin of some. Bos­ton is a mul­ti­cul­tural city to­day—we don't have to get preachy about that—so we might do a mu­ral that rep­re­sents the pop­u­la­tion of Bos­ton. I want it to be joy­ful.”

The festival’s ex­pertly cu­rated lineup lends it­self nat­u­rally to Ben­nett’s vi­sion: “It’s very eclec­tic,” he says. “I think there’s some­thing re­ally won­der­ful about how the [cu­ra­tors have] crossed gen­res. And hope­fully we’ll get a mix­ture of pop­u­la­tion, just like the city it­self. So I’m think­ing that we’ll cherry pick some of the lyrics and scat­ter them about. Phys­i­cally and philo­soph­i­cally.”

Given the new lo­ca­tion—lots of green­ery and mini-parks con­ducive to the many joys of spring—Ben­nett plans to em­brace the space in such a way that mer­its his use of the f-word: “I think we can pro­vide a place for, you know, Fris­bee. Stuff like that. And room to get away from each other a lit­tle bit.”

The bot­tom line, though, is all about bring­ing peo­ple to­gether: “Peo­ple are go­ing to be in­tro­duced to things that they wouldn’t go see on their own. That is one of the won­der­ful things about a festival,” he says, with barely con­cealed joy. “It’s like a great buf­fet.”

BEST OF THE FEST From top, Mum­ford & Sons; festival de­signer Russ Ben­nett; Chance the Rap­per. Pre­vi­ous page, Bos­ton Call­ing re­turnees, Te­gan and Sara

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