Boston Calling just keeps getting bigger. A year after moving from City Hall Plaza to the Harvard Athletic Complex, the three-day festival on May 25-27 is adding a film component curated by Harvard alum Natalie Portman as well as a live show from Pod Save America to its offerings. The music lineup includes headliners Eminem, the Killers and Jack White, while comedians such as David Cross and Cameron Esposito also take the stage. Boston Calling co-curator Aaron Dessner plays with his band, the National, on opening night, and the musician chatted with us about this year’s fest.

Are you still enjoying your role as co-curator? Yeah, I’ve played it since the beginning. It’s been really exciting to see how Boston Calling has grown from half the size at City Hall Plaza to now. I think that the move to the Harvard Athletic Complex has allowed us to expand in a way that makes the festival more interesting. We have more performance spaces and we can kind of expand these non-music elements and offer people something deeper. I think the ultimate goal is to create an experience that is a dialogue in a lot of ways. For me, I’m lucky to have these outlets that are related but different than sitting in my house writing songs or being on tour with the band. It’s fun to think about community and these gatherings. I’ve played festivals all over the world for almost 20 years, so I have a sort of good feeling for all these things. The feeling in Boston, and the way it’s operated, is really positive.

Did you always have this vision for Boston Calling as something that would become as big as it is? No. I think when we first started it, we were like, well, “Who’s going to play? We can probably twist the National’s arm. They’ll do it. And let’s see who else will join us.” It was really a hands-on, do-it-yourself effort with Brian Appel and the other folks who started it. We really built it from the ground up from nothing. I loved the festival at its smaller size also, but I think ultimately to create an experience that was dynamic and more diverse, where there’s a deeper experience and more discovery for the audience, that having the extra space—and it’s a nicer space where it is now—was a major thing. It has kind of evolved. So now it’s one of the biggest festivals on the East Coast, but that wasn’t our reason for being. It kind of happened naturally.

Is there an aspect of the festival that you’re really interested in seeing? I’m really excited about everything that Natalie has planned. I think it’s going to be incredible, so I’m going to try to catch as much of that as I can. And two of my favorite artists playing today are at the festival. So, Big Thief, who actually just opened a whole tour for us, and they’re one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen. And I would say the same thing about This Is the Kit, which is kind of underground folk music from Kate Stables, who lives in Paris but is actually from Winchester, England. She has one of my favorite voices. And then St. Vincent: I think Annie Clark is a total genius. And Julien Baker, I’m incredibly moved by her performances. And then Perfume Genius I think is great. And with Pod Save America, I’m super-excited to be at a musical festival and have that experience because I would kind of go wherever to see them. So it just feels exciting.

Boston Calling. Photo credit: Ty Johnson

Anything special planned for the National’s act? Yeah. I can’t say we’ve planned it yet, but hopefully there will be some collaboration that happens, maybe an introduction or something. I think this will be our third or fourth time performing Boston Calling, but it’s been a few years now. So this will be exciting being in the new setting.

Did you learn any lessons from last year in the new setting that you’re incorporating into this year? We structure the schedule to minimize conflicts for people. Obviously, there’s giant artists on the bills like Eminem and the Killers, but there’s so much to be discovered also for people who are curious to find some small acts they’ve never heard before. The one thing I did love about City Hall Plaza was there was no overlap between the two stages, and we’ve sort of preserved that with the two main stages, which have no overlap. But at the same time, with the third stage we’re able to have something concurrent going on that’s another current of programming and diversifies things.


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