Thunderstorm puts a damper on Boston Calling Festival

by Kavita Shah / Beacon Staff • September 10, 2014

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People wait outside of Boston Calling
People wait outside of Boston Calling

After nearly six hours of receiving repeated warnings to stay hydrated in Saturday’s 97 degree weather, the crowds at Boston Calling were instructed to evacuate City Hall Plaza to avoid an unwanted type of hydration: an incoming thunderstorm. 

“They asked us so many times if everyone had enough water,” said sophomore visual and media arts major Sierra Terril-Kay. “At that point, no one was taking anything they had to say seriously.”

According to Boston Magazine, Crash Line Productions launched Boston Calling in May 2013 as a biannual event. This past weekend was the fourth time the festival was held, spanning across three days and two stages. This year’s lineup was scheduled to include 24 artists, with The National, Lorde, Childish Gambino, Nas, and The Roots as headliners.

With four artists remaining in the Saturday’s lineup, Terril-Kay said the crowd started buzzing with agitated complaints.

“It was a mix of beer-bellied 30-year-olds and crazy drunk kids,” she said. “One girl ran past me sobbing, she was so upset.” 

Sophomore political communications major Emma Glassman-Hughes said that she and her friends came back from getting dinner right as the event staff made the announcement.

“I was eating my chicken and rice when we heard this muted Charlie Brown voice on the microphone,” said Glassman-Hughes. “Then people just started coming in drones around the corner, and we didn’t know what was happening.”

Many students approached police officers surrounding the plaza for further inquiries about the evacuation. Others simply followed the herds of people out of the festival gate and pulled up Boston Calling’s Twitter feed. For the next two hours, the event staff released updates through social media, ranging from ironically encouraging people to keep drinking water to apologies and estimated times of allowing re-entry.

Boston Calling is a rain-or-shine event so students waited by their phones in anticipation of the announcement of delays and cancellations. Downtown Crossing and Tremont Street were buzzing with anxious members of the concert crowd, waiting in anticipation of the music to continue. Many wristband-clad people bonded over the delay under the shelter of neighboring restaurants.

“I went to Boston Calling last year and it was such a social time,” said Terril-Kay. “It was a social lubricant, like the first two shots of vodka down your throat for freshmen.”

According to Matt Prince, a junior visual and media arts major, Boston’s music scene is comprised mostly of club shows. He said that festivals like Boston Calling are nice because, social aspect aside, they are good ways to bring prominent artists to the area.

“When I saw the lineup, I was so impressed because in the past I hadn’t been as thrilled by every single artist,” said Josie Snyder, a sophomore marketing communications major who frequents concerts in the Boston area. “The festival environment was a downside, though.”

After the announcement was made, the police officers created a barricade against premature re-entry, ushering the audience out of the plaza and into sheltered safety. Glassman-Hughes and Terril-Kay both said that the crowds exiting the festival were frustrated and rowdy, some to the point of shouting inappropriate comments about police brutality.

“The group dynamic overall was kind of unhealthy,” said Terril-Kay. Everyone has that selfish worry of, ‘If I go, will I miss out, will I miss the show, will I get back in, will I get my spot back.’ People were just angry.”

Cancellations aside, many Emerson students took advantage of the festival’s proximity to campus and spent the duration of the two-hour delay in the comfort of their dorm rooms. Prince said that he returned to Paramount to play Super Smash Bros while others changed clothes, ate dinner, and hung out with friends.

“Honestly, I felt rejuvenated by the time we were let back in,” said Prince, adding that, during last year’s Boston Calling festival, his legs felt like jelly by the time the headliners played. “It felt like there was a second wind.”

After the evacuation, the event staff cancelled Volcano Choir’s and Girl Talk’s performances and shortened the headliners’ shows to one hour each. Due to city restrictions on noise after 11 p.m., the festival still had to end at its scheduled time.

“At the end of the day, we just missed two shows,” said Terril-Kay. “The crowd mentality was the worst part, trying to deflect everyone’s emotions. But, what can you do?”

At 8:40 p.m., Boston Calling’s Twitter announced that Lorde and Childish Gambino were still scheduled to perform starting at 9 p.m., after which crowds of people flocked back to the plaza, holding their wristbands in the air for re-entry.

“I heard the first few notes of ‘Glory and Gore’ while I was in line at the gate and I started sobbing,” said Terril-Kay. “I was definitely crying from stress and happiness at that point.”

Snyder said that the crowd was just as frantic coming back as they were leaving.

“Gambino and Lorde were the selling point,” said Prince. “At that point in the night, that’s all that mattered.”