Brian Appel has been wanting to put together a ticketed music festival in the Hub since he worked at the beloved local alternative radio station WFNX.
“It didn’t come to fruition for a variety of reasons, including FNX eventually going out of business,” says Appel, one of the co-founders of this weekend’s Boston Calling, which boasts 18 top tier bands, spread out over two days at City Hall Plaza.
Appel says when he started to seriously think about Boston Calling, it was a matter of National security.
“Once we got The National to commit to headline the festival, that made it a little bit easier,” he says. “For a first-time event when you’re approaching artists and agents, a lot of people want to take a wait-and-see approach.”
Nobody dared wait-and-see, as bands such as Fun., The Shins, Of Monsters and Men, the Walkmen and Matt & Kim quickly signed on.
Aaron Dessner of The National was actually instrumental in picking some of the bands.
The guitarist says the timing was perfect, as his band was preparing to release their sixth album, “Trouble Will Find Me,” which came out on Tuesday. It also helped that they had a few connections of their own.
“Mainly because we’re in a band that’s been touring for 15 years, we meet so many people,” says Dessner. “Over the years a community has grown up around the band and over the years it’s always interesting and fun to give people opportunities to play and put ourselves in situations where we’re collaborating with other people and trying new things and experimenting.”
Appel says he was excited about the experimental prospect of having the festival in the heart of the city, surrounding by skyscrapers.
"I’ve heard rumblings that it’s not a conducive venue for this. It’s not a polo field, or a place in the middle of nowhere with grass for miles, but we like it," he says. "We like the fact that every T line goes right there."
Boston Calling also has a readmission policy, which means you can duck out at any time for food or a change of scenery, and return. The difficult thing will be figuring out which band to risk missing.
Dessner says although his band is headlining Boston Calling on Sunday, he will be there for both days of the fest, as a fan.
"Andrew Bird is always amazing and Youth Lagoon, and the Shins, I’m super excited to see, because I think James Mercer is one of the most melodically gifted songwriters of our generation," he says. "And the Walkmen, we were opening for them [when we first started] and we learned a lot from them as performers. As a live band they’re just one of the best bands I’ve ever seen. … They were one of the bands that really kicked our ass early on, and it helped us to become a much better live band in a way."
Additional performers include the locally based acts Caspian and Bad Rabbits, as well as Cults, Dirty Projectors, Ra Ra Riot, Young the Giant, MS MR, St. Lucia and Portugal. The Man.