For a brief moment on Friday, when the cloudy skies gave way to a sunny afternoon just as the main gates opened, it appeared that the festival’s luck was changing for the better. Boston Calling was finally back at Harvard University Athletics Complex this past weekend after two years of cancellations.
Three difficult years had passed: canceling the festival in 2020 and 2021, finding three substitute headliners for 2022, and arranging a large event amid increasing COVID variants. It was a gloomy tone as Paris Jackson and Pom Pom Squad began warming up Friday’s early crowds. By the time The Struts, a British glam rock band, strutted onto the main stage, the mood had changed to one of celebration.
This year’s festival marked a departure from previous editions, with stronger headliner Nine Inch Nails and Metallica, a more diverse undercard, and no arena activities. One of Roxbury rapper Avenue’s afternoon sets drew as much excitement as any other on the festival grounds, thanks in part to the establishment of the fourth stage for local musicians.
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When The Strokes, who were scheduled to open Saturday night’s festivities, were informed that they would be unable to play owing to a COVID case in the band midway through Avril Lavigne’s nostalgic pop tunes, it was a shocking turn of events. On Friday and Saturday, Nine Inch Nails would headline. Nine Inch Nails’ pounding performance of “The Downward Spiral” and other early songs left room for little contemplation of anything else once their massively strobe-lit, fog-laced set began.
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After all that bad news about the Strokes, thunderheads rolled in on Saturday afternoon as Hinds and Celisse put on a great show, making up for it with their terrific performances. Amid Frances Forever’s set, a festival-wide announcement asked everyone in the area to seek shelter in Harvard Square or “shelter on sight,” leading some to take shelter under metal concession stands, reports the New York Daily News.
Even though Harvard Stadium was available to the public, it was not extensively advertised, presumably because of a lack of space. This weekend’s chaos showed that evacuation preparations may need to be tweaked to be ready for future occurrences when sending tens of thousands of people through a handful of risky crossroads.
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— Boston Calling (@bostoncalling) May 29, 2022
Crowds applauded as the rain stopped and the festival grounds reopened at about 6 p.m., only to discover that King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard had also been removed from the program due to a positive COVID test. Pop-punk band Kennyhoopla brought the party back to life with an energetic show that included a crowd-surfing performance and a backflip.
At this point, the crowd had already opted to stick around, even if they had been looking forward to The Strokes, thanks to high-energy performances from Atlanta hip-hop duo EarthGang and festival staples Run the Jewels. It was well worth the wait, as the band played a set that included a cover of David Bowie’s “Fashion.” After apologizing to those who were looking forward to the night’s original lineup and recalling his early day’s recording at Syncro Sound on Newbury Street, Trent Reznor cracked a joke to ease the tension: “I guarantee you, we aren’t playing tomorrow… as far as I know.”
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— Boston Calling (@bostoncalling) May 29, 2022
The final day of the festival was uneventful, save for the sheer number of the crowd. While attendance was good on Friday and Saturday, the crowds were even better on Sunday, with a steady stream of fans pouring through the gates for performances by locals Oompa and Cliff Notez in the early afternoon. While offering up shimmering, ’80s-tinged indie-pop, Japanese Breakfast cemented herself as one of the day’s major highlights following her Saturday Night Live performance last weekend.
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The fields in front of the main stage area became jam-packed later in the day, sometime between Modest Mouse’s duty-bound greatest-hits hour and Weezer’s singalong-heavy set. Metallica closed out the Boston Calling festival with “Enter Sandman” in front of one of the largest crowds of all time. The festival’s heaviest yet, but still a crowd-pleaser, in the end, was a fitting finale.