Metro, Featured Story, Arts, Boston

A Year-Round Effort For Boston Calling Showrunners

The sixth Boston Calling Music Festival will take over City Hall Plaza for a weekend-long concert equipped with a 23-act lineup this Friday. The festival’s co-founder, however, is already thinking about next May.

Mike Snow and his partner, Brian Appel, have endured this frantic pace for the past three years. Yet, Snow credits the festival’s survival to the energy of local Bostonians.

“It’s amazing that this city has this sort of mental stamina,” he said. “To come out and support two festivals that have 20-plus bands at them each and every year—that’s very unique.”

While working for The Phoenix Media/Communications Group earlier in his career, Snow produced both free and ticketed concerts in Downtown Boston that were sponsored by The Phoenix’s radio station.

In 2012, Snow and Appel founded Crash Line Productions—the company responsible for producing Boston Calling. After observing existing music festivals across the country such as Coachella, Bonnaroo, and Austin City Limits, Snow viewed the locations of these festivals as an undue burden on the attendee.

“It seemed like people had to pile in their cars and commit like seven days to go to like a three-day concert,” Snow said. “Which is cool if that’s what those festivals are and they’re amazing for it. But, for us, we really looked at it like, ‘Wouldn’t it be awesome if you could just jump on the T and go to a festival?’”

Boston Calling is held in one of the most centralized plazas in Boston, with Boston Common, Faneuil Hall, and the Charles River all within walking distance, as well as a number of nearby T stops that make the site accessible for those living on the outskirts of the city.

The decision to have the concert twice a year was another attempt at making the production distinctive from other cities’. “There’s not somebody else doing two, in the sort of style of a festival, on the same place, in the same market, twice every year,” Snow said. “So that was a goal of ours, and we were able to keep it up every year.”

The twice-a-year style has allowed the production company to learn the ins-and-outs of the plaza in a short amount of time. Over six festivals, there have been three different stage placements, as well as various main entrance sites.

“Every stop along the way, we’ve learned something at each one of those placements, and sort of advanced that every year,” Snow said. “Logistically and organizationally, we learned a lot about how that plaza really operates, and how to make it better for the attendee along the way.”

The attendee experience is a top priority to Snow—even when considering the concert’s capacity. “We always do think about the people who are coming to the concert, it’s not really about the financial gain of selling 1,000 more tickets,” he said.

That consideration extends to planning all sides of the festival-going experience. There has been an effort to incorporate visual art into the site, as well as new cuisine options such as Newburyport Crab Cake Company’s crab cakes and fish tacos.

“They’re all little things, but they certainly add up to that person that comes out and enjoys two and a half days with us, who probably notices it a lot more than somebody who just comes Friday night, and that’s it,” Snow said.

Crash Line Productions expanded its scope from New England all the way to the Midwest this summer, producing a festival in Eau Claire, Wis. Snow recognizes the difficulty in bringing these large events to new, smaller communities. His team refuses to settle for a commonly-used site that doesn’t match its expectations of accessibility or distinction, and the company is always on the look-out for a new event space.

Snow likes to remind Boston Calling attendees that Saturday and Sunday tickets permit re-entry throughout the day, which allows for a little exploration.

“I always really encourage people to come down here early,” he said. “There’s this massive Faneuil Hall complex that’s changing every year—it’s not the Faneuil Hall from six years ago. Boston Common is right down the street. There’s amazing restaurants further down Cambridge St. towards the Charles River now that there never were before. So I always really encourage people to come out and kind of re-familiarize yourself with this area.”

With an influx of college students populating the city throughout the year, Boston is the perfect location for a September music festival. What brought Snow to Beantown, however, was actually a bit of hometown pride. The producer grew up in Melrose, Mass.—just at the end of the Orange line.

“I mean, for me, I grew up here,” Snow said. “It was really a dream for us to be able to do this in our city.”

Featured Image by Haley Cormier / Heights Staff

September 23, 2015