The Boston Calling Music Festival has undergone a significant transformation in the past year- consolidating two annual outings to one, as well as a change in venue from City Hall Plaza to Allston’s Harvard Athletic Complex have shaken up the city’s official start of summer significantly. And yet, April 5th’s announcement of an expanded comedy experience to accompany the three days of scheduled music felt like a genuine surprise. As it turns out, there was a very good reason for that: it was.
Trevor Solomon, Boston Calling’s primary booker, already had his mind set on a larger experience for this year’s festival. “For us, it was a bigger venue so we had to think about booking [more and bigger] bands, and you have to wrap your head around 20,000 capacity to a bigger festival,” Solomon said. The result led bookers to headliners like Chance the Rapper, Mumford & Sons, and Tool, as well as supporting acts like Solange, Weezer, The 1975, and many more. Bundled in that initial announcement of talent was also a curated film festival. When that initiative was delayed, Solomon and his team had to act fast- and the Comedy Experience was the result of that quick thinking.
Curating a comedy component on the fly seems like a tall order for someone brought in with a strong music background and little knowledge of the industry. But Solomon leaned on the people in his circles to fill in his knowledge gap, and ended up with a slate whose diversity matches that of Boston Calling’s musical offerings. As he tells it, it started with Hannibal Buress. His name was floated by one of Solomon’s team members, and from there the goal was to build a roster in ways that complimented his style and reach.
The influence came from sources beyond festival organizers: Pete Holmes made the cut largely because of Solomon’s intrigue with and enjoyment of HBO’s Crashing, while Tig Notaro came at the recommendation of Solomon’s wife and her friends. Phoebe Robinson will be making an appearance doing stand up, a set many on the festival team are excited for after their introduction to 2 Dope Queens. Connections to labels already represented at the festival came into play- Notaro shares a label (Secretly Canadian Records) with several bands on the music side, as does fellow Experience performer Eugene Mirman (Sub Pop Records). But the overall goal stayed present throughout the process: maintain a cohesive feel across festival offerings. “[There ended up being a] cool correlation between indie rock bands and indie comedians. Given the kinds of comedians we were booking, [we thought they] would go well with the bands,” Solomon admits. “I didn’t want it to be ‘I’m just booking comedy,’ I wanted it to excel in the same way as the music excelled.”
It should be noted, comedy isn’t a new full addition to the Boston Calling lineup. Last year, Boston-based comic Lamont Price worked with Solomon to curate a locals-heavy comedy stage; this year, Solomon leaned on his “awesome” eye once again to bring high-quality local talent to fill in the lineup. This year’s slate of local performers has appeared on Fox’s Laughs, WNYC’s 2 Dope Queens, and The Moth, as well as on the stages of prestigious comedy festivals across the country. The strength of the local lineup will not only fill in the slate of national performers, but serve as a great springboard for Solomon’s continuing comedy education.
“We’ve enjoyed it. I’ve gone all in on this,” Solomon says of the crash course in comedy this experience has offered him. When asked if this is the start of a larger comedy presence at a festival already known well in the region for big music talents, he’s diplomatic, but hopeful – “You have to get through the first year, knock on wood, [but] I think we’d like to keep it.” His enthusiasm shone through as I asked him who he’s most excited to see, should he get a moment to enjoy the fruits of his labor over the weekend. His answers? Holmes, Notaro (“she’s a super unique person and performer”), Robinson (“I was really excited to book her”), and Buress (“I’ve never seen him before, and he’s awesome”). And should this type of experience carry on to the years ahead, he’s got some dream music/comedy pairings in mind: Kanye West and Dave Chappelle, and Louis C.K. and Gorillaz. But for now, Memorial Day weekend will be the first test for a newly established national comedy presence at the festival, one that he hopes will return in the years to come.
The comedy lineup is listed below, and is subject to change. The weekend’s schedule is available on the Boston Calling Festival website.
Friday, May 26, 2017
Pete Holmes (HBO’s Crashing)
Eugene Mirman (Bob’s Burgers)
Saturday, May 27, 2017
Phoebe Robinson (2 Dope Queens podcast)
Bethany Van Delft
Sunday, May 28, 2017
Tig Notaro (Amazon’s One Mississippi)
Kate Berlant and John Early
Single day tickets, VIP passes, and skybox access are still available for sale on the Boston Calling Festival website.