A First-Time Festival-Goer Experiences Boston Calling 2023

by | Jun 7, 2023 | Concerts & Festivals


[Editor’s note — after doing this for so many years, you sometimes forget the feelings and emotions of your first festival experience: the sights, the smells, the sounds, the vibes. So this year we decided to send a fresh-faced young writer to their first big-time festival, one that happens to be in our own backyard: Boston Calling 2023. If you’ve become jaded to the outdoor festival experience, you may want to see how it looks through a different lense; it might just rekindle some of those old feelings in you, too…]

My parents always told me I could sing before I could talk. I remember early Sunday mornings dancing around the kitchen on my dad’s toes, his low voice humming along to the quiet music from the TV as pancakes cooked on the stove top. I remember the songs my mom would make up as she held me tight in her arms, her soft voice and sweet words making everything seem just that much easier. My first CD player, my first iPod, my first guitar and first concert tickets, each a vibrant memory that make up so much of who I am. From finding my identity through my favorite bands in middle school, to screaming angsty lyrics in the shower through my first heartbreak, music has been my lifeline for as long as I can remember.

[me experiencing my first music festival with friends]

When I was ten years old, I saw a YouTube video for “DIY Coachella Flower Crowns.” What was originally a binge on craft videos turned into an obsession – Coachella travel vlogs, “what’s in my festival bag” videos, outfit inspiration, and more. This amazing, romantic idea of real live music for three straight days was something I couldn’t get enough of. When I would later fall into another obsessive spiral watching makeup tutorials the following week or Buzzfeed videos the next, the mythological fascination I had with music festivals never really went away.

Going to my first music festival, to Boston Calling as press no less, felt like a surrealist fever dream. I feel green walking up to the media tent, young and unqualified as I hold tight to some semblance of self-confidence and my passport (I don’t have a driver’s license). I meet the eye of the girl working behind the table and say “Hi, we’re here with Performer Magazine.”

She smiles, checks us in, and attaches our wristbands with a quick remark on how we would have to cut ourselves out of them when we got home. We thank her profusely. As I walk through the mass of people to find the VIP entrance, because we are considered Very Important People, I look down at my wristband and consider how best to contort my hand so I’d cause it the least damage possible.

The first thing I feel is the heat, heavy and sticky and thick with an energy I’ve never felt– the sun blisters the skin of my shoulders and, with a sudden drop in my stomach, I realize the festival bag I’d ordered and so meticulously packed the night before doesn’t have any extra sunscreen to reapply. Though, when I see dispensers with bright yellow signs saying “FREE SUNSCREEN” in big, black text, it makes me smile.

There are four stages, at least two of them each having live music at once. There are so many people, maybe more people in one single place than I’ve ever seen before, all there for the same thing – music. It’s as amazing as it is overwhelming. Everything smells like sticky coconut sunscreen, french fries, weed, and summer. There are people sitting on the grass in small huddles, cans of water and beer and hard seltzer with plates of fries in their laps. Some lay on the ground, their faces and arms freckled and glowing as they soak up the sun and music and light. We decide to join them.

I’ve never been to a festival before and on my first day there it showed. I’d arrived dressed to impress: all black, tight jeans and Doc Martens and my hair curled and sprayed til I’d opened a new hole in the ozone layer. I sweat through my painstakingly applied makeup within the first hour I was there. The next two days I’d been much better equipped, in flowing pants and a breezy top with extra sunblock tucked safely into my bag.

I’d gone to the festival with the headliners and a handful of other artists in mind, however I still loved seeing the artists whose names I’d never even heard– Chrysalis is an artist based in Boston who was able to make their break as an artist through Berklee’s Career Center. Not only did I love their musical style, but I found them and their success as an artist to be truly inspiring.

Both The Bleachers and Noah Kahan, two artists that I knew I liked but never listened to enough, were fantastic to see live. The energy of the crowds and the artists engaging with them made for two electrifying shows with music that I can’t wait to add to my summer playlists.

The headliners were just as exuberant as expected, with stunning visual effects and even more impressive energy, stage presence, and musical talent. I find it truly difficult to articulate what it felt like to see these artists. Most notably, Alanis Morissette was incredible live. By watching her on stage with her harmonica to her lips and the crowd roaring in my ears, I was transported back to my own kitchen, dancing with my mom to Ironic and You Oughta Know as we wash our dishes together.

And Paramore was especially amazing to see; they have been my favorite band for as long as I can remember. It was their music that inspired me to learn guitar, experiment with my fashion, helped me through friend break-ups and heartbreak and the hardest times; it was because of Paramore that I started a band, regardless of the fact we never picked a real name, its month-long lifespan, and dramatic, Fleetwood Mac level break up. To have the opportunity to see the band that has been such an integral part of my life for so many years truly felt like a dream come true– I will never forget the feeling of stuffing confetti into my bra with shaking hands, my ears ringing with Paramore’s final chords, having just had the best day of my entire life.

Learn more about Boston Calling at https://bostoncalling.com/