Last weekend, I went to my first big festival. And, I went alone.
For those of you considering going to a festival alone, I found my experience to be totally worth it. Keep in mind, however, that I only live a few miles away from the location of the festival, which, this year, had changed from the City Hall Plaza in downtown Boston to the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston.
I went because I decided that I would rather be alone than deny myself the experience of seeing some of my favorite bands live. I do this a lot with concerts, and I know a few others who do so as well, but going to a festival alone, navigating the time between sets alone, is a little more daunting.
On Friday, I still agreed to work for the dog walking company, knowing that I would still be able to catch my favorite acts (Car Seat Headrest and Bon Iver) in time. When I got home, I had a chance encounter with my roommate, Davina. “I’m going to Boston Calling,” she said.
This seems contradictory to the title, I know. We did ride to the festival together, although we split up immediately after entering the gates (she opted for Sylan Esso over Car Seat Headrest), we kept each other company in the long line at the entrance.
This was unexpected, and, on the festival’s part, poorly planned. The festival increased security measures after the Manchester attacks. So, even though Davina and I got there a little later than 4:30, we didn’t make it through the gate until 5:15.
I was glad to have Davina there, because I would have felt anxious navigating the unorganized line by myself. Uncertainty, like misery, loves company, I guess.
When I got through the gate, I never ran so fast in my life to catch the rest of Car Seat Headrest’s performance. I ran over to the blue stage, which was far away from the ferris wheel, and the other two stages, as they were playing “Fill in the Blank.”
After Car Seat Headrest, I went over towards the ferris wheel to get some food, and I listened to the end of Sylvan Esso’s set. I met two guys in the food line from the Burlington, Vermont area. We switched from line to line, trying to decide which line was the shortest and which food truck had the most reasonable prices.
“You look cool enough to know where we could get some weed,” one of them said.
I was really flattered, but I told them that unfortunately I did not. “It is legal here, no?” I told them, yes, it is, but it’s not as easy to get as say, alcohol or cigarettes. While possession (up to a certain amount) and use, both recreational and medical, is legal, it’s still not legal to sell marijuana. However, you can “gift” it. I told them that, in the future, Boston may have some weed cafes, but not for another year or so. Who did they want to see? “If it weren’t for Tool, we wouldn’t have come.”
I went back to the blue stage and caught some of Mac Demarco’s performance. He actually went on early, and he invited people up to the stage to dance. After staying there for a little while, I decided I wanted to get a good view for Bon Iver.
I made the right decision. The Red Stage was packed maybe an hour or 45 minutes before Justin Vernon & co would come on. I was able to secure a small space behind the VIP area to the left of the stage. I met a young, drunk guy who claimed to be a Justin Vernon superfan. “No one makes music like him!” he said. “Hey! Can someone pass me a beer?” I passed him mine, which only had a few drops left. Surprisingly, he obliged and turned the can upside down over his lips.
This guy was garnering some strange and annoyed looks from others in the crowd. While he was nice and fun to talk to, I tried to make it clear that I wasn’t with him and that I didn’t know him. I looked at others with a “haha yeah get a load of this guy” sort of look.
Let me tell you about Bon Iver’s performance though. Bon Iver is a band that I thought I’d never get the chance to see live. Something about their status within the music world made them seem unattainable to me. This ended up being my favorite performance besides the 1975. I was entranced. Bon Iver’s latest album, 22 A Million, is different from the two previous albums. Where the previous two albums were more folky, this album was more electronic. Still, there is something transcendent about Bon Iver’s music. I remember the aggressive chills that formed when they played “715 CRΣΣKS.” I remember the magical way the stage lights caught the drizzle during old favorites like “Holocene.” More importantly, I remember everyone screaming “I told you to be patient, I told you to be kind” during “Skinny Love”– Mr. Justin-Vernon-Superfan being louder than the rest.
Before leaving, I stayed for a little bit of Chance the Rapper’s headlining performance. I don’t know much of his music, I was far away, and I wanted to get home at a reasonable time rather than leave at the same time as everyone else.
To be honest, this day completely centered around the 1975, and not always in a good way.
Earlier in the week, I had won two passes from a local radio station that would allow me access to a “secret listener lounge” with the 1975 at a bar near the Harvard Athletic Complex. At this event, the 1975 would play a couple of their songs “stripped down,” there would be a Q&A session, and then a meet and greet with the band. I could hardly sleep on Friday night knowing that I would be meeting my favorite band the next day.
And then I got a call from the radio station at about 10am. “We’re sorry to tell you that the event has been cancelled for reasons beyond our control.” They offered me some free concert tickets, which I still have to swing by the station to get.
I still have no idea why the event was cancelled, but I was so mad and sad. I was mad at my favorite band and sad that I wouldn’t get to meet them. Being upset about this made going all alone to the festival that day a little more difficult. So, I missed the first few bands play, and I hung out with my other roommate, Donna, who listened to me complain about the whole thing.
Anyway, I’m still upset about it. But I walk away saying this to myself:
You know what’s more sad than me not meeting the 1975?
The 1975 not meeting me.
So, all that aside, I arrived maybe sometime in the mid afternoon. I ate, caught some of Oh Wonder’s performance, and decided to head over to the blue stage where the 1975 would be performing later, and where I, propelled by my anger, would be in the front row. My mantra was, “I am alone, and I am invincible.”
I wasn’t in the front row. Not quite anyway. Apparently standing in front of the stage for four hours was everyone else’s idea too.
Despite being alone, I met a lot of people in the crowd. There were a few girls who came together from New York and had never seen the band before, and then there were two girls who came together. We asked each other the usual questions, where are you from, who did you come here to see, etc.
“I live here, but I’m not from here,” I told her.
“Oh, then where are you from?”
She then told me that she graduated from Roanoke College in 2008. We talked about Roanoke things. She said she loved Grandin, and I said “I got this jacket from a shop in Grandin!” We talked about Pop’s and the Star. She talked about how she missed it and I talked about how I hated it when I was there, but that the city really seems to be growing. To be honest, I like visiting there a lot more than I liked living there.
She also went to the same 1975 show I went to in November, which was at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. I told her that coming here alone was a lot cooler because I made some connections, if only temporary. At the last show, I was in the stands, next to a man who looked like he was a chaperone for someone. I danced by myself.
This time, however, this girl (I never learned or forgot her name) gushed about Ross’s beard and sang to our favorite songs. The 1975 were as amazing as the last time I saw them. I could watch Matty dance forever. I love their infectious energy. This wasn’t my first time seeing them and it certainly won’t be the last.
Before leaving, I saw some of Mumford and Son’s performance. I was crazy about them my freshman year of college. Babel and Sigh No More were both in heavy rotation on my playlists. Then their third album came out, they added in electric guitar, and I just wasn’t that into it anymore. I stayed for a couple of old favorites: “Lover of the Light,” “Thistle and Weeds,” and “White Blank Page.” I left when I heard them pull out the electric guitar.
Sunday, I made sure to get to the festival early to see Mitski perform. She has an amazing voice, relatable lyrics, and her music makes me feel a lot of things. So, she’s also one of the loves of my life.
Before Mitski, a band called Mondo Cozmo performed. I actually loved their performance, and they did a pretty good cover of “Bittersweet Symphony” by the Verve. The lead singer said, “Cozmo is spelled with a ‘z’ because that’s how my dog spells it.”
There was a group of people in front of me, and I asked them if they were here to see Mitski. They said, instead, that they were there to see Flatbush Zombies, who came on after Mitski. We talked for a while, and it turned out that they were also big 1975 fans. We became allies, and, I asked them if I could have their spot on the barricade for Mitski and promised I’d give it back for Flatbush Zombies. They agreed.
Mitski was not energetic in the way that many other musicians in her genre are. She sang like a stone-faced angel. I didn’t care if she didn’t jump around; her intensity was electrifying. I cried when she sang “Your Best American Girl,” which is the first song I ever heard by her in an Urban Outfitters in Harvard Square. She played “Drunk Walk Home,” and “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” and screamed during both. After finishing a song by taking the tip of her mic in her mouth and growling, a man from the crowd yelled, “You scared me!” She cooly replied, “Thank you.”
After Mitski, I hopped from stage to stage. Among some of the acts I saw were Converge, Frightened Rabbit, and Flatbush Zombies. I stayed for all of Piebald’s set. I was introduced to Piebald in high school. A friend that I worked with when I volunteered at the gift shop in the hospital burned me a copy of their album We are the Only Friends We Have. She said she saw them open for Say Anything.
Piebald was psyched to be at Boston Calling. In fact, the lead singer said that the festival actually asked them to play, rather than the other way around. They were among the few acts, including Vunderbar and the the Hotelier, who are from Boston and its surrounding areas.
After Piebald, I stayed for some of Cage the Elephant’s performance, who were very energetic. I would have stayed for their entire set but I wanted to see some of Weezer’s set too, and they were playing on the other side of the festival and started less than five minutes after the end of Cage the Elephant. On the way to the blue stage, I ran into a friend from work, who I had been trying to meet up with that day. The reason we hadn’t was that the festival had become so packed that neither one of us had good service, and we could text each other, let alone find each other among tens of thousands of other people.
This was my third time seeing Weezer, sort of by accident. The first time I saw them was when I took my cousin to a concert last summer. They co-headlined with Panic! At the Disco, who is one of my old favorites. Despite this, after the concert, I decided I liked Weezer’s set better than Panic’s. I saw Weezer again in December when I won a pass to a Songs and Stories event through Alt 92.9 (apparently I’m good at winning things). I got to see Weezer play an acoustic set in Brighton Music Hall, a small venue in Allston. This third time, I stayed for maybe half of the set and left after they resorted to playing covers of “I Took a Pill in Ibiza.”
Finally, it was time for Tool. Tool is probably the reason that the GA one day passes on Sunday had sold out. The festival was the most crowded I had ever seen. I was very far away from the band, but I didn’t care. And, despite the distance between me and the stage, I could feel the vibrations of their set.
One thing that upset me was that, unlike the rest of the performers, Tool used the screens on the side of the stage for a light show/animated film to accompany their music. So, I didn’t really “see” the band at all. Still, being an artist, I understand why musicians present their shows a certain way. Tool is known for their artistic integrity: they refuse to be on popular streaming services such as Apple Music and Spotify. In fact, you cannot even download their music from iTunes. I Googled this to find out a little more about why. My favorite answer was from a reddit user that said that Tool opposed the “a la carte” experience that streaming services and iTunes cater to listeners. In other words, Tool wants Tool’s music to be experienced as the band intended or not at all.
Out of all of the headliners, I stayed for Tool the longest. Their set mesmerized me. Still, I wanted to leave before the end of their set so that I could avoid having to leave with everyone else. I remember I kept turning around to leave, and then hearing them start another song, and turning back around to stay a little while longer. Their music is melodic and dark, and darkness is something that always fascinates me. Apparently, it fascinates the rest of Boston as well.
All in all, going to Boston Calling alone was an amazing experience. I know it would have been different with some friends by my side. I never felt unsafe, especially since I was only a few miles away from my apartment, and many of the other people there were very friendly. We live in a society in which we think doing certain things in public- eating in a sit down restaurant, going to a movie, going to an event- alone is sad and lonely. If you’re in the right mindset, however, it’s an adventure. If you feel lonely, you can often talk to people. This was easy to do because, you have something in common if you’re both waiting around for a band to perform. You can talk about other performances that have already happened or are yet to happen. You can talk about how far they traveled to get there.
What’s more, being alone, I had no one to tie me down. If I didn’t like what I saw, I could leave a set and go see another band perform. If I was hungry, I didn’t have to ask anyone if they were hungry too and would they like to get something. If I wanted to get closer to the stage, I didn’t have to worry about being such a nuisance in a big group of people. I could come and go to the festival as I pleased. I was alone, but I was also untethered. This weekend belonged to me, and that was a great feeling.