News Column

Smaller shows, bigger sounds

August 9, 2013


Aug. 09--Boston doesn't have a major music festival. That's a good thing.

Most metropolitan areas our size have sprawling, multi-day, 150,000-strong events -- Lollapalooza in Chicago, Outside Lands in San Francisco, Bumbershoot in Seattle. But the Hub's failure to attract a three-ring, greatest-show-on-earth circus has given the area the opportunity to program humbler rock 'n' roll carnivals.

"The trend is toward smaller,- more regional festivals," said Dave Werlin, co-producer of The Nines, a daylong festival tomorrow in Devens. "The mega-festivals are pretty well established and entrenched by now, but there's plenty of room for events like ours to succeed."

The Nines unites national bands (Explosions in the Sky, Dr. Dog) with local acts (Walter Sickert & the Army of Broken Toys, Air Traffic Controller) to lead a party celebrating music, comedy and visual arts. Next month, the second edition of Boston Calling (City Hall Plaza, Sept. 7-8) and the third annual Life is Good Festival (Canton, Sept. 21-22) will entertain 50,000 fans over four days.

"Look at each of these festivals and there's some overlap, but each one distin-guishes itself from the other,"- Life is Good co--organizer James MacDonald said. "We want the typical 18- to 24-year-old fan to come, but we also have (the kids' band) Yo Gabba Gabba playing. We want that 30-something to show up with their 6-year-old and see Yo Gabba Gabba and then introduce their kid to Jack Johnson."

Where the giants try to attract every demographic, these festivals target specific music fans. Because they're not trying to go toe-to-toe with the big guys, they have the room to hone their visions.

After teetering on the brink of obsolescence in the early 2000s, Newport Folk found its Americana-meets-indie niche and boomed back, selling out in advance for the last three years and expanding to three days this summer. Boston Calling, launched in May, returns just four months later with a bill built for indie kids and electro fans. Vampire Weekend and Passion Pit headline.

"Lollapalooza, Coachella and Austin City Limits can pile on the headliners and every buzz band of the moment," Boston Calling talent buyer Josh Bhatti said. "We have 20 bands a weekend, they have 20 bands on one stage. We need to be more selective. We look for a diverse lineup that's still cohesive."

Like The Nines, Boston Calling and Life is Good use a mix of local up-and-comers and national acts. While the festivals could push New England music harder, their taste in talent is great. Boston Calling features Bearstronaut and You Won't, Life is Good has Gentlemen Hall and Ryan Montbleau.

"These smaller festivals with locals help create a culture of music in the city," Bhatti said. "Whether it's us or The Nines or the free Outside the Box event (this summer on Boston Common), it all adds to the active music scene that makes us thrive."

The Nines; Boston Calling; Life is good.


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