Boston Calling co-founder Mike Snow chats about Boston’s biggest music festival

The Boston Calling music festival draws in students from across the Boston metro area. Dave Levy via Flickr Creative Commons

As summer, the prime time for lovers of live music, draws to a sad, sad close, Boston students still have one last beacon of hope to look forward to: Boston Calling. This three-day gathering in downtown Boston’s City Hall Plaza never fails to impress with big-name lineups, major sets, and student-friendly vendors — giving us the perfect encore to concert season.

Next weekend, Boston Calling, which was founded in 2013, will bring in its usual handful of indie rock darlings. Among these acts are Friday performers the Avett Brothers, Of Monsters and Men and Alt-J, as well as Chvrches, Chromeo, Father John Misty and Walk The Moon, who all have Saturday shows. The festival will close on Sunday with the Alabama Shakes, Hozier and Tufts Spring Fling alums Misterwives. Other big names include Fun.’s Nate Ruess and twangy folk singer Sturgill Simpson.

The Daily chatted with Boston Calling co-founder Mike Snow about improving the festival, recruiting artists and keeping it all accessible to students. 

“I grew up ten miles north of Boston, and I felt like we could set up something great in our own town, so music lovers wouldn’t have to keep traveling,” Snow, who had previously worked on other events in the plaza, said. “Boston is such a small town, and people who live here know exactly how to get around, what to do, where to go. So [co-founder Brian Appel and I] knew it would be the perfect location for a big festival, logistics-wise.”

Another ingredient for a successful event centered on food, art and alternative rock? Thousands of college students.

“Boston is two different cities: one when students are here and one when they’re not,” said Snow. “That’s why we have one in September — when they’re all rushing in — and one in May, which is the festival more [non-student] locals generally attend.”

While young adults are a demographic that Snow and his team of full-time festival planners try to target, he says that age is not the only factor in choosing who takes the stage.

“It’s more business oriented than you might think,” he said. “We’re constantly gathering intel on what’s popular and who college kids are listening to, but mainly it’s who’s touring, who’s available and who has new albums coming out. It’s a very small team of people who select the artists.”

Snow admitted that running the show is a business venture as well as a labor of love. For younger music lovers, this can be a drawback of the festival  —  tickets for Boston Calling are expensive enough to strain a student budget. Snow noted that balancing bringing in popular acts and affordability is one of the hardest parts of the job.

“We really, really want to make it accessible, but it’s tricky,” he said. “We want to benefit the artists and the audience, and everyone knows that musicians don’t make money on actual music sales anymore. Bringing the price down to a level we think consumers can reasonably afford is absolutely the toughest part of our jobs. It’s extremely difficult, but we make a real effort. We reach out to schools…at orientations and fairs to try and take care of students. Last time, when it rained, we scrambled to get 5,000 ponchos and hand them out at the show, because what else can you do? You have to try to be accommodating.”

The music festival’s website offers several options to make the festival more accessible to students. This includes joining the Boston Calling “Street Team” — a group of people hired to help promote the event in exchange for passes and a small paycheck. Volunteers, meanwhile, get free two-day passes in exchange for their work. There are online applications for both positions. 

Other efforts, like minimizing wait times and making the festival easy to access via public transportation, are more behind the scenes, according to Snow.

“It’s such a small and familiar space, so a lot of the public just won’t notice the improvements of the event season after season,” Snow said.

Snow also discussed upgrades to this fall’s event.

“We have an awesome new lighting package, new partners [sponsors include Xfinity and Whole Foods] and we’re working on reducing lines,” he said. “Nothing is done by just pushing replay.”

Festival-goers might catch Snow sprinting across the grounds, checking up on things and making sure the entire show is running smoothly — but he still makes time to enjoy the music.

“I’m really excited to see Father John Misty — he’s just so genuine,” he said. “You’ll see me in the audience for that one. I think everyone’s going to have an amazing time. It’s going to be a complete party.”

Boston Calling will be held in Boston’s City Hall Plaza from Sept. 25 to 27. Single day general admission passes are still available on the Boston Calling website. Tickets can also be found using vendors like StubHub and Ticketmaster. 


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