Looking over Boston Calling’s bill, it’s easy to see why Billboard called it a "festival lineup dreams are made of." The fest, now in its fifth year (and eighth iteration — until 2016, it occurred twice annually), has always managed to keep its finger firmly on the pop music zeitgeist while also expressing a clear aesthetic of its own.
This year’s dizzying lineup was no doubt helped by the festival’s move from Boston City Hall Plaza to the larger Harvard Athletics Complex, allowing for an expanded program. But the stacked bill, which was co-curated by talent buyer Trevor Solomon and The National’s Aaron Dessner, feels like more of a case of "stacks on stacks on stacks," with a headlining cohort that includes Chance the Rapper, Bon Iver, Sigur Rós, Mumford and Sons and — in what is arguably Boston Calling’s biggest coup — influential alt-metal band Tool, which you can only catch at one other festival this summer. (Update: Solange was replaced with Migos for the Friday night lineup.) A comedy stage, hastily arranged after a film festival curated by Natalie Portman fell through, manages to impress all the more given the circumstances, with headliners Tig Notaro, Hannibal Buress and Pete Holmes.
It’s therefore a bit pointless to draw up a list of "bests," since there is no question that most of the headliners are deserving of attention. When it comes to the marquee names, it’s really just a matter of taste — are you more of a Chance the Rapper enthusiast or a Sigur Rós fan? (Because you’re going to have to choose between their dueling time slots.) Yet Boston Calling has always impressed for its far less-touted collection of supporting acts, thanks to a knack for identifying hot up-and-comers of note; you get the sense that Solomon and Dessner know the difference between true talent and mere buzz.
So, if you’re wondering how to occupy your time until Chance takes the stage, fear not — there are plenty of acts worth discovering, from niche art-rockers to indie rock poets to absurdist standup comedians. Here are just a few:
Francis and the Lights | Friday, May 26
Francis Farewell Starlite, the man behind Francis and the Lights, may be best known for his collaborations with bigger names, from Kanye to Chance the Rapper to Bon Iver. But he has plenty of his own things to say, and some very whimsical dance moves to boot.
Lucy Dacus | Friday, May 26
In the rapidly expanding pantheon of wry, incisive indie rockers, Lucy Dacus is one of the finest, balancing wit and wistfulness atop soaring melodies.
Vundabar | Friday, May 26
The members of Boston’s own Vundabar are the purveyors of some of the catchiest garage pop around.
Xylouris White | Friday, May 26
Xylouris White is the most surprising artist on the Boston Calling lineup, and therefore a contender for my favorite. Though drummer Jim White is well-known for his work with Australian instrumental rock trio Dirty Three, it’s still striking to see a middle-aged avant-jazz-folk duo comprised of drums and Greek laouto at a event that reliably skews young and mainstream.
Moses Sumney | Saturday, May 27
Add Moses Sumney’s music to the ever-expanding list of delectable, open-hearted electro-soul. The LA musician has yet to release a full-length album, but he has already shown he can do a lot with a little — a guitar, loop pedal and his exquisite falsetto is really all he needs.
The Hotelier | Sunday, May 28
Worcester band The Hotelier is earnest, dark and really, really catchy. In other words, "emo" — and unabashedly so.
Nick Chambers (Comedy) | Sunday, May 28
Lots of comics are self-deprecating, but Boston’s Nick Chambers has an especially endearing way about him; even his most trenchant observations are buoyed by a gleeful sense of absurdity.
Mitski | Sunday, May 28
Not too many songwriters actually achieve poetry in their music, but Mitski is one of them, matching piquant wordplay with bittersweet melodies.
Kate Berlant and John Early (Comedy) | Sunday, May 28
After years of YouTube semi-fame, the surreal, self-skewering, impossible-to-describe comedy of Kate Berlant and John Early is finally getting its due. In their act, the expert character actors square off in an affectionate-yet-ruthless contest to see who can most effectively parody all the performative, self-serving ways that people in relationships prop up and undermine each other.
Josh Johnson (Comedy) | Sunday, May 28
Josh Johnson is disarming, delightfully weird and — without giving too much away — somehow manages to make sound effects fresh and hilarious.
This article was originally published on May 22, 2017.