People packed sections of the Boston Common grass on a warm, muggy Saturday for the opening day of the city’s first Outside the Box music and arts festival.
With a dense cloud cover shielding them from the summer sun, the crowd kept growing as one musical act after another cycled onto the stage for the festival’s opening day. Children crowded around a small platform showcasing magicians, clowns, and puppet shows.
Outside the Box -- a kaleidoscope of music, theater, dance, and other entertainment -- runs for nine days across the Common and City Hall Plaza. Organized and financed by philanthropist Ted Cutler, the free festival aims to raise Boston’s artistic and cultural profile.
“With everything Boston has gone through lately, we deserve a little celebration,” declared Reuben Reynolds, director of the Boston Gay Men’s Choir, before the group belted out a spirited medley of songs from James Bond movies. The choir also performed renditions of well-known songs by artists including Donna Summer, Pink, and Whitney Houston.
Organizers hope the broad selection offered by the festival attracts people like Jack Proietti of Ashby, who made the hourlong drive into Boston and plans to return for at least five more days.
Proietti, who frequently travels the country with his wife, Barbara Martioski, to attend music festivals, said he welcomes Boston’s new focus on outdoor music events.
“Look around! There’s a great turnout because where else are you going to go for nine straight days of music?” Proietti said as he and his wife sat in blue lawn chairs about 25 feet back from the stage following one of Saturday afternoon’s performances.
“We weren’t quite sure what to expect,” he said, “but as word of mouth continues to spread, you’ve got to expect this thing to get bigger and bigger each year.”
Saturday’s major draws were Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys, who took the stage together about 3 p.m, before playing individual sets. “They were just great,” said Marc Posner of Somerville after the Los Lonely Boys finished.
A fan of folk and bluegrass music and a frequent festival attendee, Posner said he was happy to see Boston embracing more outdoor music, but said he would have enjoyed a series of more intimate concerts.
“Boston is a city of neighborhoods,” he said. “So I would have loved to see the money spent on a series of neighborhood concerts.”
But, Posner’s friend Nate Goldshlas said he was impressed with the turnout on the Common, and thought bringing so many people to one place was a good thing.
“It seems like a pretty good turnout,” he said.
Ted Bach, 37, of Somerville, said a friend posted details about the festival on Facebook so he decided to bring his family out for the afternoon.
“Once we knew Los Lobos were playing for free on the Common, we just had to come out and see them,” he said.
Bach, whose children played on the picnic blanket at his feet as they awaited the next act, said he was impressed and encouraged by the turnout.
Maybe, he said, if Outside the Box is well-attended, it will lead to more outdoor festivals in Boston.
“We definitely owe Ted Cutler a thank-you,” he said.