With all apologies to “Sweet Caroline,” “Dirty Water,” and the “Cheers” theme song, this year’s Boston Calling audience is primed to hear perhaps the most authentic soundtrack the city has ever produced, as an array of homegrown talent populates the bill of the three-day festival that opens Friday.
When COVID led to cancellations of the festival in 2020 and 2021, organizers took the opportunity to retool, taking note of the pandemic’s impact on performers’ livelihoods. “As we’ve grown and gotten to know more acts from the region, we think that it becomes more important to shine a spotlight on our backyard,” says Brian Appel, co-founder and CEO of Boston Calling.
After conferring with club owners, promoters, and music critics in the market, organizers assembled a lineup in which 20 of the 51 acts performing the festival hail from Boston and New England. Twelve of those artists will perform on the new Tivoli Audio Orange Stage, a showcase intended to introduce festival-goers to homegrown talent from a range of genres — Americana, indie rock, hip-hop, and R&B.
“Boston already had an incredible musical landscape before we arrived and I think our job is to continue to add to it in a way that exposes music to people that might not otherwise get a chance to see upcoming and emerging acts,” says Appel.
Representing home has always been important to rapper Avenue, who paints vivid and cinematic scenes of the trials and glories of his South End/Lower Roxbury neighborhood with his work, including his most recent album, “Brownstones 2.”
“Boston Calling, to me, is the biggest stage we have,” says the rapper, who performs Friday on the Orange Stage. “So, to finally get on and be a part of it, I’m really just taken back by it.”
Taking the stage means all the more to Avenue because he can recall finessing his way into the festival when it was staged at City Hall Plaza, eager to catch a glimpse of Nas and the Roots during their 2014 set. Now, not only has he earned a place in the show’s spotlight, he’s even playing host.
Thanks to a positive relationship with Run the Jewels, “Ave” is hoping to show the group around town, with a trip to Slade’s, the legendary Roxbury BBQ joint, on the itinerary.
“I just really want to display home — home court,” says Avenue. With a catalog that celebrates hallmarks particularly beloved by Bostonians, Avenue is confident his performance will make a certain kind of history.
“This technically is the most Boston Boston Calling set that you will ever hear,” he says proudly, citing his songs that pay tribute to institutions like Harry the Greek’s, Chez-Vous Roller Skating Rink, and Bob the Chef’s restaurant .
Fellow MC Oompa might hail from Roxbury, but she’s truly at home when she’s performing live. “The stage is where I feel the most comfortable — more than writing music, more than recording and releasing music, I love being on the stage,” she says ahead of her set Sunday on the Red Stage. Still, it wasn’t long ago that the ills of the world left her wondering whether she’d ever get the chance to revisit her home in the spotlight. “I was scared, like everyone else, that the possibilities were actually not endless — and that they had reached their end.”
Her spirits were lifted last year with the release of her third project, “Unbothered,” a soaring testament to growth, joy, and the quest for inner peace. For Oompa, playing Boston Calling represents an opportunity to perform for an audience that she knows well — plus a few thousand new faces. “At a festival, [I’m] playing to what feels like the world,” she says, with an eye trained on future ambitions. “I’m testing out what it’s going to be like at the arenas.”
For Miranda Rae — the 2020 Boston Music Award winner for R&B Artist of the Year — her time Friday on the Orange Stage feels like a can’t-miss chance to win over new fans. “Usually seeing me live is how I lure people in,” she explains. “I don’t really get discouraged being in a crowd where no one knows me.”
Developing her craft during the pandemic posed challenges to Rae. As difficult as it was for her to hone a stage presence through virtual shows, the degree to which she was able to do so renewed her confidence. Now she’s found a new groove by linking up with a backing band, Megazoyd, who’ve helped her craft and compose a live show that elevates her growing catalog, including her recent standout, “Moonlight.”
“I think this is going to showcase not only me but the musicians I work with. It’s going to make everybody shine,” Miranda says. “We’re really trying to [illustrate that] we’re ready, tour-ready,” she says, noting that “we’re not just Boston artists — we’re artists.”
For Avenue, who will also be backed by Megazoyd, this weekend’s show feels like a decade of hustle paying off. He’s excited to use the platform as a launching pad for a series of releases, collaborations, and mentorships. Part of the victory is that he feels like he’s winning on his own turf and terms.
“A lot of people feel the need to get up and go somewhere else, to try and attack other markets or bigger markets,” he explains. But he’s had a different vision. “We have enough resources and things here. You’ve just got to know how to navigate and how to utilize the resources properly.”
Now local artists have a new platform to reach for in their hometown — this year and in the years to come. “If you’re doing well in the Boston and regional scene, we’re going to hear about you,” says Appel. “It is our full intent to do the same kind of showcase stage in the future, and potentially expand it.”
“I’m excited for all of us. It’s really an opportunity to stretch our muscles,” says Oompa. “[It] sort of validates this whole trajectory.”
In the meantime, Appel suggests that everyone going to Boston Calling make time for the Orange Stage, which will feature sets by Van Buren Records, Aaron and the Lord, Cam Meekins, Born Without Bones, the Chelsea Curve, Coral Moons, Dutch Tulips, Crooked Coast, Paper Tigers, and Ali McGuirk (this writer’s sister) — along with Ripe, Charlotte Sands, Cliff Notez, Djo, Frances Forever, Goose, and Julie Rhodes on other stages.
From their perch looking outward, the locally sourced performers are sure to catch glimpses of more loved ones cheering them on than usual. Miranda Rae’s father has been a fixture at her performances ever since her rendition of the national anthem at a New England Revolution game moved him to tears. She expects he’ll stand out from the crowd, even beyond his spiffy new outfit.
“He’s probably going to feel like a little celebrity because his daughter’s performing,” she says. “He’ll probably do the whole, ‘That’s my daughter! That’s my daughter!’ ”