Four stages and a Ferris wheel arriving at the Harvard Athletic Complex can only mean one thing — it’s that time of year again. Even sans camping, Boston Calling’s Memorial Day weekend music festival can be nearly a 72-hour affair. While festival alumni may think they know those pseudo-grassy fields and banks by heart, newbies — or anyone who hasn’t been to the festival since it called City Hall Plaza home — may need a crash course before the weekend. This year packs some surprises, returning favorites, and new options for attendees to explore.
What’s new this year?
A better question might be: What’s new-ish? The most notable addition is GA+, an enhanced version of general admission available for three-day or single-day passes this year. The price difference (for a single-day, $259.99 vs. $159.99, plus fees) comes with perks like lounge and craft cocktail cash bar access and upgraded bathrooms. Those feeling FOMO can upgrade onsite, though availability is limited.
Additionally, this marks the Tivoli Audio Orange Stage’s second year — while not new, the commitment to handing the mic to 12 local acts is noteworthy. (Altogether, the festival has 20 acts with New England roots across all four stages.) Food is another nod to local ties, with festival newcomers Dumpling Daughter, Lily P’s Fried Chicken, and Naco Taco. Bonus points for new/festival-exclusive treats like Mamaleh’s pastrami-packed Latkes Fries and, of course, the Ultimate BBQ Cone of sauced meat from Smoke Shop BBQ.
Tweaks like new activations and art may be noticeable to BC diehards, but don’t worry, the Ferris wheel has returned.
What can I bring/not bring/should I bring and haven’t thought of yet?
The festival has keyless lockers inside and outside the gates; they can be rented for all three days with the option to leave your gear overnight. Aerosol cans of sunscreen are not permitted, but free, slather-on SPF will be available onsite. As in previous years, the festival has onsite taps to refill factory-sealed, non-glass water bottles and empty hydration packs.
The festival is entirely cashless, including tipping at the bars and food booths; attendees can link a card to their wristband for tap payment. (You can add a card when registering a wristband.) That said, credit cards are still just fine for tipping and paying, too.
All bags (which must either be clear or smaller than 6-by-9 inches with one pocket max; no backpacks allowed) will be searched upon entry. And there’s a laundry list of banned items — pets, vape pens, metal water bottles, and musical instruments — listed on the festival website. Drugs and drug paraphernalia are forbidden. Yes, THC gummies are still considered drugs; I asked.
How do I even get there?
The Red Line to Harvard Square (plus the 10- to 15-minute walk) is a tried-and-true access point should the MBTA run on schedule (LOL). Also, the 66 and 86 buses will drop you off right outside the stadium gates, and the Boston Landing Station via the Worcester commuter rail is about a mile away. Street parking will be closed off around festival grounds, but Lyfts, Ubers, and the like will be directed to a designated rideshare pickup lot at the end of the night. For drop-off, the main entrance is at Harvard Stadium, Gate 1, on North Harvard Street, though there’s no guarantee you’ll get door-to-door access. Bike parking, however, is available onsite near the box office.
Do I bring my kids?
Yes, Boston Calling is all-ages and touts itself as family-friendly. (Kids under 10 get in free.) This year’s lineup has plenty of multi-gen-pleasing acts — including riot grrrl teens, the Linda Lindas of “Racist, Sexist Boy” fame, on Sunday’s Red Stage and the delightfully croon-worthy Joy Oladokun on Saturday’s Green Stage — at (cough) hours before any sun-induced crankiness sets in. (Music is set to end at 10:45 p.m. all three nights.) While the grounds are sprawling, vantage points like the grassy knoll across the field from the Blue Stage and the squishy turf between the Red and Green stages are suitable and frequented spots to plop down for a rest or a snack.
If you need to get your kids off the grounds for a while, Corporal Burns Park and Playground on Memorial Drive is about a 15-minute walk along the riverside green space once you cross the Anderson Memorial Bridge into Cambridge. Additionally, Harvard Square is only about a 10-minute walk away and can provide different kinds of respite/stimulation, with public, shady seating and shareable takeaway snacks from Mike’s Pastry and Madras Dosa Company.
What about . . .
Safety? The festival states it has a “zero tolerance policy for harassment of any kind,” including sexual harassment and other unsafe situations. Similar to its statement on crowd management, the festival encourages a “see something, say something” mind-set among attendees, while noting security will be present across the grounds to provide assistance. Additionally, Boston Calling teamed up with This Must Be the Place, a nonprofit that provides Narcan (naloxone) and instructional information at music festivals, to provide onsite overdose prevention education and products.
Accessibility? The festival will have designated ADA bathrooms and elevated, reserved seating by the main stages. Register for seating ahead of time by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the ADA Services team at the festival for passes. The ADA pass allows each holder one companion into the special seating areas. Likewise, ASL interpreters are available upon request by e-mailing email@example.com.
The weather? The festival is set to go on rain or shine — which, historically, it certainly has. Luckily, it looks like smooth sailing this weekend, with sunshine forecast for all three days and temperatures ranging from highs in the 60s to 80s. That said, the festival strongly encourages use of its app for push notifications, including safety measures for inclement weather and set changes.
Are there any after-parties?
GA-20 and Coral Moons — both from Boston and heading to the Blue and Orange stages, Friday and Saturday, respectively — will play Brighton Music Hall for an after-party show Saturday at 10 p.m. And the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square offers fans an al fresco oasis whenever they plan to peace out: an early evening DJ on deck, an open kitchen until 11:30 p.m., and a full bar until 1 a.m. (midnight on Sunday).
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