As Boston Calling welcomes music lovers to City Hall Plaza for its biggest and most impressive weekend celebration to date this weekend, it does so for the last time. The music festival, a popular addition to the city’s cultural landscape since its arrival in May 2013, will relocate to Allston in 2017, setting up shop at Harvard University’s athletic complex.
The move, envisioned to bring the festival’s offerings closer to many of its most avid audience members, will allow Crash Line Productions, the organizers of Boston Calling, to expand. Having already introduced a three-stage model this year, the festival is considering an even bigger footprint in Allston. The new grounds, located on North Harvard Street, could host bands too big for City Hall Plaza’s confines, including headliners seen at events like the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in California and the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Tennessee.
“This relocation will allow us to expand the capacity, range, and diversity of the festival’s programming,” Aaron Dessner, Boston Calling’s music curator and a member of the indie-rock band the National, said in a statement.
Beyond its musical offerings, Boston Calling will mount its first film festival, to be curated by actress, director, and producer Natalie Portman, a Harvard graduate. “I’m excited for Boston Calling to take place at Harvard,” Portman said in a statement. “I’m proud to be curating a new film section for the festival, and feel lucky to celebrate the art form that I love in a place that means so much to me.” Comedy will continue to have a place in the festival, and a visual-art component is being planned.
In a telephone interview on Friday, Mayor Martin J. Walsh expressed his enthusiasm for the festival and for the relocation, which he said he’d learned about 2½ months ago.
“The crowds at City Hall Plaza have been just incredible, and I think City Hall Plaza probably helped them grow to a point where they needed a new venue,” Walsh said.
That the festival remains within city limits, Walsh acknowledged, enhances Boston’s cultural cachet. “That’s a big statement for our city and the arts,” he said. “We used to be a musical destination for so many bands; I’m not saying it stopped, but the magnitude of it did decrease over the years. I think this allows us the opportunity to kind of recapture that space.”
Even so, the festival’s connection to its hometown has not been without controversy. Federal authorities recently arrested Kenneth Brissette, the city’s director of tourism, sports, and entertainment, for allegedly engaging in “union-related extortion” related to Boston Calling. According to the indictment, Brissette was charged with withholding city permits until Boston Calling hired members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 11.
Asked about any connection between that situation and the festival’s move to privately owned space, Walsh denied any linkage emphatically. “This has nothing to do with that,” he said. “I’m certain if you asked Boston Calling, they’ll say the same thing.”
Boston Calling representatives declined to comment on that or any other matter. “We are so grateful to have had the opportunity to call City Hall the festival’s home,” said Brian Appel, cofounder and CEO of Crash Line Productions and Boston Calling, in a statement. “This change of location will allow us to expand and enrich Boston Calling while still keeping it proudly located in Boston.”
Harvard officials declined to address questions about facilities, amenities, or logistics. “We are pleased to provide a venue that allows Boston Calling to expand its creative programming while remaining in the City of Boston,” Tim Williamson, Harvard’s associate director of athletics, offered in a statement.
In preparation for its move, Boston Calling will not present its customary second installment of the festival in September. Instead, Crash Line has partnered with Copenhagen Beer Celebration, a festival established in 2012. The festival’s US debut, planned to take place on City Hall Plaza Sept. 23-24, will include live music by Yo La Tengo, the Barr Brothers, and Lucero.
“We plan to host a fantastic festival on the plaza this weekend,” Appel said in his statement, “and look to continue to produce a range of other events on the plaza for years to come.”