What to expect at Boston Calling this year

photo illustration by ryan huddle/ globe staff; photos from globe services

This year represents a new beginning for Boston Calling. The eighth running of the festival, which kicks off May 26, is at a new venue —a 16-acre chunk of the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston, and a larger, greener space than City Hall Plaza, the festival’s home since its founding — and it has a Hannibal Buress-led comedy arena augmenting its musical offerings, as well as a Ferris wheel for people who want to get a bird’s-eye view of the festival. The number of stages offering music has swelled from two to three; food and drink options will also grow.

In its first seven installments, Boston Calling has been one of the better offerings among the country’s increasingly crowded festival landscape. Part of that owed to its former location, which was super-convenient while being set up so that acts wouldn’t overlap, which meant for less sound bleed and fewer quiet acts being overpowered. And its lineups often had enough curveballs that even the most seasoned listener could find a surprise — the now-defunct Boston DIY heroes Krill, or the gloriously weird Battles.

While this year’s triptych of headliners have stark differences among them, they’re all proven quantities on some level, as befitting the larger venue (and, perhaps, the increased number of tickets the organizers need to sell). Chance the Rapper, the Chicago hip-hop mogul who’s skirted the major-label system and instead dealt directly with distribution platforms as a way of getting his thoughtful, gospel-tinged mixtapes to the masses, headlines Friday night; if his sold-out show at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion last summer is any indication, he’ll supercharge his overwhelming charisma with wondrously theatrical presentations of his own songs like “Summer Friends” and “No Problem” as well as his scene-stealing verse on Kanye West’s heaven-sent “Ultralight Beam.” Saturday’s installment will be capped by Mumford & Sons, the clutch of Americana revivalists whose last album, 2015’s “Wilder Mind,” represented a shift toward the smoothed-out territory where Coldplay and The National overlap and away from the strummy tunes that had (perhaps unfairly) turned their name into a punch line of sorts. Closing out the festival is Tool, one of the more proggy bands to emerge from the ’90s alt-rock explosion; the band hasn’t released an album since 2006’s “10,000 Days,” and — a rarity these days—they remain absent from streaming services, although their fanbase is fervent and tracks like the grinding “Sober” and the churning “Schism” get occasional airplay from harder-edged radio stations.


The three-headed headliner hydra sends a message that Boston Calling is aimed at a wide swath of music fans: Tool debuted in 1990, Mumford & Sons formed in 2007, and Chance released his first mixtape a mere five years ago.

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The weekend’s second tier is made up of quite a few guaranteed crowd-pleasers. The pop-EDM group Major Lazer’s dancehall-influenced bounce has been a fixture on the charts, thanks to a shrewd selection of collaborators like the mischievous Danish singer (and former Boston Calling performer) MO and the mostly-grown-up Justin Bieber. Shape-shifting Icelandic collective Sigur Rós craft moody, expansive textures that will provide the festival’s first true test of stages that host simultaneous sets (they’re on Friday opposite Kanye-beloved moaner Bon Iver and Chance). Solange Knowles’s 2016 album “A Seat at the Table” was a simmering statement on black womanhood in America that grooved and glimmered, and her charismatic stage presence will provide a jolt to Friday’s lineup. The 1975 are led by wiry, chatty frontman Matty Healy, who brings an of-the-moment self-deprecating élan to his band’s jangled-nerves take on glittery pop.

The lower reaches of the lineup are full of charismatic artists whose stage presence will likely draw in those people wandering around the Harvard fields in search of food, comedy, or “the scene” — sister duo Tegan & Sara have been crafting pitch-perfect portraits of longing for years, while the brutally poetic Mitski’s knotty anthems have resulted in devotees popping up around the globe. The fiery, fleet-tongued hip-hop duo Run the Jewels, whose early-afternoon Boston Calling set in 2015 was a case study in how to win over a crowd, will also be back this year, part of a hip-hop lineup that in addition to Chance includes Dorchester-born MC Cousin Stizz, fast-talking Australian rapper Tkay Maidza (who held her own with Run The Jewels’ Killer Mike on her 2016 debut “Tkay”), and rasp-voiced vocalist-producer Russ. The Americana quotient is, once again, low this year; that said, singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile’s weapons-grade songwriting and wounded voice will shine in the live setting.

Boston Calling’s first outing in Lower Allston might have some hiccups. But the high caliber of music on order, from Chance’s optimism-infused rhymes to The Hotelier’s blaring guitars, will at least remain intact from previous years.


At Harvard Athletic Complex, Allston, May 26-28. Single-day tickets $99-$599; weekend passes $269-$999.

Maura Johnston can be reached at