When Adia Victoria and her eerie Southern band strike the first chords of this year’s Boston Calling just before 3 p.m. on Friday, fans will be studying the weekend schedule like the answers in a critical multiple-choice exam. So many choices, so much option-weighing.
Trevor Solomon, the event’s booking director, will not be joining them. As the festival’s 10th edition gets underway at the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston, Solomon is already looking ahead to 2020.
In the big business of concert touring, performers, agents, and managers are planning ahead as many as 15 months, he says. It’s the talent buyer’s job to convince them they should be nowhere else but in Boston next spring.
That means Solomon, 46, must make some educated guesses about which emerging acts will be graduating to headline status by this time next year, and which unknowns might be worthy of a midday showcase. In surfing terms, he’s paddling as fast as he can, always hoping to be the first to catch a big wave.
One good example, says Solomon: this year’s booking of Travis Scott in the Sunday night closing slot.
The fast-rising Houston native “put out probably one of the best records of the year” in 2018’s “Astroworld,” Solomon says. And with Scott’s wild, risk-taking stage show, “he’s like the Iggy Pop of hip-hop right now. It was the same feeling when I saw the Stooges live. It’s like seeing the Bad Brains, and feeling a little scared at the show.
“That’s awesome. That’s exactly how you want to feel.”
Solomon believes that one of this year’s mid-tier performers, Denzel Curry, is on a path toward headlining in his own right within the next two or three years.
“Those are the things I get excited about,” he says.
And he knows a few things about going out on a limb. Solomon, born in Montreal and raised mostly in Florida, booked MusicfestNW in Portland, Ore., for nearly a decade before joining the team at Boston’s Crash Line Productions in 2014. He’s also seen audiences from behind the microphone, having worked for years as the frontman for a band playing the pummeling music of the Chicago band the Jesus Lizard.
He was pretty well settled into the Boston Calling gig by 2017, when the festival took the leap from its original home on City Hall Plaza to the Harvard grounds.
“A lot of things fell into place that year,” he explains. “The Chance the Rapper record was blowing up. Tool hadn’t played here in 12 years. Bon Iver hadn’t played Boston in a while. The stars aligned.”
He booked Brockhampton for last year’s festival after seeing them play the Middle East in Cambridge, capacity 575. By the time Boston Calling rolled around, there were eager fans lined up at 7 a.m. on Saturday, dressed like the guys in the band.
Each iteration takes on its own identity, Solomon says. Part of that is by design — last year’s live podcasts, this year’s appearance by the Boston Ballet. Some is more serendipitous, like the fact that Solomon has booked four rock bands from Australia, including Saturday headliner Tame Impala.
“They have a really good rock scene right now,” he says. “I don’t know if a lot of people are paying attention to that, but I am.”
Having booked festivals for most of his adult life, he’s learned to trust his instincts.
“Listening to your inner voice is the best way,” he says. “Maybe I’ve questioned myself in the booking process and it came back to bite me. Now I just go with my gut.”
As gratifying as a well-balanced bill and a satisfied crowd can be, the job is not without its headaches. This year, Solomon has been in the middle of the mild controversy over some late changes, with Janelle Monáe, among others, dropping out, and the hip-hop duo Black Star having a public spat with the festival producers. Last year Boston Calling fielded criticism for booking an all-white-male slate of headliners (Eminem, Jack White, the Killers).
“Of course I see it,” Solomon says of the criticism. “It happens. On the flip side, everyone’s entitled to their opinion. I take everything they say in stride. I have an awesome wife and son that I come home to.”
What it all comes down to, for him, is the baseline objective of the job.
“Hopefully, in the future those people will start liking what we do.”