Five years ago, Boston was barely a blip on the map of cities with major music festivals. The area has its share of legendary venues, from Paradise Rock Club to departed institutions such as the Rathskeller, and seasonal concert series on City Hall Plaza, the Esplanade, and around town.
But a multiday extravaganza featuring various genres of pop music had somehow eluded the city, even though its sizable college-age population made it a prime location.
That’s been changing in recent years with the arrivals of Boston Calling, Summer Arts Weekend, Together Boston, Life is good, and other high-profile music festivals.
On Thursday morning the Massachusetts-based shoe company Converse will announce another significant addition to the city’s festival landscape: Converse Rubber Tracks Live Boston, a free five-night event set to take over the Sinclair, a club in Harvard Square.
From April 27 through May 1 may perhaps be the only time fans will be able to see major acts such as alt-rock pioneers the Replacements, Boston-bred electro-pop sensations Passion Pit, thrash-metal titans Slayer, rap star Chance the Rapper, and punk-rock progenitors Descendents in a cozy venue that holds 525 people. All are acts that easily draw crowds triple that size.
“We knew when we were moving into Boston that we wanted to do something that really celebrated the move and the local community and wanted to give something back,” said Jed Lewis, Converse’s global music marketing director, noting that the company will soon uproot its world headquarters from North Andover to Boston. “It’s important for us to be active in the creative community.”
More notably, Converse’s festival marks another shift in the way promoters and booking agents have historically viewed Boston as a challenging place to stage large-scale music productions.
“We had heard from various people in the city and around the country that this is arguably the most difficult city in America to do live events, for government reasons or lack of space,” said Brian Appel, one of the cofounders of the local Crash Line Productions, which organizes the Boston Calling festival. “We heard from City Hall that it was a long shot, that competition in this market was fierce. But we thought, we don’t have anything to lose here. It worked out for us, and we’re psyched, but it just as easily could have not happened.”
“We have heard a lot that the vibrancy of the music scene is returning to Boston,” Appel added. “It seems like the city is having a great moment.”
Tickets for Converse’s event will be distributed through a random, electronically chosen process. On Monday, starting at noon, hopeful attendees can register online at www.Converse-Music.com/boston and choose two tickets for one of the five nights. Registration will be open until noon on Wednesday, and beginning that night Converse will start notifying lucky ticketholders by e-mail.
Lewis acknowledges there will be high interest in each night, enough so that hundreds of fans will be shut out.
“From our past experience, we’re expecting thousands of registrants, and unfortunately the demand is going to outweigh the amount of tickets and space we have inside,” Lewis said.
Converse Rubber Tracks Live is part of Boston’s festival renaissance that began in earnest in 2010. Life is good, the local clothing line famous for its T-shirts, booked a two-day gathering that lured more than 25,000 to Prowse Farm in Canton. (The event has been on hiatus since 2014.) Also in 2010, Together Boston launched a weeklong celebration of music, art, and technology, and it’s still going strong.
Next up, in 2012, WGBH in partnership with the Boston Globe held the first Summer Arts Weekend with an eclectic roster of jazz, folk, and world acts.
Boston Calling, which unfolds twice a year on City Hall Plaza with a diverse array of genres, deserves substantial credit, too. Since emerging in 2013, it has grown in stature and popularity and roars back May 22 to 24, with an impressive lineup featuring Pixies, My Morning Jacket, and Beck.
Before those, the festival offerings around here were slim. You could take a road trip to Newport, R.I., for its celebrated jazz and folk fests, or to North Adams for Solid Sound, curated by the band Wilco. Worcester has had its annual New England Metal & Hardcore Festival since 1999; this year’s edition is April 17 to 19. The heavyweights, though, had to travel cross-country for Bonnaroo (Tennessee), South by Southwest (Texas), and Coachella (California).
Converse Rubber Tracks Live has a strategically curated lineup, each night pairing like-minded artists: The Replacements with alt-rock stalwarts Dinosaur Jr., Chance the Rapper with fellow rising rapper Action Bronson, and so on. A Boston-based band that has already collaborated with Converse, which has provided free studio time for local artists, will open each show.
Converse does not stand to make money, at least not from ticket sales, and the bands are being paid. The payoff is still lucrative: hype. The event coincides with Converse’s move into its new headquarters, a 200,000-square-foot complex on Lovejoy Wharf near the North End. The company, whose Massachusetts history dates to its 1908 origins in Malden, plans to be fully installed later this spring.
“Generally speaking, major bands don’t usually do this kind of thing where they play rooms much smaller than they’re used to,” says Josh Bhatti, who heads the Bowery Presents Boston, which operates the Sinclair. “But Converse is one of a dozen companies that have cachet with both artists and their consumers. And that’s partly how they’re able to pull off something like this.”
Converse Rubber Tracks Live Lineup
April 27: The Replacements, Dinosaur Jr., the Young Leaves
April 28: Passion Pit, Baths, Radclyffe Hall
April 29: Slayer, Doomriders, Rozamov
April 30: Chance the Rapper, Action Bronson, Michael Christmas
May 1: Descendents, King Tuff, Bent Shapes