The Best of Boston Calling 2023

Over 50 acts, three days, and one very happy ending, the city's premiere music festival was an unequivocal success.

Friday night at Boston Calling 2023. / Photo by Alive Coverage

After a spell of heartbreaking cancellations, Boston’s marquee music festival returned to its full, monumental glory for its tenth year. Here are some of the things we loved seeing.

A Very Happy Ending to Boston Calling’s Happy Ending

Paramore’s Hayley Williams closes out Boston Calling 2023. / Photo by Taylor Hill / Getty Images

Around 10 p.m. on Sunday night, roughly halfway through a festival-closing set from pop-punk headliners Paramore, the show abruptly stopped. All the sudden, the stage lights snapped on and the jumbotron screens cut from a live-performance feed to a photo of a 17-year-old girl on the Boston Calling Ferris wheel. There was a momentary sense of confusion, then a sobering voice announced that the pictured teenager had gone missing in the crowd.

The pause continued for a long, worrisome moment until cheers erupted from the crowd near the stage. A palpable sense of relief quickly spread throughout the grounds: The missing young woman was, mercifully, no longer missing. (Indeed, a festival representative later confirmed to Boston the teenager had been located safely.)

Soon Paramore singer Hayley Williams returned to the main stage, momentarily subdued, thanking everyone for their cooperation. “That was a first for us,” she admitted, before launching back into her band’s ebullient weekend finale. It was a very happy ending to Boston Calling’s happy ending. —ERIN KAYATA

The Walkmen Air a Hilariously Ancient Grievance Against Blanchard’s Liquors

The Walkmen on Sunday, May 28. / Photos by Alive Coverage

Ten years ago, indie-rock band The Walkmen called it quits. At the time, the band’s bassist and organist Peter Bauer said they were going on an “extreme hiatus.” Turns out, it was only a hiatus. Last month, the fivesome reunited on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert and launched a tour, with Boston Calling one of its early stops. “It’s been a long time since I’ve played with these dudes onstage,” lead singer Hamilton Leithauser said. “When we got together [again] we had absolutely no idea if anyone was going to remember who the hell we are.” The crowd’s reaction to the band’s Sunday set—which included “The Rat,” arguably the band’s finest song and the one they did on Colbert, and “Four Provinces”—was proof positive Boston remembered.

Leithauser remembered something too. “I went to Boston University,” he said. “I dropped out.” Before long, he was dredging up up a decades-old grudge against Blanchard’s Liquors in Allston for confiscating his fake ID, which he said cost him 120 bucks. “I don’t forget,” he joked. Well, we didn’t forget you guys either.  —CATHERINE ELTON

Boston + Bleachers = Forever

Jack Antonoff and special guest Joy Oladokun at Boston Calling on Sunday, May 29. / Photos by Alive Coverage

Despite the blistering heat on Sunday afternoon, Bleachers, the anthemic rock project by frontman and songwriter-to-the pop-stars Jack Antonoff, delivered unparalleled energy to Sunday, plus a handful of surprises. Antonoff, who you may know from his work with Taylor Swift, and his appearance at the Eras Tour in New Jersey on Friday (there were even a few Eras Tour shirts in the audience), brought out his father, Rick Antonoff, for the second song of the set. Later, he brought out fellow Boston Calling artist and friend Joy Oladokun to sing a verse from Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now).” After some onstage rehearsing, Antonoff explained that it was now their “tradition” since doing the same at Bonnaroo last year.

When it came to Bleachers’ own songs, Antonoff literally bounced around the stage performing the band’s tried-and-true favorites, including “I Wanna Get Better,” “Don’t Take the Money,” and “Rollercoaster,” before which he yelled for fans to get on each other’s shoulders. They happily obliged.

Though Antonoff hails from New Jersey, many of his band members, whom he took the time to introduce one by one for their own mini solos, are from the New England Area. The band as a whole also has Boston connections: They played at Boston Calling during their first tour cycle in 2014. “Boston showed more love to us than anyone else,” he said, making sure the audience knew how loved they were, too. As he said no less than three times throughout the set: Boston and Bleachers forever. —MAKENA GERA

Genesis Owusu’s ‘GTFO’ Catharsis

Genesis Owusu knows how to put on a show. The Ghanaian-Australian singer, whose “Gold Chains” made Barack Obama’s Favorite Music of 2021 playlist, came out onstage larger than life—carried by his backup dancers, hidden under a black shroud. (Owusu also knows how to dress. The costumed dancers later de-robed him, leaving him in a sharp red suit with a black mesh top underneath to match the red stripe down the middle of his black hair.) During his Sunday afternoon set at Boston Calling, he belted out songs that span funk, rap and soul, while busting out some seriously impressive dance moves. He expertly got the crowd to sing along to his cathartic song “GTFO.” Because, honestly, who doesn’t want the chance to holler, for no apparent reason, “Get the Fuck Out” at the top of your lungs? The answer, judging from the enthusiastic response, is nobody. He followed that up with “Get Inspired.” And inspired, Mr. Owusu, we were. —C.E.

Mayor Wu Introduced the Linda Lindas

Mayor Wu introducing the young genuises behind the viral breakthrough “Racist Sexist Boy” was seriously the cutest thing ever. / Photo by Alive Coverage

The Lumineers Brought Out Rising New England Star Noah Kahan

Noah Kahan joins the Lumineers at Boston Calling 2023. / Photo by Alive Coverage

During the Lumineers’ headlining set on night two, the Denver alt-folk band brought out fellow Boston Calling act Noah Kahan for a performance of “If We Were Vampires,” a 2017 Jason Isbell cover Kahan released on Spotify earlier this May, featuring Lumineers’ frontman Wesley Schultz. Couples embraced and danced to the Lumineers biggest song, the Hot 100 Top 10 anthem “Ho Hey,” and the sold-out general admission crowd sang along to almost every song in the 100-minutes-or-so repertoire, including hits like “Ophelia” and “Cleopatra.”

But an orchestrated call and response to “A.M. Radio” seemed to engage everyone—even those who’d appeared unfamiliar with the band’s non-singles discography—with the affecting chorus, “I couldn’t give you up.” —M.G.

Seeing the Noah Kahan Phenomenon IRL

Vermont’s favorite son, Noah Kahan. / Photo by Amanda Lucidi

Noah Kahan made waves last fall when he released Stick Season, an album that’s quintessentially New England both in its youthfully rustic sensibilities and its references to Kahan’s upbringing in rural Vermont. For months, you couldn’t scroll through TikTok without coming across a video sampling his most famous line, “I’m mean because I grew up in New England.”

The Flight of the Busyhead: Paul Hryciw drove down from Toronto. / Photo by Erin Kayata

But the 26-year-old artist’s music resonates far beyond New England. Some of his biggest shows are in Colorado and Washington state, and his diehard “Busyheads” (what Kahan fans call themselves, a nod to his debut 2019 album) made the trek across US borders to see Kahan on Saturday, at what the Watertown resident described from the stage as “his hometown show.”

Like Paul Hryciw, who drove over eight hours from Toronto with his daughters to see Kahan. “I’ve fallen in love with the whole rural folk [vibe],” said Hryciw, who showed up to Saturday’s show sporting pre-Stick Season Kahan merch. Though he isn’t from New England, Hyrciw said he likes Kahan’s Ray Lamontagne vibes and description of rural living, which resonates with even those across international borders.

“He’s talking about a small town, but that small town could be anywhere,” Hryciw added. “Our whole family is in love.” —ERIN KAYATA

Mt. Joy Played the Succession Theme

Mt. Joy at Boston Calling on late Saturday afternoon, May 27. / Photo by Amanda Lucidi

Indie folk-rock band Mt. Joy may not hail from Boston but some of their songs sure do. On stage day two of Boston Calling, lead singer Matt Quinn told the massive crowd that he wrote some of the band’s oldest songs as a Northeastern University student. (In fact, “Silver Linings”—one of Mt. Joy’s most popular songs, which they played to an ecstatic audience on Saturday—was originally recorded on the university’s record label, the brilliantly named Green Line Records.) The band’s trippy backdrop visuals, the performance of their beloved single “Astrovan,” which reimagines Jesus as a Dead Head, their jams, and most pointedly, their cover of “Fire on the Mountain” gave the festival what will likely be its only Grateful Dead déjà vu.

But it was another cover Mt. Joy played that might be even more memorable: the iconic theme song from Succession. Was that the band’s way of teasing all of us who won’t be in front of the TV Sunday night for the series finale, but instead standing among tens of thousands at Boston Calling’s own finale? If it is to be said, so it be, so it is. —CATHERINE ELTON

Foo Fighters’ Very Special Guest, Taylor Hawkins’ Son Shane

The Foo Fighters crowd on Friday, May 26. / Photo by Alive Coverage and Boston Calling 2023

Headlining day one of the festival, the Foo Fighters performed a two-hour set for a crowd that filled almost the entire Harvard Athletic Complex grounds. In the last hour of the performance, Dave Grohl introduced one of his “favorite drummers in the world,” the late Taylor Hawkins’ son Shane. After some trouble with the drum set, 17-year-old Hawkins played “I’ll Stick Around” with the band, to understandably raucous applause. They closed the show with “Everlong.” —MAKENA GERA

The National’s Spectacular Sad Dad Antics

His mind’s not right. / Photo by Amanda Lucidi

You can forgive Matt Berninger for crumpling up a beach ball he lured a fan to toss him onstage and chucking it back to whence it came. Go ahead and also forgive him for hucking his red Solo cup, full of liquid, into the crowd. Because later during the National’s Friday, May 26 set at Boston Calling—a festival the New York band first played in 2013, its inaugural year—left the stage and wandered deep into throngs of adoring fans, with yards of microphone chord trailing behind him, and then adroitly traversed a metal crowd-control barrier like a tightrope performer (with a little help from fans when he lost his balance). But the best reason to forgive Berninger’s early onstage antics is because Brooklyn’s Saddest Dads played their freaking hearts out as the sun set across the Harvard Athletic Complex. —C.E.

Connecticut’s Very Own Chelsea Cutler Repped the Pats

Photo by Amanda Lucidi

Chelsea Cutler stepped out in a Patriots jersey during her sun-soaked set on the festival’s first day, jumping around the stage, dancing with her keyboardist, and belting everything from dance-worthy hits to emotional ballads. After a guitar malfunction during the Connecticut native’s new single “Men on the Moon,” Cutler fiddled with the guitar and restarted the song—noting that the only way to do it was “to do it right.” Even bystanders who weren’t familiar with Cutler audibly realized they knew her closer and breakthrough 2017 single, “Your Shirt.” —M.G.

Alisa Amador’s Leap from Tiny Desk to Big Stage

Courtesy of Alive Coverage / Boston Calling

Cambridge-raised Alisa Amador did the honors of kicking off Boston Calling 2023—and in Spanish. The first act to take any of the festival’s four stages, the bilingual singer-songwriter framed the moment as a personal triumph, explaining that she’d nearly quit music altogether. But then last May, Amador’s song “Milonga Accidental” won NPR’s 2022 Tiny Desk Contest and the career she almost abandoned took off, leading her here, she explained, where the “Boston Boricua Chicana Bilingual emotional Crybaby” (her words) performed her Spanish-and-English folk songs (and a Radiohead cover). Extra points to her for calling out her parents, co-founders of the Latin folk band Sol y Canto, who were in the crowd and proud, during her set. —C.E.