Boston Calling Was Cursed Until It Wasn’t


A lineup wall in the form of the Green Monster. (Photo by Austin Hall)

Everyone has their own pandemic story. Unfortunately, some pandemic stories are more tragic than others, but we’ve all suffered in different ways. In March of 2020, I was super-duper stoked to see my favorite bands for the price of one ticket: Rage Against the Machine (RATM), a band I had wanted to see for at least a decade, and Foo Fighters, a band I saw at Fenway years ago.

2020 canceled everything, so Boston Calling was on the chopping block. May of 2021 also saw the same cancellation. But months before May 2022, both bands were still set to perform. I couldn’t believe my luck. Unfortunately, it was too good to be true.

RATM bowed out just a few months before the festival. I can’t put into words how pumped I was to see them, so it’s hard to put into words how devastated I was that they weren’t coming. Little did I know that the worst was yet to come.

Taylor Hawkins, the drummer for the Foo Fighters, had died. Everyone in the Foo Fighters community mourned his death and felt for the band and his family. It’s a loss we all feel to this day, even for the ones like me who never knew him personally.

At that point, I didn’t even want to go. 

A few weeks later, there was an announcement that Nine Inch Nails (NIN), another favorite band of mine I had seen in 2016, would be replacing the Foo Fighters, and The Strokes replaced RATM. I love NIN, so I figured between them and Run The Jewels (RTJ), there was enough reason to go.

I was right.

Day 1

The stage was set for some NIN action. (Photo by Austin Hall)

It was a weird feeling standing in the place that was two years in the making, the only one masked in the open night air except for a few people here and there. I wasn’t feeling the excitement you feel after waiting for something for so long. I was just waiting, taking in the moment. The joke I like to use when I talk about the NIN show I saw in 2016 was that it was really good, I just wish I was there. Way up in the nosebleeds, sitting and watching the performance felt more like watching them on YouTube, and I didn’t realize how different the experience was until I was surrounded by people going nuts for every song. For an hour and a half, I was able to relax and listen to my favorite music, blown away both by the spectacle and the fact that I was even there to enjoy it. They closed with “Hurt” and I sang every word, as did everyone else. The improbable show that couldn’t finally did. Temporarily at least.

Day 2

Three things happened on the second day that must have made it a nightmare for the people in charge of the fest. Severe weather in the middle of the day delayed the festivities. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard had to drop out due to a positive Covid case. Finally, The Strokes had to cancel headlining the night due to a positive Covid test.

I was unaware of this until I got to the festival after the rain had ended, so it was news to me instead of a major change in plans. Oh, did I mention that NIN did a second night to fill in for The Strokes? Well, yeah, that happened in the most convenient way possible for me.

Run The Jewels perform on the Red Stage. (Photo by Austin Hall)

RTJ came right on time baby, but more curses were affront. Like at the beginning when the sound system was too quiet. Or when El-P said he had to, well, pee, and Killer Mike did a quick freestyle while El-P just awkwardly stood there. All and all, though, it was a decent set, and since I had already seen them at Boston Calling before, they didn’t need to wow me this time around. Besides, I had a goal that night: get as close to the NIN stage as possible.

Night two of NIN at Boston Calling. (Photo by Austin Hall)

RTJ played on a stage right next to the main stage, so all I had to do was turn around and file into the large crowd.

The crowd was already completely filled in, but I followed some tall bros moving through to find a closer spot. Even as the set got underway, I kept edging closer and closer, especially as a mosh pit formed behind me. I wanted to have the exact opposite experience to 2016. I wanted to say, “Yeah, the show was great, and I was right there.” I think you can see from the photo above that I was able to accomplish my goal.

It’s quite rare to be in the moment. It’s kind of like you’re on instinct, but instead of a flight or fight response, you’re filled with endorphins. I hadn’t had an in-the-moment experience like this in over two years, so it was nice to remember what it was like to feel alive, you know? At the end of the show, they played “Hurt” again, an intimate song about frontman and NIN creator Trent Reznor’s past drug use and how it felt to feel so alone with the only comfort being something that, well, hurt you. As someone who hasn’t done any hard drugs and never will, you’d think I wouldn’t be able to relate to this song at all. But for me, it describes the loneliness I feel in trying to connect with others and coming up short more times than I’d like to admit. On the first night, the entire crowd sang every word, and we did the same tonight. For whatever reason, it meant even more to me the second time around, because I was ready to sing along. It was a therapeutic experience because sometimes sharing a moment of somberness validates everything you have been going through and gives you hope.

Day 3

It was because of this that I decided to end on a high note and not attend the final night. I was terrified of even going because of Covid but I went anyway and had a great time. I had already won, so to speak. I never got into any of the bands on the third day, and I knew that, whatever they had, it wouldn’t mean as much to me as seeing one of my favorite bands of all time two nights in a row. I’m sure Metallica killed it as the final headliner since a friend of mine can attest to that. The fest finally came and went, and we lived to tell the tale. The past two years have been terrible, but this was the first time I started feeling like maybe, just maybe, I, and the rest of us, could get back on track. We can only try our best and hope.

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