Thinkin’ Out Loud at Friday’s Boston Calling

// Courtesy of Boston Calling

At this year’s Boston Calling Music Festival, you could either buy $18 chicken tenders or drink free cups of Dunkin’s seasonal iced coffee flavors until you were absolutely wired. If you’re like me, and can’t fathom an abuse of your bank account to that level, take the latter option, and let the sweet taste of Falling for Maple® Artificially Maple Flavored Coffee whisk you away.

If I had to guess what the booking agents had in mind, I would say that Friday is the festival’s “pop” day. With Ed Sheeran headlining, and support from acts such as newcomer Reneé Rapp, the magnetic Leon Bridges, and indie rock icons Young the Giant, Friday brought out what was perhaps the most ... homely crowd. It doesn’t take a lot to be a fan of Ed Sheeran; in fact, I think any person aged 18-26 would know at least four of his songs by heart. But I still felt ecstatic to see an artist who dominated the car radios of my childhood.

With a voice of immense force, Reneé Rapp led a crowd of screaming fans through a dynamic set. Things slowed down a bit with Leon Bridges, who showcased his buttery voice over a swinging band. The energy of the Friday crowd was perhaps lackluster at times; it also appeared to be the least attended day. However, this didn’t stop fans from making the most of the festival’s unique stage situation: Instead of spacing performers out, the two main stages are right beside one another. This means that there are less hard choices about who to see, or worse, who to miss.

One audience member told me they thought this made the festival seem “people-oriented.” They recalled a time when they had to choose between Pusha T and Alex G due to spaced-out stages, remembering it as a tragic day of their young life. In contrast, the Calling arranges the amenities so that even sitting at the picnic tables would guarantee a day of good listening.

"Dunkin booth at Boston Calling" // My mecca, the House of Dunkin pop-up. Courtesy of Boston Calling

One seasoned duo, a mother and daughter who said it was their “thing” to attend festivals together, said that the Calling seemed to be “calmer” than others they had attended. There were many families, couples, and younger teenagers in attendance, making things seem less rambunctious. Of course, certain artists bring out the worst in certain crowds, but things were especially tame when headliner Ed Sheeran came to the stage. In fact, he seemed even a bit disappointed at the Puritan attitude of these Bostonians. “Boston, it’s a singer-songwriter’s dream to have an audience that listens so well. But I’m used to British crowds,” Ed said, urging things to get a little rowdier.

But in a world where DJs run the one-man-show industry, Ed had some trouble transitioning from his slow ballads to his louder, faster songs. Of course, it surely helped that he had the whole crowd singing, but I couldn’t help but wonder, was Ed yearning for a more intimate performance experience?

He spoke in awe about the size of the crowd, recalling the times he spent playing in pubs to uninterested audiences. And while he commended this progress, I felt a little sad for Billboard’s favorite redhead. Of course, Ed has mastered all the ways that you can make a guitar sound like a full band, employing a loop pedal and the occasional backing track. But I for one would love to see Ed fully embrace the acoustic sound. His most recent release, Autumn Variations (Fan Living Room Sessions), included 14 live versions of the new songs, recorded in the living rooms of some very lucky fans. It shines in its simplicity, a sound that doesn’t always translate to a festival crowd. But perhaps in 40 years, Ed will be far enough past his prime that he’ll return to his intimate roots. If things really go wrong (or right, depending on who you ask), you might even find him back in an empty pub.

In any case, the caffeine crash began approximately halfway through “Perfect.” We danced in place to “Shape of You,” then swarmed Weeks Bridge, rushing home in anticipation of a long weekend of live music.

// Molly Egan ’26 is a staff writer for Record Hospital.