An Interview with Boston Calling Co-Founder Brian Appel

Yardfest Tyler the Creator
Tyler the Creator performs at Boston Calling 2018.

Brian Appel is the co-founder of Boston Calling, an annual music festival hosted at the Harvard Athletic Complex in Allston. With this year’s festival approaching in May, Appel sat down with The Harvard Crimson to talk about what makes Boston Calling distinctive and what audiences can expect from this year’s performers.

The Harvard Crimson: What were you hoping Boston Calling would be when you helped to start it in 2013?

Brian Appel: We wanted to produce an event that was world-class caliber with the best production possible for the stages — light, sound, and everything else — so that we would attract the best artists in the world, and run it so that attendees had a fantastic experience.

THC: What ties all of the acts that you have together?


BA: Over the last 10 festivals, we’ve booked really diverse line ups, so you’ve got a lot of hip hop, a lot of indie rock, DJs, rock and roll bands, comedians, even podcasts. If I had to say there’s one common thread, it’s artists that tend to be incredible live performers. We try to book acts that, obviously, have a built-in fan base of people that love them and want to see them but also that, for attendees that come to the festival and may not have heard of them, will also put on a great show and maybe win over a bunch of new fans.

THC: How do the three headliners this year fit in to that description?

BA: Our thinking for this year is that we’re really focused on booking headliner acts that put on big, exciting, eye-catching shows. We’ve had two of the three acts before. We had Tame Impala back in 2015, and their careers were ascendant at that time. They haven’t been back to Boston since that show, so when we had the opportunity to bring them back to headline this year, we thought that that was a great fit for what we were trying to do. We also had Twenty One Pilots in 2014, and they were a middle-of-the-afternoon band for us. I remember watching them and thinking, " Man these guys are electrified on stage, and their fan base is so ravenous." They’re in the stratosphere in terms of how big they got in the past few years, so we were thrilled to bring them back. And Travis Scott, whom we’ve never had the privilege of bringing before, had such a huge year with his arena tour and his Super Bowl performance. All of the excitement around him and his live show is one of the best in the world. So we think that is the thread of all three headliners — just incredibly captivating live shows.

THC: How has the festival changed over the time that you’ve been involved?

BA: I would say the biggest change occurred in 2017 when we moved off of our original home on City Hall Plaza, which was a two-stage primarily focused on music, over to Harvard’s Athletic Complex where we gained three times the amount of square footage. We were able to add an additional outdoor stage, as well as an indoor arena where we could do alternative programming like podcasts and comedy.

THC: What are the challenges of running an event like this?

BA: It’s a big event, and most people that come only interact with the public-facing side of it. But really, there are so many moving parts to this, like the production and building of what is essentially a city. We have our own power grid that we have to build and we have to work with city departments for health and safety. We’ve got an amazing team that pulls it all together, but there are many moving parts for an event of this scale that the public never gets see to make sure that when they walk through the door everything is running perfectly.

THC: With acts as diverse as rap, comedy, and even a performance from the Boston ballet, who would you say Boston Calling is for?

BA: The people that we find that have the best experience at Boston Calling are the ones who look at the lineup poster and say, “Awesome, I’m a big fan of anywhere between three and six of these bands, and I’m gonna go, and I’m gonna get there early, and I’m gonna see all the stuff that’s out there.” Because one of the things that’s happened over the years is that a lot of the bands that we’ve had early in the day have gone on to be superstars. We had Halsey in 2015, and she was the first act that performed on one of the days and now she’s a headliner and internationally renowned.

THC: What are you most excited for in this year’s festival?

BA: I think the Boston Ballet is going to be a really great addition to the festival. I think lots of people that are coming have never had an opportunity to see the ballet, so this will be a great chance for them to get exposure to another type of the performing arts. And, like I said earlier, I think all of our headliners are incredible performers, so I’m currently looking forward to all three of those shows.

— Staff writer Joy C. Ashford can be reached at

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.