Behind the scenes of Boston's biggest music festival

Mike Snow explains the process of creating what no one else dared to do

By Charlie Weinmann
On April 25, 2014

The idea of landing two giant stages in the middle of downtown plaza may have seemed slightly far-fetched to Bostonians. Mike Snow didn't think so. In the past year Boston Calling has become a 'must see' on the list of popular music festivals nation-wide. The festival will rock the North End for a third time May 23 through the 25.

Building a brand in the music industry is no easy task. The rise of music festivals around the country has solidified a demand for live music and, indeed, many of the major U.S.  cities have their own festival. Yet Boston had somehow remained out of the circuit. An opportunity was waiting to be taken advantage of, and a University of New Hampshire graduate was ready to make a move. 

Snow graduated from UNH in 2003 with a degree in communications. As a member of the UNH marching band, as well as WUNH, the university's student-run radio station, Snow was an active member of the musical community on campus. 

"My main focus was to be on the radio," Snow said. 

After graduating, Snow began his radio career at WFNX, an alternative radio station in Boston, Mass. He spent the next nine years planning events for the station; spending long hours going through the details of various radio events. 

"It was always a big rush," Snow said, recalling the feeling of planning his first big events. "Hundreds of people enjoying their favorite band - [and thinking,] I was able to put this on. It's a rewarding experience. I got to see all these people having such a great time at our events."

He remembers the struggle of renting out VFW halls and church basements in the late 90s for events he planned earlier in his career. 

Nine years at WFNX provided Snow with lots of time for thinking. Eventually, he decided that it was time to move on to something bigger and better. 

"It was extremely difficult to leave the station," Snow said. "Everybody has parents - 'is this the decision you want to make?' We had a great team put together operationally [for Boston Calling] but it was a leap."

That leap has since paid off. After leaving the comfort of his job in radio, he teamed up with colleague, Brian Appel, to create what would become Boston's first major music festival. 

Together, Snow and Appel founded Crashline Productions, an event management business based in Boston. Crashline Productions is responsible for the city's new music festival, along with smaller events, such as outdoor 500 person block parties. 

Now with two very successful Boston Callings under their belt, Snow and Appel are gearing up for number three, which will happen May 23 through 25 of 2014. 

Originally, Boston Calling's debut had no mention of it ever happening again, but Snow was well prepared and already thinking about the future. He and Appel had envisioned at least a five-year plan before the first festival even happened. In other words, they saw Boston Calling as a long-term, and even permanent attribute to Boston's appeal. 

"This is doable, this is going to work," Snow said, explaining his thought process of pre-festival planning. "It was easier to see the response of the first festival, and then roll out the rest of the festival dates. We are extremely humbled to say this was our idea." 

When asked if we could expect anything new at Boston Calling number three, Snow's philosophy for the time being is 'if it isn't broken don't fix it.' Other than adjusting layouts to make amenities more accessible for the audience, fans can expect the same great quality festival they have now come to know. 

Although much of the festival's success is attributed to Snow and Appel, they did not work alone. Aaron Dessner, guitarist for the widely acclaimed indie rock band, The National, was instrumental in curating the festival's lineup. 

"Aaron was a mutual friend," Snow said. "He had done some work in New York City with festivals, and I think he has a great ear to the ground for up and coming bands. Having someone like Aaron who can look at ten bands in a row, and can understand how an audience will react to them is really great." 

Rolling Stone quoted Dessner in an article written about the first Boston Calling in May of 2013:

"It's a fantastic mix of people, and if there's a thread that runs through it, it's song craft," Dessner said. 

Dessner chooses to be involved with festivals that feature great songwriting and musicianship .

"[Boston Calling] is a great mix of underground and very much not-so-underground music," Dessner said. 

By the second Boston Calling, Snow and Appel had come up with a few new ideas to add to allure of the show. Sonicbids is an online resume style platform for unsigned artists and musicians. The idea is, that for a membership fee, artists are able to literally search and submit their electronic press kit to festivals and smaller events, then wait to be selected to play by the managers of said event. 

Snow decided that using Sonicbids for Boston Calling would be and interesting way to choose one of the acts. 

"I like their platform," Snow said. "As an artist your getting good connections all in one spot. These [Sonicbids] artists earned that slot at [Boston Calling.]"

Snow has a positive insight on the future of Boston Calling, and rightfully so. The first two festivals were major successes, packing downtown plaza from end to end with happy fans. Nate Ruess, lead singer of the band FUN, even said that it was his favorite show he had played to date. 

"Boston is a city that leaves a mark on so many people," Snow said. "People come here and have good experiences; their ears kind of perk up ... agents took a chance on our festival, and we are thankful that the festival has stood up to expectations."


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