By Gaelen Morse
BU News Service
Nearly six months after the debut of the Boston Calling music festival’s new location across the Charles River in Allston, Cambridge residents remain concerned that festival organizers will be unable to avoid repeating last year’s noise issues that led to an unbearable three-day weekend for many along Memorial Drive last May.
Despite complaints and meetings, the show is slated to return in 2018 and there’s no easy fix in sight.
The Harvard University athletics complex in Allston, across the Charles River from Harvard Square, was named as the new venue for the festival starting in 2017. Organizers have been successful in drawing world-renowned artists to the Boston area for many years and in doing so, a steady following of concert-goers.
Large area impacted
Hosting the festival at Harvard created uncomfortable noise issues that Cambridge residents claim need to be properly addressed before next May.
“The audio, the power was so strong, that it actually shook the windows,” said Dudley Herschbach, a retired Harvard chemistry professor and Cambridge resident during a phone interview on Oct 8. “We actually had to leave for hours.”
Stoughton resident Deo Mahase, a building maintenance employee for Thayer & Associates Inc., which manages several of the condominiums along Memorial Drive, described constant vibrations throughout the weekend but said he had received no damage reports.
Prior to the festival weekend, flyers were distributed by organizers to homes close to the venue with a hotline number listed for any complaints to be registered. It is unclear how many residents actually received these flyers and neither Harvard Public Affairs nor festival organizers Crash Line Productions replied to multiple requests for comment.
The Cambridge Police Department received over 30 noise complaints through their 911 emergency system alone during the weekend according to Jeremy Warnick, communications director for CPD. He added that several of these complaints were repeat callers. All callers were given the same hotline number by police that organizers had listed on the flyers.
Cambridge police do not have jurisdiction over noise complaints in Allston, but often coordinate with Boston Police on such matters. Noise complaints from residents are common when a music festival is hosted in an urban setting. Cambridge City Council member Jan Devereux, while discussing the amount of complaints during a phone interview, referred to the issue as unprecedented for the city and that there seems to be no easy fix.
A significant area on the Cambridge side of the Charles River was impacted by the noise and for hours on end. Ron French, a Melrose resident and postal worker in Cambridge, recalled being able to hear the concert several blocks away from his route on Memorial Drive.
“It felt like you were really close,” he said.
A fix for 2018?
The issue was addressed during a Sept. 27 Public Safety Committee meeting. Officers from both Cambridge and Harvard police departments as well as officials from the Harvard Public Affairs team spent much of the meeting discussing the problems raised by residents.
The organization running Boston Calling and its public relations representatives met with residents to talk about the problem in a public forum the following Friday. A new team of sound engineers from Austin, Texas, will be working with organizers for the 2018 festival, according to several residents who attended the meeting. However, for many residents, the promise of higher-quality engineering provides little assurance next year will be any different.
“Until the music starts, no one really knows. It’s not something you can test,” Devereux told the Chronicle. “They can’t set up the stage, put 40,000 people on the field to absorb the sound, and turn on the music in March. It’s kind of a leap of faith.”
In addition to residences, Mount Auburn Hospital and the Society of Saint John the Evangelist Monastery sit adjacent to the Charles River. Both locations are expected to be a quiet setting for those who visit and both were impacted by the amount of noise.
Cambridge residents, like Polly Chatfield, who lives next-door to the monastery on Memorial Drive, have urged representatives of the festival and university to continue working on the matter.
“Nobody wants to prevent young people from having fun at the concert,” said Chatfield. “But boy that was hell for three days.”
This article first appeared in the Cambridge Chronicle as part of a collaboration between the Chronicle and the BU News Service.