It’s finally here! That was the thought on everyone’s mind as the inaugural Outside The Box festival opened yesterday on the Boston Common. The excitement was palpable – production crews hustled from stage to stage, artist check-in moved briskly, and despite the slightly overcast morning, families flooded the Park Street Stage for the first performance of the fest, the Boston Children’s Chorus.
Fresh off a trip to Cambodia and Vietnam, where they sang for local orphanages in their mission to use music as social change, the Chorus took to the stage with a moving version of “Buses Are A’Comin’.” The Freedom Rider song originally created in a Jackson, Mississippi jail rang out strong, drawing curious bystanders to a growing crowd on the lawn. Season 6 American Idol finalist Melinda Doolittle later joined the Chorus onstage for a few songs, including a version of U2’s “Pride (In the Name of Love)”, and it seemed the perfect start to the perfect day.
Australia’s Strange Fruit continued the magic on the Common, performing atop their 15-foot high flexible poles, swaying like a field of grass in the wind and eliciting gasps from the gathered crowd with dramatic swoops towards the ground. Alejandro Escovedo was next on the Beacon Stage, entering to the strains of George Jones. Escovedo got his start as the co-founder of cult-favorite San Francisco punk rock group The Nuns in the 1970s, but is now a long-established fixture in the Americana scene, with No Depression naming him Artist of the Decade in 1998. Currently on tour with Los Lonely Boys and Los Lobos (both would take the stage later), Escovedo delivered a set of classics like “Tender Heart” and Neil Young’s “Like A Hurricane”, and dedicated “Sensitive Boy” to the city of Boston.
The Boston Gay Men’s Chorus brought the sunshine to the Park Street Stage with hits from their recent show Divas Unleashed! – or, to quote the Chorus, “songs sung by great ladies that gay men love to listen to.” Versions of Judy Garland and Cher tunes had the crowd singing along, and classics from Les Misérables and Bond films brought down the house – er, rather, the lawn!
Los Lonely Boys’ “jam-heavy blues rock” (Boston Globe) set on the Beacon Stage wouldn’t be complete without their hit “Heaven”; a mash up of tunes like “Billie Jean” and “Sunshine of My Love” kept the crowd dancing along. They were immediately followed by tour mates Los Lobos, who, in the spirit of Outside The Box, brought Los Lonely Boys, Alejandro Escovedo, and Boston’s Barrence Whitfield onstage for songs like “Don’t Worry Baby”, “Rebel Kind”, and “Georgia Slop.” And what Los Lobos set would be complete without a rousing version of “La Bamba”?
While the grown-ups were rocking out, kid-friendly performances like the roving Freedom Trail Foundation Scholars Program, the Boston Children’s Museum Centennial Cake, Knucklebones, Soul Works Rhythm and Jest In Time Circus (just to name a few) were taking place over in the Squirrel’s Den and the Lily Pad. Canada’s BAM Percussion hit the Park Street Stage speaking their unique “BAMspeech” language and engaging kids and parents by doing what most kids love to do: banging on things (in this case, drums). Our founder Ted Cutler was even spotted in the audience!
As dusk fell, the line started to form at the entrance to the American Repertory Theater’s Spiegeltent for GAGA: The Musical. The honest, over the top, campy, and heartbreaking musical told the story of – who else? – Lady Gaga, with performer Page Axelson belting out all the hits while Little Monsters sang along. In the Gaga spirit of “be yourself”, an impromptu dance off even broke out during intermission! The Spiegeltent is really the place to be when you’re ready to let loose, as AcousticaElectronica’s outrageous interactive circus-dance performance proved later on that evening. Something to keep in mind when it comes to the Spiegeltent – there IS limited capacity for the most cutting-edge, interactive performances at Outside The Box, so you might want to plan on showing up about a half hour before performance time to make sure you can get in.
If low-key Americana rock bands are more your thing, Tallahassee had exactly what you needed, with a set of tunes that harkened back to the good ol’ days of straightforward rock n’roll. Except back in the good ol’ days, former New England Patriot players like Brian Barthelmes rarely fronted bands.
Day one came to an end with Rhythm of the Universe’s massive opening ceremony performance. The 80-minute, 150-piece ensemble was one of the biggest outdoor productions to ever take place in Boston. With artists representing over 30 countries and cultures, ROTU embodied the spirit of Outside The Box, uniting people from all over the world simply through the language of performing arts. Closing the ceremony was an all-in medley of hits like “Hallelujah”, “Bohemian Rhapsody”, a hard-rocking version of “Hey Ya”, ‘70s classic “Rapper’s Delight”, and “True Colors”, sending a message of love and healing to Boston. An audience member put it best when she said, “This is life changing.”
Join us today for another full day of performances that promise to be just as life changing for everyone. See you on the Common!