The Governors Ball Music Festival

Randall's Island / New York City, NY

When parsing the hulking Cerberus that is the Music Festival- with new heads sprouting daily to varying degrees of success- perhaps it’s worth considering the way that individual festivals act as a microcosm of the city in which or near which they take place. Gov Ball, much like New York City, is crowded, expensive, and ain’t always smooth sailing, but it’s a damn good time if you want it to be.
In intrepid, miserly spirit, I opted for the cheapest – hence, most arduous- of the several transportation methods, hauling it up to 125th street on the subway, then hiking about a mile across the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge to get to Randall’s Island. Little did I know, as I cleared the final turn, passing through a graveyard of hastily discarded pregame supplies – vodka and kombucha? Only in New York! – my journey was far from over. Though Action Bronson’s delightfully blue rapping was now within earshot, beckoning me into the fray. Inquiring about will call for press, I was sent around to the “other” entrance, a half-hour detour– under overpasses and along treacherous stretches of sidewalk-less road— that I found out the following day was entirely unnecessary, only to wait another half hour to be told I was waiting in the wrong line to check in as press.

But then, at long last, I was electronic-braceleted, and my anger and sweat evaporated as I strolled onto the grounds to the slightly accented, dulcet indie-pop of Of Monsters And Men, who were wrapping up their set with one of their many, similar sounding mega-hits. After confirming with a bewildered cashier that I could in fact pay with human money for a beer (money can be programmed onto the wristband) I shelled out $13, downed a tall boy of Coors Light, and was off to the races!
 

Father John Misty courtesy of Governors Ball
Father John Misty courtesy of Governors Ball

 
The first full act I caught was Father John Misty, who exuded West Coast cool, and along with the rest of his band, effortlessly managed to pull off a full suit and Arctic explorer levels of facial hair. He opened with his major 2012 single, “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” and then wove through a set that mixed new and old. He also proved himself quite the showman, wiggling and gyrating around the stage, a performance made all the more entertaining thanks to its stark contrast with his textbook hip style.

After a brief but intense tiff with my festival companions, I acquiesced to posting up for Matt and Kim, wiping a tear from my eye and waving goodbye to the stage where Beck would soon perform. The duo has apparently made a complete 180 from the scrappy indie-pop of their early years, opting for an EDM makeover, a transformation officially validated by a cameo from Flosstradamus, who threw a GoPro into the crowd. Head splittingly loud, bassline heavy versions of their hits interspersed with crowd-pleasing samples including “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” and “Umbrella” had the young crowd jumping along. The-lady-doth-protest-too-much vulgarities on Kim’s part about the frequency with which she and Matt have sex made everyone (ok, made me) sufficiently uncomfortable, but even I was not immune to the charm of rainbow balloons and the sunny throwback of their first big hit, “Daylight.”
 

Matt and Kim courtesy of BFA
Matt and Kim courtesy of BFA

 
We caught a quick taste of Bloc Party’s blistering guitar, grabbed some pulled pork from East Village staple Mighty Quinn’s to sustain us for our next big push, and elbowed our way towards the front of the GovBall Stage to await the Strokes. By this point in the evening, the energy was explosive, and the island was mobbed. By the time night fell on both days, even in the main thoroughfare between stages it was impossible to move a foot without bumping into someone. But hey, all the better to make new Fest Pals, right?
 
Julian Casablancas courtesy of Governors Ball
Julian Casablancas courtesy of Governors Ball

 
Tensions rose as the Strokes’ start time came and went by almost half an hour, but as soon as the fog rolled out and the neon lights buzzed on, a crowd of fest goers of all ages collectively lost it, proving that these downtown rockers are still a paragon of the New York City music scene. The nostalgia inducing set included quite a few from 2001’s seminal album, Is This It, though they also shared music from their just dropped EP, Future Present Past, to equally wild cheers.

We squeezed our way out of the throng in the hopes of raving with Robyn for a hit or two, but found her wrapping up her set to a crowd about 1/5 the size of her time slot-mates. But I was still sufficiently impressed by the petite Swedish popstar who was decked out in fringe and hopped around nonstop on massive platforms, wailing on her high notes with unrivaled skill.
 

Robyn courtesy of BFA
Robyn courtesy of BFA

 
We resigned ourselves to rocking out to a few more Strokes tunes in the very back before booking it for the bridge, where I ended my first day of Gov Ball as it began several sweaty hours later, catching the last blasting notes of the Strokes as fireworks exploded over the island.

Saturday started early, Torres kicking off the day clad in all white to match her bleach blonde hair. Her similarly dressed band kept pace with the critical darling, who didn’t disappoint with her throaty, poetic ballads, which leaned a bit more towards fuzzed out grunge in performance as compared to her record, Sprinter, released last year.

Jon Bellion brought full on swagger to his reggae-influenced, sample heavy set, which brought many a tween to hysterics thanks in no small part to the handsome, heavily tattooed Bellion himself, who ended the set by rapping over The Police’s “Roxanne.”

By the time he wrapped up, Albert Hammond, Jr. was taking the stage directly across the way (staggered sets keep the music rolling without any sound interference), blasting the Doors’ cryptic rant, “You cannot petition the lord with prayer!” over the loudspeakers and luring in at least a handful of passersby. Hammond took over, delivering the same, insanely catchy guitar riffs he’s known for in the Strokes. But he’s just as charismatic as Casablancas when given the spotlight, and played a solid pop-rock set to a laidback, mid-day crowd.

Against Me! dominated the smaller Bacardi House Tent, Laura Jane Grace bringing her furious punk sensibility to the stage and delighting everyone with a riotous, speedy cover of the Clash’s “Train In Vain.”
 

Este Haim courtesy of Governors Ball
Este Haim courtesy of Governors Ball

 
Afterwards Haim tore through all of their hits, reminding the audience with their tight, gorgeous harmonies how they rose so quickly to stardom. Eldest sister Este gave a passionate tribute to Prince, covering “I Would Die 4 U” and even reproducing the late singer’s choreography from Purple Rain. And speaking of rain… it began to come down during the set, only as a sprinkle at first, but soon the sky opened up to rain of biblical proportions.

The revelry continued as the rain began to fall harder, and Este stepped out into the deluge in solidarity. But the rain showed no sign of letting up, and flashing back to my recent cameo as a drowned rat at Jazz Fest in New Orleans, I panicked and bee-lined into the crowd to hop on the first bus back to the mainland.

Unfortunately, Sunday morning came on with a downpour, and an early AM announcement that gates were delayed– not to come to the island. Organizers promised an official decision about the fate of day three by 12:30, and at 12:15, the die was cast; Governor’s Ball 2016 was over.

Outraged fans took to Twitter, fans of Kanye West, the evening’s headliner along with Death Cab For Cutie (perhaps Gibbardites took to LiveJournal), voicing the loudest displeasure. Several of the day’s acts found indoor venues to set up shop, including Courtney Barnett, who played a show at Rough Trade, and newly formed supergroup Prophets of Rage (Rage Against the Machine‘s Tom Morello, Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk plus Public Enemy‘s Chuck and DJ Lord and Cypress Hill‘s B-Real), who drew crowds to Greenpoint’s Warsaw.

At the end of the day, Gov Ball is a New York Festival, with New York attendees, and we are nothing if not resilient. As a matter of fact, I’d even argue we like things a little gritty; what’s more New York than finding an excuse to complain? So here’s to bitching and moaning and swapping stories about almost, but not quite seeing Kanye and vowing never to return… Until the lineup for 2017 is revealed, and we forget what it was we got so worked up about. See you next year, Gov Ball.

-Emily Gawlak

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