Photos by JN Silva, Nicole Fara, Roho Photo, Aaron Rickets and Jerm Cohen
As I stand in line for the X80 bus that runs from Harlem to Randalls Island, I notice something distinctly different about the crowd that has formed. Foreign accents and questions only tourists would ask permeate the space. It’s then that I realize, The Governors Ball is bigger than us (and by us, I mean New Yorkers).
I attended the very first Governors Ball in 2010 when it was a single day event and the name actually made sense (it was held on Governors Island). Glitch hop innovator Pretty Lights headlined that night, playing to an enthusiastic, yet modest crowd. Today, The Governors Ball Music Festival has evolved into a three-day celebration of music, arts and local culture. While it’s not the most unique party in town, it is one of the most well organized. That’s why it’s quickly become one of the nation’s most sought after tickets, bringing fans from around the world to our great city and to the lesser frequented island that sits nestled between Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx.
So with so many events coming and going, why is Gov Ball NYC still standing strong? Here are five reasons why this homespun festival still rocks almost a decade later.
1.) The diverse lineup never disappoints. – This year’s festival brought an impressive roster of talent including headliners Jack White, Travis Scott and Eminem. I wouldn’t call these bookings rare, but I would say they are highly appealing. They embrace a far reaching fan base that still turns up for the legends. While I was a bit floored to see the modest crowds that had collected for scene staples like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Cut / Copy, I had to remind myself that I am now part of the older regime. Hip-hop acts like Post Malone and 2 Chainz and live electronic trio, The Glitch Mob, proved that dope beats and flashy stage designs are keeping festival newcomers engaged.
2.) It’s comfy. – One thing Gov Ball has done exceptionally well is build upon their sponsorships, and with that have come conveniences that are hard to find at smaller DIY festivals. My name is Megan Venzin, and I’m a La Croix-aholic. Lucky for me, I could get my carbonation fix any time I needed at the Fizz Lounge located just outside the American Eagle Stage. The Best Kept Secret lived up to the hype thanks to the Tito’s Vodka activation which featured craft cocktails and an air-conditioned streamliner perfect for chilling with friends. Bacardi Bay‘s sweet set-up next to the sponsored stage brought Gov Ball Punch to thirsty guests, served straight out of fresh coconuts. Their hammock filled backyard and DJ decks gave use plenty of reasons to hang out and wait for surprise visits from local artists. Governors Ball wants you to feel like you’re on vacation, and this year they really put an emphasis on chillin’ out!
3.) There’s always a showstopper. – And this year, the award for jaw dropping performance goes to Silk City. You might not recognize the moniker, but you know the men behind EDM’s newest supergroup. Mad Decent label head Diplo and UK funk and pop-producer, Mark Ronson, debuted their collaborative act on Saturday night. Between new edits of original productions like Uptown Funk, Valerie and many more, the dynamic duo unleashed a series of new singles including what’s sure to be the song of the summer, Only Can Get Better. And after this showing I can attest, these two mean it. Gov Ball NYC has become a hot event for artists to try out the new digs, and this set was among the best of the fest.
4.) The production is on point. – The stages might be encrusted in brand names, but don’t let them deter you from enjoying the magic that takes place there. For the first time, I feel like Gov Ball has effectively squashed their sound bleed issue. I’m going to attribute this success to the introduction of the American Eagle Stage, a huge dome-shaped tent, which kept booming bass from finding it’s way to the Honda Stage across the field. The eye catching art installations and oversized field games make this a festival worth exploring and a perfect playground in which to share an afternoon with friends.
5.) It still feels like home. – Even though the event has gone on to garner international attention, there are still plenty of elements that make it scream NYC from the local vendors (Korilla, Cool Haus and Ramen Burger, I’m looking at you) to the familiar faces who add special touches. Over the years the infamous balloon chain has grown to incorporate several strings of floating decorations. If you’re lucky enough to find the end of one of these rainbows, you’ll be happy to meet some of the New York music scene’s MVPs. Those who frequented Webster Hall as much as I did in its heyday have undoubtedly met Rawb Lane, a man who I lovingly refer to as the “Willy Wonka of Raving”. He’s no longer performing crazy bar tricks in the Bassment, but he was manning one of these chains and was genuinely thrilled to hand off the grips so more Ballers could become part of the longstanding tradition.
It’s been real, Gov Ball NYC. We’ll see you next year, and the year after that and the year after that!