Before attending Governors Ball Music Festival in New York City on the weekend of June 1, I considered myself a certified live music pro. I discovered my infatuation with concerts at the impressionable age of 15 when I attended a raucous, sold-out Arctic Monkeys gig at the bare-bones Stage AE venue in my home city of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and I have since attended dozens of shows, from indie singers at dive bars to world-famous bands at stadium arenas. Yet despite my vast concert portfolio, I had never attended a music festival—not due to lack of interest, but rather their egregiously high ticket prices and scarcity near my hometown. I therefore did not know what to expect from Gov Ball, but I assumed that my love of live music and New York would make the weekend worthwhile, at the very least.
The city’s grimy festival was certainly exhilarating—the performances I witnessed on May 31 and June 1 were packed with musicianship, charisma and dynamism, ranging from Lil Wayne’s surprisingly delightful rendition of throwback tracks “The Motto” and “A Milli” to up-and-coming R&B singer Ravyn Lanae’s smooth and captivating serenading. Unfortunately, I found that attending a string of stellar shows back-to-back quickly strips away the magical, childlike excitement that typically overtakes me when seeing my favorite artists. The average age at the festival seemed to be around 16 or 17, and I experienced the novelty of wishing that I was a few years younger. Perhaps my teenage self would have been able to sustain more energy throughout a three day long, multi-stage festival, but on Sunday, I felt so exhausted that the weather-induced cancelations of SZA and The Strokes’ performances brought both disappointment and relief.
The sudden cancellation was a hectic conclusion to a stressful weekend. Part of the chaos was admittedly my fault—I hastily bought a bus ticket a day before the festival began and narrowly secured lodging plans. I arrived in New York Friday morning, and my poorly thought-out travel schedule resulted in me sleeping through Mitski’s set, which put an early damper on the weekend. In retrospect, I am unsure if Mitski’s intimate and harrowing songwriting would have fared well in a festival setting, and I look forward to finally seeing her in a more suitable venue in the future. The rap-heavy evening lineup of BROCKHAMPTON, Lil Wayne and Tyler, the Creator, however, seemed to benefit from the large crowds, most notably during the festival-wide sing-alongs of BROCKHAMPTON’s “SWEET” and “BLEACH.” The electrifying intensity of BROCKHAMPTON and Lil Wayne’s shows unfortunately led me to feel a bit bored by Tyler, the Creator’s headlining performance. Perhaps it was due to the slower cadence of his new album “IGOR,” but I quickly felt burnt out after Tyler took the stage and wound up leaving his set early.
My impromptu nap also resulted in me being alone for most of the evening. I had planned to meet up with fellow Arts reporter Delila Ames ’22 on Friday, but arrived two hours later than I intended. A crowd of 150,000 makes it nearly impossible to find people, so I quickly accepted being on my own the rest of the night. I enjoy doing most things by myself, but music festivals are one activity I suspect would be infinitely better with company.
Delila’s work schedule required her to leave shortly after we interviewed U.K hip-hop/R&B group Easy Life the next day, which meant that I was alone most of Saturday as well; thankfully, this felt less daunting due to the day’s comparatively relaxed lineup. Kacey Musgraves was a sparkling highlight of the weekend, and the ardent crowd’s energy emanated tranquility and warmth. Musgraves also emphasized her set’s correspondence with the first day of Pride month throughout her performance. The audience was a sea of rainbow flags by the time she concluded her set with “High Horse,” which felt like a joyous celebration of queer solidarity and community.
Saturday also saw invigorating sets from Vince Staples, King Princess and Lord Huron. I almost left before Florence + the Machine’s performance, but they proved to be an unexpectedly thrilling closer. I had not listened to the band in years, but Florence Welsh’s stage presence was luminous; she leapt and twirled and howled throughout every song. Of course, due to Sunday’s cancellation, the group served as the de facto closer for the entire weekend.
New York City’s weather was pristine throughout the daytime on Sunday, yet the Gov Ball organizers chose to push all performances to the evening—precisely when it was supposed to begin storming. Surely enough, minutes after I arrived around 8 p.m. in the midst of a forceful thunderstorm, Gov Ball announced that the rest of the evening would be cancelled and called for a swift evacuation of the island, which was horrendously executed. Gov Ball did little to help the tens of thousands of people attempting to flee the festival as they slogged through ankle-deep mud under tempestuous wind and rain. To make matters worse, Gov Ball security guards were caught on camera beating festival-goers trying to exit (‘It’s A Disaster’: Chaos Reigned At Gov Ball Sunday Night As Attendees Fled Big Storms,” Gothamist, 06.03.2019). I luckily escaped the brunt of the crowd, but I still found myself seeking shelter under a metal overhead, surrounded by a quickly accumulating, disturbingly apocalyptic mob of attendees sobbing and panicking about returning home safely.
As disappointing as it felt to miss the extraordinary opportunity to see The Strokes live, I can confidently say that two days was more than enough of Gov Ball’s madness. Perhaps it’s due to my old age, but I was relieved when the storm slowed and I could spend the remainder of the evening walking the streets of the city with a friend, away from Randall’s Island’s sea of muddy litter, teenagers and overpriced food.
Image courtesy of Aneil Lutchman via Flickr.