Words by Al Mannarino, Photos by Mike DelaPaz
My first music festival experience was almost my last when I attended The Governors Ball Music Festival at Randall’s Island. I was excited to see some of my favorite artists all together over three great days in New York. The first day of the festival wasn’t the best way to start the weekend. It had been raining all day, and the island had turned into one large pit of mud. While watching Young the Giant’s set at the HondaStage (in what could only be described as monsoon like conditions) I vowed to myself that if I actually survived, I would never put myself through another festival again. It turns out my love of music will always conquer my need to survive, which leads me to my review of this years Governors Ball.
Unfortunately we were only able to cover Saturday and Sunday this year, but both days were jam packed with amazing weather, incredible artists, and once in a lifetime moments.
After the previous fiasco, I really wanted everything this time around to be different. Last year we chose to take the Ferry from Manhattan. The lines were long, and that Friday it felt like we were riding through The Perfect Storm. This year I opted to try the Brooklyn shuttle this time around. The shuttles departed from the Brooklyn Bowl, one of BK’s most famous of venues. Located directly next to the Brooklyn Brewery, the Brooklyn Bowl was not only the place to go to take the shuttle, but it was also the location of many of The Governors Ball’s official after parties. The shuttle was definitely the best mode of transportation to get to the island. There was never a line for the shuttle getting to the island, and the line on the way back was much quicker than the Ferry. If you live in the city, I suggest you try the Brooklyn shuttle next year.
When I arrived at the festival I noticed that not much has changed. The four stages were stretched out across Randall’s Island and the people behind the festival made sure there were plenty of other attractions to occupy three days of fun. There were photo booths, lawn games, and even a silent disco. They also had a wide selection of famous New York food vendors in designated areas around the festival grounds. The most notable change to the festival was the inclusion of Paypal as a sponsor. Attendees who used the Paypal mobile app at select vendors were able to get $5 off their first order. This was a great idea in theory. Festival food could get very expensive and any sort of discount is helpful. The only downside to this plan was the cell phone service at the festival was pretty dismal at times. Thousands of people trying to text, tweet, and share selfies at the same time really makes trying to check in on an app impossible. The service caused long lines and some vendors resorted to stop accepting the app, hopefully next year they can get a wireless company to sponsor the event, which will make it easier for fans to access the internet.
Saturday started off with beautiful weather and a very small amount of people. I was able to get to the Gov Ball NYC stage to see Hunter Hunted, the first band to play that day. With only a six song EP to their name, they have already attracted a big following due in part to their unique sound and also some successful tour’s supporting acts such as Twenty One Pilots and Weezer. They mostly played songs from the EP and a new song called “Ghosts,” that will be on their debut album. The highlight of their set was an unexpected, but welcoming cover of “Where is My Mind” by the Pixies. Needless to say the day started of strong.
I made my way over to the Big Apple Stage to catch Diarrhea Planet’s Gov Ball debut. Don’t let the name fool you, these Nashville natives really know how to entertain a crowd. Pop-Break was able to speak to the band before they played the sold-out festival and they mention being on a bigger stage means a wilder show. Being one of the heavier bands playing the festival, they did not disappoint. I left the Big Apple Stage and made my way back to press/media tent to interview Fitz and the Tantrums before they took they took over the same stage at 3:45.
After the interview I made my way back to the Big Apple Stage, which was where I spent a majority of my time two days at the festival. I went to see Tanlines, the electronic indie rock band from Brooklyn received a very large crowd and great energy from their fellow New Yorkers. They played songs from their debut album, Mixed Emotions, including “S.A.W.” and “Real Life.” I stayed after their set to get closer to the band I just had the great pleasure in meeting. They are one of the coolest bands around that find a great mix between retro sounds reminiscent of 60’s Motown and alterative indie rock. They are Fitz and the Tantrums, and they were the first band during our time at the festival thus far that truly started a full on party. Blasting out current hits such as “Break the Walls” and “The Walker,” Fitz and the Tantrums dominated the Big Apple Stage, with bombastic drums, amazing saxophone, and two energetic singers. The music was so great it had the security guard standing on the guard rail making the crowd clap. That’s when you know a band is phenomenal live, when they get the security guard’s involved in a positive way. Their set included a great cover of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This) by Eurythmics and they closed with fan favorite, “Moneygrabber,” off their first album, Pickin’ Up The Pieces. Overall their set was one of the highlights of festival, and being a part of that crowd was an absolute blast.
I made my way back to the GovBallNYC stage to catch one of my favorite bands, Broken Bells. The project started by James Mercer of The Shins and Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse) just released their second album, After the Disco, in February. They were the first band I saw that day that had an actual set design, which featured white instruments, crazy looking lights, and a computer animated video that played on the jumbotrons. They were also welcomed by a big crowd made up of mostly fans of the indie rock band, and people trying to get as close as humanly possible to see the return of The Strokes who were set to play two hours later at 6:45pm. Broken Bells played a great set, playing a mix of songs from both their studio albums. I initially worried about seeing them anywhere else besides an indoor venue. I didn’t think their show would translate well to an outdoor stage, especially in the middle of the day. I must have forgotten how incredible Mercer and Burton are when they play together, and it didn’t matter if it was indoor or outdoor, you were listening to great music regardless.
My biggest regrets of the entire weekend were not catching performances from The Naked and Famous or Childish Gambino. The only way I was able to justify not seeing those two of my favorite acts was because I didn’t think I was ever going to see The Strokes again in my lifetime. I know that seems a little rash, but could you blame me? Before a few weeks ago the band hadn’t played together in three years. Last year they released their fifth studio album, Comedown Machine, but had not played in US in what seemed like forever. There was an entire sea of people waiting eagerly to see the return of the famous New York City rock band. They would take the stage fifteen minutes later than scheduled, but it didn’t matter. The Strokes were back! Their impressive eighteen song set that played like a “best of” compilation album. Julian Casablancas and company played hits like “12:51,” “Heart In A Cage,” and “Last Night.” Along with newer songs such as “Machu Picchu,” from Angles, and “Welcome to Japan” off Comedown Machine. The crowd started from the stage and made its way all the way back to the Gotham Tent. Many of the people I spoke with bought tickets to the festival just to see The Strokes play. You would think that they would be the headliner that day, but it would be another rock icon that would end that very crowded Saturday. The Strokes ended their set with the “New York City Cops,” which was also the first encore of the day.
The Strokes had rocked The Governors Ball, but the day was not over yet. I went to see Sleigh Bells at the Gotham Tent, who had a huge crowd despite another notable band, Spoon, playing at the same time. Sleigh Bells are notorious for putting on an intense and electrifying live show and were even voted one of Rolling Stones “50 Greatest Live Acts Right Now.” Their set at The Governors Ball was no different. Sleigh Bells tore the roof off the Gotham Tent with lead singer Alexis Krauss commanding the stage and Derek Miller shredding on his guitar. It was hard to leave the Gotham Tent, but I have never seen Spoon before and I made sure I caught at least the end of their set. Spoon were performing at the Big Apple Stage, where most of my favorite musicians were stationed throughout the two days I was there. They played some new tracks from their upcoming album, They Want My Soul, which drops June 14. They also went into their impressive catalog of tracks and broke out hits such as “The Underdog” and “Got Nuffin.” Both Spoon and Sleigh Bells were a great warm up for the final act of the night.
He is one of the biggest names in music. Has started three successful bands including The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather. He has also just released his second solo album entitled Lazaretto. The man I speak of is the incredibly talented, and equally odd, Jack White. While Skrillex began to spin (or whatever he does) on the Honda Stage, Mr. White was closing the night on the GovBallNYC Stage. He would go on to play some tracks from the new album including “High Ball Stepper,” and “Lazaretto.” He even played a few songs from The Raconteurs, like “Steady As She Goes,” and “Top Yourself.” These were all great to hear live, but the real reason there was such a huge crowd for Jack White was because of The White Stripes, the band that put him on the map. He played a whopping seven White Stripes songs including an alternative version of “We’re Going to Be Friends.” He even closed with their biggest hit and overall anthem, “Seven Nation Army.” It was a perfect way to end an amazing first day at The Governors Ball.