Recap: Lessons Learned at the Governors Ball 2014

Posted on: June 9th, 2014 at 10:00 am by
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Governors Ball – the name suggests something highbrow, right? Something grand. Something out of a Sofia Coppola film. Beautiful people, costumed in elaborate fashions, indulging in the finest delights, and twirling the night away to extravagant music. Not that far off.

The Governors Ball Music Festival is a spectacle to partake. It’s a three-day migration from Neverland New York, down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. It’s bursting with fantastical excess, musical transcendence that’s nonexistent in a typical concert setting, and an unspoken acceptance of expression. But it’s also not without its Jabberwocky.

Atmosphere

The weather couldn’t have been more perfect – clouds peppered a brilliantly blue sky, and the relentless sun warmed the plush green grass and reddened an impressive number of bare shoulders that turned up for the event. Festival air ran rampant, mixing the beachy tropics of spf 50 with perpetual puffs of herbal sweetness, and dank earth from mud puddles that had yet to dry up from rains earlier in the week. The festival grounds were fairly spacious, yet contained. Thumping bass and bouncing vocals could be heard all over Randall’s Island. There was a buzzing sense of anticipation on Day 1, while Day 2 felt a little more chilled out… presumably from all of the hangovers.

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Attendees

There were two fairly obvious types of people in attendance; the music fan and the festival fan. The music fan has a slightly pained look on their face the whole day – the stress of choosing between bands when sets overlap or run alongside one another, deciding to see a band they’ve seen over someone they’ve never heard of, worrying if they are getting their $250 worth, so jam-packing each day’s schedule. They break only to hit the Port-a-Potties, or to slap sunscreen on their pasty selves, or to scarf an Asia Dog, or to briefly sit down because no one ever tells you how much Chucks hurt after standing for seven hours straight. They are constantly maneuvering around 70% of the clumsy, unaware attendees who are… festival fans.

Festival fans enjoy the music, but they aren’t committed to any particular band, or schedule, or anything other than dancing. Most of the time this is a non-issue, except when you’re sandwiched with ten thousand Strokes fans, dancing to “Reptilia” and they loudly express to their entourage that they need to find CeeCee, she must be around somewhere, when did you last see her? I saw her awhile ago at the Flower Garland tent, looking for her Ray Bans she dropped, I cannot believe she is missing this! When are they going to play “Last Nite”? Festival fans have one hell of a time, though, because for them it’s three days of shirking any and all responsibility; it’s mostly drinking, debauchery, and disposable income.

Music

The amazing thing about seeing bands perform at festivals is how they adapt to festival culture. Not only do they get to play to potential fans who have no idea who they are, but they can also capitalize on this and play their best stuff, without worrying about filling a “play X new songs” quota. On the flip side, what may seem gimmicky in a club setting, they can get away with at a festival and it’s cool.  Why not perform a cover of TLC’s “No Scrubs,” but take it a step further and sing it to the XX’s “Angels” like Bastille did? Or be like Diarrhea Planet and shoutout Outkast with a “Hey Ya” interlude in their set’s last song?

Bands also seem to be more lax in their stage presence, which is enjoyable. A crowd enduring ten hours of music needs quality banter to survive such a musical onslaught. TV on the Radio brought their A-game to Randall’s Island. They played “Wolf Like Me” halfway through their set, which subsequently sifted out the festival fans from music fans. We say their loss, as Tunde Adebimpe and Co. kicked it into overdrive for the remainder of their set, full of soul and charged with fury. It was truly transformative, and set the bar high. Tunde spoke to the crowd after playing a new track that had fans in a frenzy, and agreed, “That was fun as shit. And fun as shit to play. Thanks for being here to hear it. If you can’t dance, you can just go up and down. If you believe in it, it’s the sweetest thing ever.”

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The Strokes put on some weight

Even The Strokes and their sometimes goofy, sometimes apathetic stage presence was great fun to witness. Between songs, Julian Casablancas mosied over to drummer Fabrizio Moretti and cracked some joke that no one understood, then said, “Sorry, I’m sharing an inside joke between us two. And it’s not even funny to us. I don’t know why you (Moretti) don’t ignore my ramblings. Just… attack!” pointing his mic stand to the crowd. This was a very different persona from Casablancas’ solo set with The Voidz, which proved to be a political rampage that left us with the certainty that he does not give a shit. RocknRolla.

While it was damn near impossible to understand a word out of black metal band Deafheaven (we did make out “suffer” a few times), lead screamer George Clark had a paralyzing stage presence. He forcefully engaged fans with frenetic arm motions, piercing eyes, and proselytizing body language – when he flung his body into the crowd, they not only held him up, but adoring acolytes trampled one another just to touch his black shirt.

It’s also worth noting that the guitarist from Diarrhea Planet pulled an Eddie Vedder and climbed the stage rafter with his guitar, hooked his legs around the pipes, and finished off the crowd with some choice chords. He was a golden god!

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