Notes from the Governors Ball 2018 Festival [RECAP]
The weather may have been all over the map, but this year’s Governors Ball was on point. Now in its 8th year, the powers that be have upgraded and revamped a bunch of stuff to make it one of the best years yet. Check it out.
Staff are always top notch at GovBall, truly the unsung heroes. Their attitudes are unlike any you’d ever run into at a club or a stadium show. They fade into the woodwork, picking up strewn litter without issue, joke with gig goers and point them in the right direction of things with a smile. Gate security was tight, but not tedious, as in years past. In the blistering heat of Saturday’s Japandroids set, security took a few cases of water and punched holes in the caps to spray down the first few rows of the sweaty masses. One security guard even took it upon himself to walk up and down the front row to pour water into the mouths of fans, whether they wanted it or not. Because dehydration is no joke at GovBall – also witnessed by the countless free water fill-up stations.
The amenities at GovBall have increased significantly over the years, but this year was one of the first that we’ve seen multiple full-on retail sponsorship (e.g. American Eagle) as well as business driven activities and charity participation. In addition to the Soberball, there was a tent for Everytown for Gun Safety, as well as new voter registration through Headcount. The festival had its usual mini golf course and token lawn games – we can’t be the only ones who had a hankering to run by giant Jenga and topple the tower, can we?
Also of note, the stages were set up a bit differently in years prior. The tented Bacardi stage was no longer tented, which opened up the center grounds nicely. The tented stage was instead moved to one end of the driving range, and expanded in size. Great improvement.
Charging stations and other technology-driven necessities were definitely exponential compared to prior years. Cell signals are still tough. Maybe the 9th year will be the year of the cell boost towers … or maybe it’ll be the year the kids stop living through the lens and enjoy the show in real time (pro tip: it’s better this way).
It’s always a treat to find the golden stretch of porta potties not defiled in such a way that would make the good lord gag. This year, the tolerable toilets were stationed behind the food trucks on the hill. The rest of them can be best related to the Jeff Goldbloom/Lawyer bathroom scene in Jurassic Park.
Despite the festival crews’ best efforts of intermittent litter cleanup and superfluous trash stations, the ground was a sea of paper plates and what seemed to be a universal poor decision on pizza. Get your shit together, millennials, and put it in the appropriate garbage receptacle. And then get off my lawn.
Dancing is always an aesthetically pleasing spectator sport at festivals, and this year did not disappoint. Whether it was fans whirling around to Cut Copy and Chvrches, or thousands of hands flying in unison to Silk City’s (aka Diplo + Mark Ronson) mesmerizing beats, or raised fists in time with The Gaslight Anthem’s rally cries, there’s something freeing and accepting in witnessing it – devoid of judgement from most. It’s a musical religiosity, maybe. It was really cool to see that this year GovBall didn’t allow signs, flags, selfie sticks, or any other vision inhibiting appendages. It made the viewing experience a thousand times better. During one particular Jack White song, a girl was dancing so fervently with her open cup of booze that she inadvertently sloshed it all over the guy in front of her. Instead of being pissed, the guy turned around in relief and said to his friend, “Oh man, I thought that was vomit. Beer spilled on me is fine, I’m so glad that wasn’t vomit.” And this perspective, ladies and gentlemen, is how you don’t let anything ruin a show.
New Yorkers care about food, there’s no question. Especially when you look at the litany of food trucks and trendy eats scattered throughout the grounds. It’s hard to scratch the surface of the endless tasty treats the festival dishes out, but one thing is certain: the sun clearly wanted nobody to take part in the $9 Van Leeuwen scoop of ice cream – that seems ridiculous, even for festival standards. GovBall has sorted out the beer shortage situation of prior years, too. This time it was cold and plentiful, which is all anyone really wants.
What initially seemed like a decent but not overly exciting lineup, proved to be an awesome showing of talent spanning several genres. Gig goers went mad for Travis Scott, Manchester Orchestra, and of course, 8 Mile’s finest. Here are a handful of highlights that struck the proverbial chord, in no particular order:
- Jack White may look like a serial killer sometimes, but he can go right on killing it with his authentic, bare-bones live performance. It’s always great to hear a straight-up rock show that doesn’t make you glaze over after a few songs. Not to mention he played “We are Going to be Friends” and “Icky Thump.” It was also refreshing to hear “Seven Nation Army” straight from the source, instead of the digitized motivator at every sporting event ever.
- Japandroids make more noise than most bands can conjure in any given set. The Canadian rock duo blitzed through eleven tracks in just under an hour, with a nonstop mosh pit making it rain sweat on everyone within a ten foot radius.
- The Yeah Yeah Yeahs brought the heat with Karen O’s somewhat transfixing, somewhat perplexing stage presence (Was there a need to deep throat the mic twice, Karen?). There was noticeable lag time during her costume changes, but she sang the crowd pleasers (i.e. “Maps,” “Y Control,” “Soft Shock,” “Heads Will Roll”). At one point during the set, Karen also jumped down and walked along the crowd to let everyone leaning on the rails participate in a “woo woo” sing along. Always a generous move.
- Halsey was a spectacle of massive proportions. The entire performance and crowd reaction was the stuff that will be studied in cultural anthropology classes for centuries to come. Girls were singing along in earnest, desperately clutching their phones and lapping up self serving platitudes that Halsey spewed in between songs. Maybe it’s telling that she’s pretty much the only artist who played GovBall without a fan-posted setlist up on Setlist FM yet. She did a full piano driven cover of the Chainsmokers “Closer” with the requisite crowd assistance. Her song choices were undeniably catchy, and stage presence provocative, but to use her lyrics against her, “Baby I done, done enough talking.” Indeed. She waxed poetic about how she was “subheadlining” the festival, which was met with fervent cheers. Yet we feel it important to point out that technically all of the bands on the bill are subheadlining, Halsey, even the ones at the bottom of the list. Ironically, she ended the set with a curt “Thank you, bye,” and quickly walked off stage, leaving fans dazed and confused as to whether it was actually over. Nailed it!
- Though Travis Scott drew crowds of apocalyptic proportions, The Gaslight Anthem was an awesome alternative headliner for Day 2. Fans packed in tight for what would become an epic singalong of the beloved 59 Sound album. They sandwiched the ten year old record between loads of old stuff (ie. “Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?”) and fan favorites (ie. “Handwritten”, “1930”). They blasted through 25 songs in an hour-forty-five, and were as relentless on stage as flailing fans were in the crowd. Lead singer Brian Fallon may not be as energetic as he was ten years ago, but his unbreakable positivity remains contagious. The best part of the set was the perfectly timed downpour during “The Patient Ferris Wheel,” of which the chorus is “I never felt so strange standin’ in the poundin’ rain.” This brought a huge smile to Fallon’s face, and only encouraged fans to go even more all in, rain, mud – no matter – overheated fans were soaked and happily singing their heads off. You can’t really get a better memory than that, as far as shows go. Rain at festivals is a pain in the ass, but also kind of awesome.
This only scratches the surface of what GovBall is all about. There are plenty of nuances scattered throughout the festival that are nearly impossible to put into words. But people-watch at this festival for five minutes and you’ll see them – those little moments down the rabbit hole filled with magic. It’s these reveries that will help tide you over ’til next year.