Last month, I was privileged enough to attend one of my favorite festivals as a photographer; The 9th Annual Governors Ball at Randall’s Island Park, NYC. Among my group of friends, the winters are often spent reminiscing about (and planning) what the summer month’s festival season has in store for us. The group is full of mostly EDM fans, and the Governors Ball (or GOV BALL as it is often called in short) is not exactly at the top of their lists since the artist rosters are full of a diverse number of musical acts of popular genres (including EDM) which is nonsensical in reference to their claims to listen to a wide variety of artists. However, what they did and not know is that GOV BALL has quite a lot to offer; especially to those whom when asked “what do you listen to,” respond with the famous (or infamous) one-word answer “everything.”
My logical conclusion for this conundrum is that unlike me, none of my friends had ever attended GOV BALL before and would regrettably not feel the same sense of FOMO that I would have had had I not been in attendance. The Governors Ball has steadily grown in popularity since its inception less than a decade ago and is now becoming a household name in the likes of festivals as Lalapalooza, Bonnaroo, and Coachella. Keep in mind that The Governors Ball was listed as No. 4 on Harper’s Bazaar’s list of “The Best Summer Music Festivals of 2019.” Post this years festival, those from my friend group that heeded my advice and came with me are now in-the-know. So it is safe to say that this winter we will no doubt be discussing GOV BALL 2020!
Day No. 1 at GOV BALL
Like a child’s inability to sleep the night before their first trip to Disney World, I had a little trouble sleeping. But I was able to throw together my gear and round up my friends and set off for our journey to Randal’s Island Park. We braved our way through the Lincon Tunnel and took selfies in the car with the New York skyline in our background. Quite tragically I could not attend Gov Ball last year due to a scheduling conflict, so a lot of small details as to what to expect when I arrived had been lost to me. For example, since the festival takes place in New York City and there is no on-site camping, most people in attendance do not drive their vehicles on site. Thus, on-site parking was and is quite easy. And luckily a quick walk from the entrance. Had I remember this, I would not have been freaking out when caught up in the busy New York traffic. I was running a little late after making some wrong turns. Right now, I am blaming my GPS for this, but the matter is still in hot debate among my friends who tagged along with me for the ride.
Once we quickly moved through security and will-call, my friends were pumped that one does not need to spend ridiculous amounts of money going to-and-fro on bike-carriages because GOV BALL takes place all in one perfectly sized field! In this field, a walk to the restrooms, vendors, or to any stage is no more than a short walk. Despite the festival’s lack of overly considerable physical size, GOV BALL is not lacking in providing some of the biggest artists in the industry. This year artists such as Florence + The Machine, Major Lazer, and Tyler, The Creator.
Before I attend any festival, I often will check out the smaller artists on the set bill that I have not heard of. One of the artists was Still Woozy, and I really wanted to catch their set as I had fallen in love with their unique sound. Having arrived only fifteen minutes prior to their performance I was in a hurry and did not differentiate between The American Eagle Stage (where they were playing) and the American Eagle Experience, a tent-building-hybrid where American Eagle gifts out free SWAG to festival goers. After being in line for a few minutes, my friends noted that they did not hear any music coming from inside and asked a worker if we were in line for Still Woozy. After realizing our mistake we quickly ran over to the actual American Eagle Stage and felt even more foolish as over a thousand fans sang to every word of the songs they played. The band also put on a dance-off for the crowd to judge. It was hilarious and a lot of fun to watch and take part interactively with the band.
As soon as they finished, we rushed off to the GOVBALLNYC stage aka “the Mainstage” to see rising stars Dennis Lloyd and Amber Mark. At the end of it all, we were starving; it was time we went to get some sustenance (and beer). For those that have not attended GOV BALL before or have not tried the food, the festival is packed full of NYC’s best vendors and everything I ate was delicious (which is an understatement). A short rest by the iconic Governors Ball art installation placed on the hill left of the main stage was required as we needed to digest our meals. The monumental sign and the hill it is subsequently placed upon are a hallmark area for those to rest and lay on the grass; perhaps get close to their significant other, congregate with their friends, or easily make new ones. While we rested on the hill Brockhampton emerged on stage. Brockhampton’s performance was lit! The group dressed in matching silver foil 1950s era astronaut suits complete with a to scale sized rocket ship of the same style. I had to leave their show early because the next artist set to play was one I needed to see. I am talking about Wayne Carter. Thee Weezy. I could not miss Lil’ Wayne; the man is a legend. He came out on stage fashionably late and to anyone in their late twenties like me, it was a truly memorable experience. The photo-pit was more akin to a mosh pit as photographers fought to get the best shots. A lot of GOV BALL’s attendants are college students, so for anyone a little older, Lil’ Wayne was our Tyler, the Creator.
Not knowing who to see after Lil’ Wayne, I had heard that Gesaffelstein was an electronic music artist and decided to check him out. His music was right up my ally as far as what I look for in an EDM artist. His set reminded me of the modern-day-love-child of Aphex Twin, Deadmaus, and Daft Punk. My friend who stayed and watched his set with me had never heard of him either and now we are, both of us, fans of his work indefinitely. As the festival continued on, I could not miss Lil’ Wayne; the man is a legend. He came out and to anyone in their late twenties like me, it was a truly memorable experience. Not knowing who to see after Lil Wayne, I had heard that Gesaffelstein was an electronic music artist and decided to check him out. Shocked, his performance was absolutely surreal and reminded me of the modern love-child of Aphex Twin, Deadmaus, and Daft Punk (just for his outfit alone). My friend who stayed and watched his set with me had never heard of him either and now are fans of his work indefinitely.
The highlight of Day No. 1 needed no introduction as Tyler Gregory Okonma, better known by his moniker Tyler, The Creator hit the mainstage. His set was the last of the night and only show going on as the festival drew to its close for the night. Even after a day of hours in the sun, the exhaustion I had noticed in the people slowly creep on them throughout the day fell away as everyone and their mother went wild for Tyler and the sonic-art he presented. Tyler absolutely killed it by stealing the show with thousands gathered to see his whimsical and passionate stage presence and charisma. Not being a huge fan of his work did not stop me from understanding why he was
A friend who had veered off from the group earlier joined up with us after. It turns out he was having his shoes shined for free at a designated area GOV BALL had set aside perhaps through a sponsor specifically for that reason. This is why I love the benefits that a Governors Ball ticket can give. Another benefit to GOV BALL is that when the festival ends, one will find themselves in the heart of the Big Apple. Therefore, if your squad is not ready to get some rest when the day’s sets are finished, there is plenty to do in the city. I myself was too tired to go out, so I headed to my AirBNB, but my friends told me they had a blast sightseeing at times square, stopping in on jazz night clubs, and keeping the festive-spirit alive at some techno clubs; experiencing the nightlife that New York City is so famous for!
Day No. 2 at GOV BALL
Day No. 2 of GOVBALL was a little different from the first. There seemed to be a larger crowd. Having been running around from stage to stage the previous day, I wanted to fully explore some of the other cool things (like the art installations and various games like the mega-sized Jenga towers) that were prepared by a team of passionate artists. One can explore who these artists are via the official Governors Ball website. Upon walking in on day two, I took notice to a Mac Miller mural placed near the entrance. Although it broke my heart to see it, as he was taken from us too soon in life, the mural was definitely in the spirit of the celebration of his life and the music he poured his soul into; a little piece of him that he shared with us, the world. It made me reflect on how artists (despite sometimes being awarded fame and money) often continue to give pieces of themselves so that others in the world can know that people are more alike than different and maybe that we should all love one another than hate.
Other art installations sprinkled around the festival grounds were also beautiful on the eyes and thought-provoking on the mind; serving as reminders that music is not the only kind of free expression of creativity that one can find at GOV BALL. That is, art and free expression are synonymous. Even each person can participate in it even just by planning out their outfit. Maybe to some to impress others, but to many at GOV BALL their wardrobe can contribute to the culture thereby expressing their own individuality through it. The variously colored glass labyrinth in the center of the festival grounds was particularly noteworthy as an art installation. Some of the best pictures I had taken were among these panels of hued beauty. Many gathered to take selfies in the maze and I had never seen anything like it. I also discovered a section of the festival ground titled The Best Kept Secret, a place that I do not want to reveal too much about otherwise it wouldn’t be the best-kept secret anymore. However, I will reveal that there are ping pong tables and like Forest Gump; that’s all I have to say about that. The Best Kept Secret is open to any festival attendant over the age of 21. Ergo, look for it at the next GOV BALL, and I promise you will not be disappointed. I would tell you more, but I fear I have already revealed too much.
As far as for the hip-hop musical acts, I really enjoyed the performances of Denzel Curry, Vince Staples, and Playboi Carti. As did the massive crowds that flocked to their sets. While stopping at the media section backstage to charge my equipment I ran into Denzel Curry and found him to be one of the most down-to-earth and genuine people, not what one would expect from a rapper with millions of views, streams, and downloads across a multitude of platforms. Although in full disclosure, I have not met too many famous rappers.
The hip-hop performances I watched were all daytime gigs. As the sun was setting, Vince Staples was finishing his set and my friends all gathered for the night’s headliners. First, Zhu rocked the place with a memorable performance that was too good to put into words right at this moment. At previous festivals, I had always missed his sets and I was beyond excited to see if his shows lived up to the hype my friends enthusiastically told me about. To say the least, I was not disappointed. Florence + The Machine came out to the main stage immediately after. Anyone who has seen Florence as a fan of hers live will tell you that she is a Goddess, and I was able to take some amazing photos of her and enjoy the first half of her show. Major Lazer played half an hour into Florence + the Machine’s set and my friend group was torn apart as they did not want to choose between the two. Luckily I had seen Florence before, so I headed off to Major Lazer and had a blast dancing with the friends (new and old) that had come with me. The rest of my squad eventually joined us as we met up and left the festival together and headed out to the streets of the city that never sleeps for more adventures.
Due to unforeseen circumstances via the thunder and lighting forecasted and then manifest the third day if the festival sadly. Props to the festival’s organizers for making such a hard decision. However, safety is important and lightning in an open field could be really dangerous. I myself lost a childhood friend from being struck by lightning, so I could totally understand why such a tough decision was necessary.
Fortunately, the company issued partial refunds to those that could not attend. If you have not been to GOVBALL, I would definitely urge you to check it out in the future. And, to those who attended this year, I look forward to seeing you at the 9th Annual Governors Ball next year, because I know you will be there!