Situated just south of Manhattan, lies Governors Island, which on the longest Saturday of the year provided the perfect getaway from summer in the city. On June 18th festival-goers got the chance to spend a full day on the island’s grassy fields and take in the inaugural Governors Ball; which boasted an impressive line-up (Pretty Lights, Girl Talk, Empire of the Sun, Big Boi, Neon Indian, Mac Miller, Das Racist & more) spread across two stages for 12-hours straight.
The planning for this festival was very straightforward and logical, making it easy for attendees to create the festival experience that they desired. The two stages were placed at opposite ends of a large field (roughly 500 by 150 yards) in the center of Governors Island. These stages were treated equally, with the sound, size, and crowd capacity all of similar proportions. Movement was relatively easy; especially during daytime when fans could get up close to any of the acts, or just sprawl out on the grass – a rare commodity for NYCers. In the center of the field was plenty of food and beer (including brews crafted specifically for the event from nearby Brooklyn Brewery) as well as merchandise and activities such as basketball, beach volleyball, and beer pong. There was also a great collection of art throughout the festival site including several dynamic murals and a massive chain of illuminated balloons which had a real presence when the sun went down.
The long day of music kicked off shortly after noon with sets from Reptar and Outasight, followed by a DJ set from Passion Pit. Even though Passion Pit were not playing material from their own catalog, they seemed to be the first major draw of the day, having headlined another show on Governors Island the previous summer. PP did a good job at getting the crowd to their feet despite soaring temperatures at the time. Fortunately for festival-goers, clouds appeared at opportune times and free water made conditions on the island pretty bearable throughout the day.
The crowd continued to grow in the afternoon, as acts like Das Racist, Mac Miller, People Under the Stairs, and Miami Horror took the stage; all doing their part in keeping the audience active. Neon Indian came on around 6, offering a chilled respite before the evening kicked off, showcasing much of their acclaimed 2009 debut Psychic Chasm. Following this laid-back performance, came one of the first major draw of this festival – Big Boi. Many people stayed in their positions to ensure prime spots for the Atlanta rapper’s set which relied heavily on crowd favorites from his days with Outkast, such as “Mrs. Jackson” and “B.O.B.”
As the sun finally began to set, a mass exodus of people swarmed to the opposite stage in anticipation of a set from Empire of the Sun. Although this Australian group only has one album, the critically acclaimed Walking On A Dream from 2008, their has been much buzz about their live show with it’s over the top costumes and theatrics which we’re certainly present here. You would think when a band comes out in massive headdresses and capes, that the focus would be mostly on them, but with 4 female dancers in even more outlandish spandex costumes front and center, it made you wonder who was creating these catchy electro-pop jams all around you. People who were previously unfamiliar with this band, along with all others who had anxiously awaited this set, certainly left satisfied.
Once again, another mass migration occurred immediately following this set, as mash-up sensation Girl Talk got ready to take the reigns. One of the more amusing exchanges heard on the way over to this set came when one of the many younger attendees (and there were many) asked his friend to describe Girl Talk. When told that “it’s kinda like everything at once,” his response was “But can I pump my fist to it?” Unfortunately for this kid, the quota for sleeveless dudes to come on the stage was already full, as it was for girls in neon too. Greg Gillis (the DJ behind Girl Talk) stood in the platform center stage once again letting the massive crowd of dancers take the attention from him as the audience took the cue to dance their asses off as they got kicks out of recognizing snippets of songs with large mass appeal.
By this point of the night there was definitely a noticeable fatigue amongst many, and several headed for the ferrys. The remaining masses slowly headed back to the opposite stage, curious to see what this massive structure, recently assembled on stage could be. Pretty Lights has not only been generating a large amount of attention in recent years for their blend of electronic and hip-hop beats, but for the elaborate production that is associated with the live show. When fans arrived to the stage they found a stepped pyramid containing Derek Smith’s DJ Booth as well as massive light towers layered all throughout the stage. When the show kicked off this formed a digital skyline with LED’s, not too dissimilar from the skyline a half mile across the East River.
When the music was finally over, the event staff comforted the crowd by assuring them that plenty of ferries were available and that their dreaded fears of being stranded on Governors Island (which has been a major issue with most other events at this newly reopened venue) can subside. This first incarnation of Governors Ball can definitely be viewed as a success. Proper planning allowed festival-goers to have as good a time as possible. There was no pressure in having to make those touch choices between favorite acts, and in turn you found yourself able to get comfortable with much more ease throughout the day. While there were some growing pains (horrible phone service resulting in the death of everybody’s battery) the luxury of sleeping in your own bed after 12 hours of sun and music is one that can not be overlooked.
Words and photos from Jesse Zryb