As the public’s appetite for music festivals continues to grow, we are finding more of these music-based events popping up than ever before. Additionally, many established festivals have expanded both in size and duration, some even moving to two weekends in order to be able to accommodate as many people as possible. As this trend continues, an important question is raised – is bigger always better?
After two very successful summers of steady growth, Governors Ball took a massive leap this year when they expanded to a full 3 days of music, from 2 in 2012 and 1 in 2011. Not only did the festival increase in duration, but the size of the site on Randall’s Island, which is nestled in the East River between Manhattan, the Bronx, and Queens, increased significantly – now accommodating 4 main stages. To cap it off, Founders Entertainment booked one of the better lineups of the festival season, booking quality acts from top to bottom.
Somewhere in there however, the original spirit from which the festival was established became lost. Governors Ball had originally prided itself on the fact that it contained no over-lapping sets and that it was relatively easy to catch all of the acts that were present. After looking at the stellar lineup upon it’s initial release, fans who had previously attended Governors Ball had to be salivating at the chance to see all of these artists.
While the headliners listed in the lineup carry much appeal, the strength of this overall lineup comes from it’s depth. Looking at some of the top draws from previous years, many of these acts would likely be in the middle of the pack in the 2013 lineup. Additionally, genres were more balanced throughout the whole weekend this year whereas last year had two days with distinct feels with one day heavily represented by electronic acts such as Passion Pit, Duck Sauce and Chromeo and the second day featuring established indie rock acts like Beck, Modest Mouse, and Fiona Apple. There was a tangible difference in the crowds between both days last year, but looking at the 2013 lineup, each day contains a number of different music types with something for everybody.
Tickets sold for this year quicker than ever with many of the days selling out well in advance. The prospect of seeing all of these bands in the same weekend is pretty great and is ultimately the main draw of the festival. This year however, Governors Ball was much different than the previous two with a park site that was almost doubled and stages now featuring performances at the same time. Kings of Leon vs Pretty Lights. Guns n’ Roses vs Nas. Thievery Corporation vs Animal Collective. Kendrick Lamar vs Cut Copy. Grizzly Bear vs the Lumineers. The xx vs Bloc Party. Kanye West vs. the Avett Brothers. These were just some of the many conflicts that people would have to figure before setting out. Of course, these aren’t the worst problems in the world and typically there is no wrong answer, but these kind of decisions simply did not exist in years past.
Another major difference from years past was the weather; Governors Ball has had pretty great fortune before 2013 with two perfect summer weekends in 2011 and 2012. As the week leading up to this year’s festival rolled on, it became a certainty that New York City would feel the wrath of Tropical Storm Andrea as the storm crept up the coast. Friday was one of the wettest days in recent history, continually dumping rain all over the tri-state area all throughout the day. As the day turned into the evening, the rain became even worse and was joined by heavy winds. Many people came late to the festival on Friday due to work or travel hoping to catch a glimpse of headliners such as Kings of Leon or Pretty Lights. Instead, what they found was that Randalls Island had turned into several gigantic lakes. It was impossible to avoid the murky water by the evening and several acts were cut short before finally canceling the final performances of the day. Disappointed fans streamed towards the exits all at once making it take longer than usual to leave the island and ultimately leaving a bad taste on the mouths of many. Founders Entertainment, the organizers of Governors Ball, quickly managed to do all in their power to make things right though. It was announced on Saturday morning that all Friday ticket holders would be admitted to the festival on Saturday and after shuffling much of the schedule, room was found for an early evening performance for Kings of Leon.
While it was a great relief to see the sun out Saturday morning, festival goers were soon to find out that they were not in the clear yet when it came to harsh conditions. The lakes that formed all over the site had now turned into muddy patches. Often times when you stepped your feet were in mud well over your ankles and it was a common site to find sandals and other loose shoes either buried in the mess or in trash cans. Traversing the site now understandably took much more effort and time than previous years when people flowed seamlessly from stage to stage. People tended to gather around and on the hard flooring that was laid down and fortunately there was a considerable amount of solid ground in front of the Governors Ball stage which hosted all of the headliners and several other major acts throughout the weekend.
One of the first stand out acts that we were able to catch on the Governors Ball stage were the Divine Fits. This indie ‘supergroup,’ which consists of Spoon’s Britt Daniels, Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner and Sam Brown from New Bomb Turks, released one of the most complete albums of 2012 in A Thing Called Divine Fits. A few new tracks were just released, and it’s great to see that the band is still going strong even while there is rumored activity for some of the bandmate’s other projects looming on the horizon. Their live show is just as tight as the album and each note and lyric has a tremendous amount of purpose. A crowd continued to amass around the stage as they played much of their original material both old and new as well as some choice covers such as Tom Petty’s “You Got Lucky” and Frank Ocean’s “Lost.”
The Divine Fits’ “Would that Not be Nice”
A few hours later on that same stage came Kings of Leon, rescheduled from the night before. To see a a headlining band such as KoL at 6:45 seemed a little out of place, but they seemed just as excited that they got to play as everybody else in the crowd. Other than apologizing for being “21 hours late”, as Caleb Followill quipped, there was very little banter as the band tried to fit as much into their 75 minute set as possible. They used this set as a chance to introduce several new tracks as well as playing tracks pretty evenly dispersed from their other albums. Towards the end of the set, the hits poured out one after another with “Use Somebody,” “Closer,” and “Sex on Fire” all played consecutively. With a new album on the horizon, the Kings of Leon were very glad to have had the chance to perform in front of the NYC crowd, even if it was a little sunnier than they expected it to be during their headlining set planned for the previous night.
The crowd that had gathered for the Kings of Leon swelled even more as the sun actually set. Guns N’ Roses began loading up on the main stage and they were certainly most happy that they did not have a daytime performance. Their entire set was filled with fireworks and explosions and was as 80’s rock and roll as you could imagine. When they were initially announced as the headliner for Saturday, many knew not what to think of the decision. Decades after their peak and with only one original member left in the band, many had tempered their expectations. Shortly into the set, however, Axl Rose asked the crowd “Do you know where you are?” and with that everybody in attendance went crazy.
It’s safe to say that Appetite for Destruction was released before a large chunk of the crowd was even born. For so many to be seeing these hits that they’ve been hearing their whole life was pretty phenomenal, and GNR proved why they are one of the most legendary rock bands of all time. Axl Rose commanded the entire crowd with his swagger and strut and was still able to hit all of the shrill screams and notes ever present in their catalog. All of the hits such were touched upon with a healthy dose of (relatively) new material from Chinese Democracy. A fireworks filled rendition of Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” was one of the standouts and perhaps a tribute to the Beatle who was playing nearby that night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. When Rose needed some rest from all his movement, he took to the piano for an extended intro to “November Rain” which displayed the versatility of the whole band. Their performance capped off a great day of music and certainly left people leaving on a much higher note than they had just 24 hours ago when the event was washed away.
The muddy fields were still present on Sunday but it seems like people were much more aware of what they were getting into. You saw fewer sandals as people took Governors Ball as an opportunity to clear out their closets of a pair of sneakers that they no longer desire in the case that they didn’t own rain boots. With another stacked lineup throughout the entire day, the entire festival seemed packed all of Sunday. Gary Clark Jr. pleased the fans with a sunny set of blues while on the other side of the festival Yeasayer had people in an afternoon dancing frenzy.
The Lumineers, who exploded onto the music scene with their self-titled debut album a year ago, were a huge draw and helped mix up the genres present at Governors Ball even more with some folk. Their hit single “Ho Hey” erupted into a giant sing a long that had everyone at the Honda Stage swaying along. On the opposite side of the field at the You’re Doing Great Stage, the xx were gearing up for their set during the last few hours of sunlight. The minimalist sounds from the trio on stage continued to sweep over the fields providing a haunting soundtrack to the sun setting behind us. At the same time, Bloc Party were commanding a muddy dance party as the final act in the Skyy Vodka Tent.
The Lumineers’ “Stubborn Love”
The main draw for Sunday, and for many the entire weekend, was Kanye West. The controversial rapper, who is known almost as much for his antics and tabloid appearances as he is his music, recently announced that he has a new album (that came out June 18th), which is called Yeezus. He has also released a few new tracks and Governors Ball proved the perfect testing ground for his new sound. It also happened to be the perfect venue for him to celebrate his own birthday which was on Sunday as well.
His set opened up with pounding percussion and flashing lights for his new song “Black Skinhead.” As the title implies, the song is a very aggressive song featuring as much screaming as singing from West. Yeezy continued with new tracks, playing “New Slaves” in front of a gigantic screen zoomed in on his face in black and white. His style for the new songs is much different than previous albums, relying much more on rhythm and electronic beats and the vocals seem to come at you a lot harsher than previous albums. Barking dogs and images of hooded klansmen flashed by on the screen reinforcing the tones that are present in these tracks. Another new track had Kanye proclaiming “I am a God” over throbbing techno beats. Clearly, Kanye is not trying to shy away from the controversial. “Honestly, when I listen to the radio, I don’t wanna be there no more. I don’t give a fuck about outside opinions” he stated at one point Sunday night and after hearing some of the new tracks we could most certainly agree with him.
That’s not to say that Mr. West is completely avoiding the hits now. Popular tracks from all of his albums were touched upon, such as the recent “Mercy” off the GOOD Music compilation Cruel Summer, “Power” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, “Heartless” from 808s and Heartbreaks, and “Jesus Walks” from College Dropout. Many of these songs seemed to have adapted to some of the new styling present in Yeezus and were delivered with more powerful beats and shouting from Kanye as he breathes new life into his classics. West closed out his 100 minute set in a grand fashion performing “Stronger,” a rap remix of Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” an extended “Runaway,” and a reprise of “Black Skinhead.” As people flooded out of Randalls Island after his set, they certainly left eager to see what’s in store with this new album.
While the tropical rain and mud fields quickly come to mind when thinking of Governors Ball 2013, they are overshadowed by some spectacular performances from artists spanning all generations and genres. This festival took a tremendous leap this year in terms of scale as well as where it stands when compared to festivals across the country. You must give Governors Ball a lot of credit for being so ambitious, and hopefully it continues to evolve into a permanent institution in New York City. You can click here to view some more photos from the entire weekend.
Here’s to a sunny and mud-free Governors Ball in 2014!
Written By Jesse Zryb
OurVinyl | Senior Writer & Photographer