Governors Ball 2017 is in the books as the festival wrapped up its seventh year in existence over the weekend. Tool, Phoenix, Chance the Rapper, and Childish Gambino topped the bill, with Tool performing in New York City for the first time in 11 years. Here’s a rundown of the best and worst of the Randall Islands music festival.
BEST: The forecast was wrong
Last year, Governors Ball had to cancel the third day of the festival after pouring rain ruined the fields the previous day and the threat of thunderstorm loomed over Sunday. Heading into the weekend, it was looking as though there was a possible repeat of 2016 on our hands, and my PTSD from last year kicked in. On Friday, it rained for exactly five minutes while we were inside the Bacardi Stage tent watching Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires. Saturday was a sunny, hot and beautiful day. Sunday, it was lightly raining as we walked into the fest and it held that way through much of the mid-afternoon. It never poured and the weekend came and went without any issue.
WORST: Entitled NYC teens
I just turned 29 and I’m already starting to sound like an old dude with his “get off of my music festival lawn,” but holy shit. I live in Los Angeles, so it’s a lot for me to say this, but I’ve never dealt with a more entitled class of people than the teens of New York City. The last time one of them said “Excuse me” when moving through the crowd would have been the first. This was the first time I really wondered if it is time to start trying to do VIP at a festival in order to get away from them. These kids felt entitled to be at the front of every show they were at, usually pushing forward in groups of 10. At Chance the Rapper, we couldn’t even move and they were still trying to push through.
The other problem was that none of these kids seemed to have much trouble getting alcohol based on how many wasted teens there were. The first day, a high school girl asked if my VitaminWater had alcohol in it and if she could have some. Another kid asked my friend Andrew if he would buy him a beer. (We both said no, FYI). I don’t know how Governors Ball solves this because they’re clearly never going to become an 18-and-over festival, but maybe moving a beer garden closer to the stages would be a possible solution.
BEST: Sunday Drum-Day
The third day of Governors Ball 2017 was the best day of drumming at a festival I’ve been able to attend so far. This started at the top of the bill with Tool drummer Danny Carey, one of alt-rock’s most innovative drummers of all-time. But all the way down the bill on Sunday were some of the best drummers of today.
My personal favorite drummer at the moment is Warpaint percussionist Stella Mozgawa, who along with bass player Jenny Lee Lindberg helps drive the sound of the frenetic four-piece. Rising UK rockers Royal Blood are just a two-piece, and drummer Ben Thatcher is master class behind the kit. AIR‘s touring drummer was excellent in setting the tempo during their set, as was Paris Jeffree, the touring drummer of The Avalanches.
WORST: Childish Gambino vs. Phoenix conflict
The one conflict of the weekend that was really annoying was Saturday’s between headliners Phoenix and Childish Gambino. I had seen Phoenix at Shaky Knees earlier on my trip, and Childish Gambino’s only scheduled date was at Governors Ball 2017, so that made my decision easy. Sure, they play in two vastly different genres but both acts connect pretty well with GovBall’s demographic. It was clear who the bigger draw was, however. Childish Gambino’s crowd was massive and should have been on the main stage instead of Phoenix. I personally loved his show but the teens around me didn’t seem to connect with the awesome funk from his Awaken, My Love! record from 2016 — one of the year’s best.
BEST: The freebies
Governors Ball is a really corporate festival, which can be pretty annoying at times. Yes, brands are all over the festival. But the good news is that it also meant a lot of free shit. SUBWAY had the best activation, where they handed out free mini sandwiches of some of their new items, along with some bandanas, and even stripped-down musical performances.
Throughout the day, you could also get free VitaminWaters, Cokes, Sour Punch straws, and KettleChips. This was my eighth festival in the last eight weeks, and I’m definitely on a budget. Outside of spending $5 on fries on Friday, I didn’t spend any money on food inside the fest (full disclosure: McDonald’s got my money upon leaving the fest the first two days). I actually was able to trade one of those packs of Sour Punch Straws for someone’s spot on the rail for Warpaint. He was waiting for Franz Ferdinand after them and I gave him the spot back after Warpaint finished. So a freebie really paid off big for me there.
WORST: Logistics leaving the festival Friday
Just like in 2016, it was a total and complete clusterfuck leaving the festival if you stayed until the end of the last act on Friday at Governors Ball. I watched all of Chance the Rapper from a pretty good spot, which meant I was behind a shit ton of people leaving the festival. There was a long wait to get onto the bridge, and we didn’t get over it until probably 12:30 AM — and Chance ended at 11 PM. The logistics of putting a festival on an island are always going to be poor. Of all the festivals I’ve been to, Governors Ball’s logistics are far and away the worst because of that. It made it so the other two days we made a concerted effort to be at the back of the crowds for the last few songs so we could beat people out.
BEST: The crowds at Air and The Avalanches
It is no coincidence that the best crowds of the weekend were also two acts that the teens had zero interest in seeing. When I got to The Avalanches‘ set Sunday at the Bacardi Stage, I noticed a much older crowd. There was a group of young girls in front of me, but they were clearly there just to stay warm as they left after the first song. During that set, I noticed an older lady probably in her sixties dancing up a storm and singing along to pretty much every word. Her vibe rubbed off on everyone around her and we all danced and enjoyed what was probably my favorite set of the weekend.
The same thing for the set at AIR, the French space rock group that would play the same tent later in the day. It was a more mature crowd that cheered wildly at the end of every song. They really brought the house down and seemed to feed off the energy of the crowd. I always expected Governors Ball to have a large international flavor in its attendees, being that New York is one of the most diverse places in our country. I never felt that except for at AIR’s set on Sunday.
BEST: Francis and the Lights bringing out Chance the Rapper to dance
I was at Boston Calling last weekend, and both Chance the Rapper and Francis and the Lights performed Friday. I was at the back for Francis, and Chance came out to dance during the final song of his set, “May I Have This Dance”. So when both were on the lineup for Friday at Governors Ball 2017, I made sure to be up front for Francis and the Lights. As expected, he brought out Chance for the same dance and the crowd lost it. For many, it was their only chance at getting that close to their idol Chance without being smushed all day at the main stage.
During Chance’s set, he brought out Francis for a repeat of their dancing, allowing him to perform “May I Have This Dance” during his own set. It speaks to Chance’s character that he would allow some of his own set time to elevate someone else whose artistry he respects.
Five Favorite Sets:
- Childish Gambino — The children may not have vibed with Donald Glover’s closing set Saturday because of all the Awaken, My Love! funky jams, but it was exactly what the doctor ordered for me. Glover said it was to be his lone performance of the year, and that the next Childish Gambino album would be the last. “This lil’ kid who sang this song is going to play baby Simba,” Glover said after singing “Terrified.” The build-up to the set-closing “Redbone” was awesome, as he walked you through a night of trying to get the girl that ends with you making out to the song.
- The Avalanches — I caught the Aussie electronic group’s between-Coachella set at the Fonda Theatre in April and really enjoyed it, but the crowd atmosphere for their Governors Ball set was the best of the weekend, as noted above. Their visuals were excellent, and putting them inside the tent was a smart move by the festival brass. Spank Rock and Eliza Wolfgramm were stellar in singing the live vocals and I had a blast dancing with a women in her fifties or sixties who came all the way from France for the show.
- Warpaint — This was my 13th time seeing the Los Angeles psych-rockers. They say 13 is an unlucky number, but that wasn’t the case Sunday. I was able to trade a pack of Sour Punch straws for someone’s spot on the rail, and it was my first time enjoying the four-piece band in the rain. It never came down too hard, and it actually went quite perfectly with their set. The band fed off the energy of the crowd and seemed to be having a blast on stage, laughing and smiling throughout. It was a groovy way to spend midday on the final day of the fest and helped give me my second wind for the final lap.
- Lorde — One of the most anticipated sets of the weekend was the New Zealand pop star, who has really come into her own as a live performer. It seems like forever ago that she was on the Coachella stage in 2014 with no stage presence at all. She is masterful on stage at this point, and hearing “Perfect Places” for the first time live was a real treat. Lorde also brought out Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff for a slew of songs, including a Robyn cover. I feel lucky I get to see her again next weekend at Bonnaroo.
- AIR — The first time I saw AIR was last year at Outside Lands and the crowd was not kind to the French band as they waited for Radiohead, who were performing after them. This time, AIR was closing out their stage, so it was refreshing to be surrounded by people who were there to see him. Their visuals were outstanding — pretty much a perfect match with their extremely textured tunes. I couldn’t help but dance my ass off and I wasn’t alone.
Governors Ball was a blast, but it will be totally lineup dependent whether I return in 2018. The vibe was not what I’m looking for from a festival these days, and with so many other options out there, it’s easy to find an alternative.