Inside Governors Ball: NYC’s Answer to the Modern Music Festival

photo 3Governors Ball, New York City’s answer to the modern music festival, was this past weekend and by and large it did not disappoint. After a washout (and mud-out) last year, 2014’s iteration was met with bright sunshine, record high turnout, and more live acts than any sane human being can handle. Without further adieu, here are some things that made this year’s Governors Ball great.

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Unlike other music festivals that cater to a singular kind of fan, Governors Ball literally had something for everyone. Want to reminisce about the early 2000s? The Strokes and OutKast were there to help you do that. In the mood for some quality guitar stylings? Jack White and Vampire Weekend were on hand for your pleasure. How about some rap? Childish Gambino (aka Donald Glover) and Tyler, The Creator had that covered. EDM? Skrillex and Sebastian Ingrosso fulfilled those needs. On the first day of the festival, I took in some of Run the Jewels’ set (who are an energetic and profane hip/hop duo). A couple songs in, I wandered over to a different area of the grounds where at the same time in a typically polarizing Gov Ball moment, Jason Isbell was on stage (who wielded an acoustic guitar and belted out heartfelt love songs with a country twang). As a result of the genre-spanning, the festival’s crowd also ranged the gamut as well. EDM fans mixed in with Jack White fans, and all was well in the world.

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Even though there’s a scarcity of good old rock and roll on the charts right now, Governors Ball proved there’s still a huge appetite for actual guitars and bass- instead of synthesizers and computers. Phoenix, performing during the first day of the festival, put on a wildly energetic show that spanned their immense discography (believe it or not, their first album came out 14 years ago). The next day, The Strokes filled that same void as Julian Casablancas and Albert Hammond Jr. tore through their equally large discography (their first album, the acclaimed Is This It, was released 13 years ago). Jack White, fresh off of insulting most everybody in modern music, headlined the second day of the festival as he seems to be transitioning from a young punk to a curmudgeon rock mainstay. One of the festival’s final headliners, Vampire Weekend and frontman Ezra Koenig, brought their typical Ivy League alternative rock, complete with vintage-looking guitars and collared shirts.

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A variety of acts who performed at Governors Ball came to the festival wielding brand new, never-before-heard music. Jenny Lewis who is readying the release of her upcoming album The Voyager in July, performed a handful of tracks from the album, and all of them sounded typical of Lewis: equal parts melody and charm. In addition, Interpol (who initially got their start in the Big Apple after forming at New York University) played a variety of new tracks for their hometown as well. In addition, Brooklyn natives Vampire Weekend played a song that dates back to the origins of the band and never found a place on an album called, “Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)”.


Both at Governors Ball and on the charts, it seems trumpets and trombones are making a triumphant comeback to modern music. Janelle Monáe (who had a spectacularly theatrical set which began with her being wheeled out wrapped up like a mental patient) had a solid horn section, as did Fitz and the Tantrums (whose trumpet player quizzically wore a suit in the hot sun). Even acts that don’t typically have a horn player brought one on; Foster the People frontman Mark Foster welcomed the horn player from pop band Capital Cities during their sunset performance on the last day of the festival.

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Aside from the aforementioned headliners, there were a plethora of promising new and up-and-coming acts that would make any music fan excited for the future. Drowners, a Brooklyn-based alternative rock band, lit up the crowd with a rollicking set (which included standout song “Luv, Hold Me Down”). New York natives PAPA played a midday set to a packed crowd, much to the gratitude of the lead singer (who ran off the stage to high-five members of the audience during their performance of “I Am the Lion King”). Fun’s Jack Antonoff’s side-band Bleachers was also a crowd favorite, despite only previously releasing two songs (a fact that Antonoff alluded to during his set). Also, expect to also hear more about The Bloody Beetroots in the future; they’re an Italian electro/house act who had one of the most talked about- and wildest- sets at the fest.

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This year, numerous acts jumped in to help out one another and add a little extra pizazz to their sets. Janelle Monáe, for instance, hopped up onstage during OutKast’s headlining set on the opening day of the fest, and Chance the Rapper joined Childish Gambino during his spirited set as well. However, Julian Casablancas stole the fest when it came to hoping from set to set; aside from The Strokes, he also performed as Julian Casablancas + The Voidz, a side project of Casablancas’ which has a debut album coming later this year.


The founders of Governors Ball made it a point to stamp the festival with as much quirky New York City imagery as possible (it was actually held at Randall’s Island, which is just off the island of Manhattan in the East River). There was a literal Big Apple made of flowers, a gigantic top half of the Statue of Liberty (who was somehow wearing equally-large Wayfarer sunglasses), and even a huge lit-up model of what resembled the Brooklyn Bridge separating the main stages.

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