The Prius was packed; we were ready for a weekend of musical overload. All that lay between us and the Big Apple was a dreadful 8½- hour drive, finding a place to park the car, a bus ride or two, a subway journey and a 5-block walk—with our luggage. Needless to say, we had an exhausting day of travel ahead. But, we didn’t care, we were on our way to New York City for the 4th annual Governors Ball, and we couldn’t have been more excited.
Brittney Koehl (Production Manager for the Toledo City Paper & Current Magazine) and I were ready for our weekend abroad, and by abroad I mean the ever-so-diverse New York City. We had a weekend full of music waiting for us, the 2014 Governors Ball Music Festival.
While, typically I am a very easygoing festival-goer, I usually find something to criticize. It is just how I am; I was born to critique. I guess you can say it is one of my life passions— and I am damn great at doing so. Whether it be urban planning fails (like parking lot design, which never seems to have enough exits or exits where you would expect them to be) or the overuse of salt in cooking, I will find something to complain about. Perhaps my cynicism is a gift? I like to think so.
The lineup for the weekend-long festival was satisfactory. It featured two groups that I had been wanting to see live for years: Interpol and Jack White. With headlining acts like the popular “we-will-headline-every-major-music-festival-in-the-United-States-during-the-summer-of-2014” duo Outcast and EDM/dubstep (electronic dance music) wunderkind, 26-year-old Skrillex, I was most excited to see the solo set of Jack White, former member of the no-longer-together Detroit-based two-man band, The White Stripes.
The festival took place on Randall’s Island in Manhattan. For geography’s sake, the island is separated from the mainland by the Harlem River, from Queens by the East River and from the Bronx by the Bronx Kill (a narrow strait that connects the Harlem River and the East River). The island has an eerie history, having been used for hospitals and cemeteries, as well as asylums. Currently, the land is home to a few parks, two psychiatric hospitals (which must be hidden well since we didn’t see them), a fire academy, a water treatment plant, homeless shelters and a much needed state police station. (Crowd image)
At first, I thought that getting to the festival was going to be a hassle and extremely difficult… I remember how it was for last year’s Orion Music Festival on Detroit’s Belle Isle. The only way onto the festival-site island was with the festival’s complimentary bus service. This service came free-of-charge with hours of waiting in lines to get on the busses, a stop-and-go bus ride on/off the island to the pick-up/drop-off site, then a walk to the car, get in the car, wait in line to get out of the parking garage, pay for parking and then, as a cherry on top, an 8 ½-hour-long drive back home to Toledo. After a day of dancing, drinking and listening to music in the beating hot sun, hassle-free transportation was greatly desired—and the possibility of the lack-of such was frightening, especially in a city of approximately 8 million people. Fingers were crossed.
To our disbelief, the ride to the festival was quick and painless. From “home-base”, It was 10 stops on the 6 train, then a bus ride to the festival entrance. The bus line was at the most 5 minutes, even at peak festival hours. The ride itself was fast, only about 10 minutes, and attendees were dropped off almost directly at the festival gates. I figured it must have been a fluke, but to my astonishment, it never seemed to let me down. I guess transportation of mass quantities of people is the norm for The Big Apple and tends to go smoothly, that’s more than I can say for the less-than-prepared Motor City. An A+ goes to the NYC transportation department.
Our day was jam-packed with artists to see. We missed day one of the festival (including OutKast) due to our lovely trek to the city, but we didn’t mind. Our lineup for Saturday featured Tanlines, Lucious, Fitz and the Tantrums, Broken Bells, The Strokes and my musical man-crush, Jack White.
The weather was perfect. By perfect, I mean 80 degrees, marshmallow fluff white clouds and a pristine blue sky. The melding of music and environment was beautiful. There is something intrinsically precious about the mix of an industrial world and natural wonders— it makes you remember how priceless life is. It was an overwhelmingly fantastic day.
My Saturday favorite would definitely be Jack White, one of the most innovative guitar players (in my opinion) of the 21st century, Detroit native and musical connoisseur. I’ve always wanted to see him perform. I’ve had the chance twice before, both of which fell through. It was finally my time.
Let me tell you, Mr. White did not disappoint. His set was fully illuminated blue. I am unsure if it was because I was only a few feet away from one of my musical influences or the calming color of blue, but his enthusiasm and stage presence was magical. Needless to say, I went back to “home-base” and felt as if a part of me would forever be on Randall’s Island, in that perfect moment, listening to the live tunes of Jack White.
For our second day (the last day of the music festival), we had a very full lineup. Bleachers, Frank Turner , Foster the People and Interpol.
It is hard to decide which was my favorite show for the Sunday lineup. Bleachers, an indie pop band based in NYC and the new project of Jack Antonoff (lead guitarist for the indie rock band Fun.), definitely surprised the crowd. They only have two singles released, and yet, their 50 minute set was full of energy, and the crowd reciprocated. They were definitely impressive, so much so that I am planning on purchasing their album when it is released mid-July.
Frank Turner, The Head and the Heart and Foster the People all gave outstanding performances. The day seemed to go by quickly, but perhaps that was because of my anticipation to watch Interpol, another one of the elusive bands that I’ve yet to see live, and also a native band of NYC.
They filled the air with the red glow of stage lights and lead singer Paul Banks’ mesmerizingly mysterious vocals. They played one of my favorite songs, Evil, and I quickly became entranced. Interpol was a well-awaited gem, too bad for everyone that missed them or chose to see the EDM show at the same time. Shame on them.
Even with my fatalistic point-of-view, I am proud to say that the 4th annual Governors Ball was a mostly fail-free weekend. Which is more than I can say for a handful of large-scale festivals that I had attended last year, Bonnaroo for example, with its overcrowded Centeroo and overused facilities. Governor’s Ball even had a cameo by the New York governor himself, expressing that he is a proud supporter of the NYC arts community.
The list of Gov Ball’s pros came easy, while it proved difficult for me to imagine the cons. I succeeded in coming up with a few, but, all-in-all, the ball was a three-day island party in the middle of the metropolis that is New York City.
All-diet friendly: Wide variety of foods
“Vegetarian, vegan and meat-lover friendly” should be the cuisine motto for Governors Ball. All of the food vendors had versions of their items for the particular foodies. You could even get a jalapeño corn dog— vegetarian style.
Hydration all around: Free water fill-up stations
Drink! Drink! While the festival didn’t hand out free water bottles (you could purchase one for $4), they did have free water fill-up stations. The stations were fully staffed, so you couldn’t fill up on your own (which I guess was nice), but it did seem like there was always a long line for H2O, at least the stations nearest the main stage. It was nice not having to pay over and over again for water, especially in the heat.
UV Protected: $1 sunscreen spray booth
One thing that many people often forget: sunscreen. I am a pale pioneer, so I carry my dermatologist grade sunscreen almost everywhere I go, I even put it on for long car rides so my arm doesn’t burn (which it will). Luckily, for those who show up sans-UV blockage, there were $1 sunscreen spray areas. Of which, people were actually using, which made me proud pale vixen.
Art Pride: Urban art and interactive sculptures
Throughout the grounds there were a few installations that made me smile. There were paintings and sculptures, some of which were interactive. The paintings were done by local artists, which was a great way to promote the NYC art scene. The few that stood out: an overly large pair of headphones that you could walk under, the Statue of Liberty wearing Ray Bans and a beautiful red apple made of roses, symbolizing the Big Apple.
Diversity: not so much
One thing that irked me a bit was that the selection of bands didn’t really wander too much out of the EDM/Alt-rock genre. Yes, there were a few acts that you’d categorize as “hip-hop” and one metal band (Deafheaven), but I really would’ve like to listen to some rock n’roll, or maybe one of the older, already famous bands. Typically I like to see a group or two that probably won’t be around for much longer or that never tours. Ya know, something special that makes the festival have those once-in-a-lifetime shows.
Artist collaboration: Not much
Going to a music festival is a special event in most people’s lives. With all of the artists at the festival, it would have been nice to see the bands come together on stage or make cameos in another’s set. It is fun when artists from different music genres come together. It makes for a truly magical time. With the lack of record sales nowadays, live music is all that we have left. It is a breath of fresh air to see artists come together just because they are at the same place at the same time and make beautiful tunes.
Going-green: No paper schedules
While I appreciate the idea, it seemed to be more of a hassle than going-green. Yes, I know NYC has a litter problem, but I would have liked to have a hard copy of the schedule. The Governors Ball phone app was adequate, but I didn’t like having to use my phone the entire day to look at the schedule. I was already using it for photos and social media, which loved to suck the battery as quick as a vampire would blood at a butcher shop. Plus, then I had to use electricity to charge the phone, which isn’t really going-green. The fest had posted schedules in a few spots near the center of the fairgrounds, but I didn’t want to need to leave the show I was at to go look at the schedule or grab my phone. Just seemed a little annoying needing to constantly be plugged in more than I already was. Next year, they should give you the option of grabbing a printed out schedule when you arrive at the festival gates, or remind people that they should bring a printed schedule from home. Hey, maybe they could sell some lovely advertising to go along with it? Just sayin’.
Most difficult time conflict: Bleachers vs. SKATERS
Both of these up-and-coming alternative rock bands were scheduled at 1:30 on Sunday, at the two stages farthest from each other (which seemed to be a trend throughout the weekend). We decided to see Bleachers, due to Brittney’s fascination for Fun., and we were definitely pleased with the decision. With only two singles having been released up to their show date, they put on a show that made me a fan. I was sold.
Least difficult time conflict: Jack White vs. Skrillex
One would think that these two larger-than-life acts would pose a problem for festival-goers. They both started at 9:30 on Saturday night, once again at the two stages farthest away from one another. Luckily, these two produce sounds that are on the complete opposite side of the spectrum. Mr. White bring his lovely blues-garage-rock sound and an aesthetically pleasing stage presence, while Skrillex is more of an over-the-top dance party with lights and explosions of electronic pandemonium, as the crowd waits for him to “drop the bass”. With an almost perfect 50/50 audience divide, the conflict wasn’t so much of a decision as a life-style choice. Even though I like my fair share of dubstep and EDM, Jack White was a more sophisticated choice, one which I had been waiting to experience for years.