With a view of the New York City skyline visible off in the distance, Governors Ball 2014 welcomed the arrival of summer to a crowd desperately ready for music and sun. The three-day event went off without a hitch (despite the occasional over-indulgent day drinker) and not a single rain drop fell from the nearly cloudless sky over Randall’s Island, a welcome change from last year’s mud-bath.
Friday welcomed major acts like Outkast and Phoenix that drew crowds in droves, but the showstoppers of day one were the ladies. Jenny Lewis, Janelle Monae, Neko Case, & Grimes delivered individually flawless sets and reminded audiences that while the boys were headlining, the girls could (and did) steal the show.
On the heels of a rowdy Run The Jewels show (a Killer Mike and El-P collaboration), fans gathered closely to the stage across the lawn awaiting a completely opposite experience in Kurt Vile and The Violators. Almost one year after the release of Wakin On A Pretty Daze, Vile kicked off his set with the title track. Fans nodded along as Vile, in a “What’s up Kooks?” shirt, strummed his rusty power chords and shook his beautiful long curls in the NYC wind.
There could have been no better way to kick the festival into high gear than cutting out of work early to catch Janelle Monae take the main stage. Wheeled out in a straight jacket, Monae kicked off one of the most energetic performances of the entire festival with “Givin’ Em What They Love.” Her black-and-white wardrobe and backdrop in stark contrast to the sun-drenched crowd were just as visually pleasing to the eye as her music was to the ear. She kept the crowd’s energy high with favorites like “Dance Apocalyptic” & “Electric Lady.” Ending her set with “Tightrope,” Monae left the crowd wanting more and other Friday performers with a tough act to follow.
What can we say about Jenny Lewis that hasn’t already been said? She wore the now-signature multi-colored suit that appears on the cover for her upcoming album Voyager (out July 29th) and assumed true rockstar goddess form by starting her set on guitar for “Just One of the Guys,” moving to the keys for “Silver Lining” off Rilo Kiley’s Under The Blacklight, for an audience sing-along.
Across the field, clad in skeleton leggings, Neko Case delivered a set perfect for reclining in the grass in the warm afternoon sun, letting her luscious vocals fill the air around The Big Apple Stage.
Phoenix sure know what they were doing: Back at the main stage as the sun set over East Harlem, Thomas Mars sang out to a sea of adoring fans. Bankrupt! Phoenix’s 2013 release, flows songs together in a way that worked incredibly well for keeping things going on stage. Aside from the new, the four French boys gave the crowd what they wanted: hits they could dance to.
Under The Gotham Tent, Grimes giggled as she emerged on stage in front of a backdrop of netting and candles, announcing that she would be “trying out some new shit”. The young crowd lost it. As the beat of “Symphonia IX (My Wait Is U)” started, the tiny blonde moved about the entire stage, demanding the attention of everyone in the tent. Dancers and mimes joined her, a confusing combination, but nothing has to make sense in Grimes’ synth-pop wonderland. Just when we thought she was finished, seemingly two minutes after the set ended, she ran back on stage and yelled, “Wait! I forgot to play Genesis. I can be so forgetful sometimes.” The crowd rushed back in a near stampede for one last dance party with Grimes before Outkast closed out day one.
Those who weren’t too tired (or hungover) from Friday night’s freeforall with Outkast were treated to an amazing afternoon on day two with performances from Lucius, Fitz & the Tantrums, and Broken Bells before super-sized headliners The Strokes and Jack White took the stage in the evening.
Lucius came out looking like a sequined dream, reflecting the mid-afternoon crowd in their oversized sunglasses. They played for what was clearly a dedicated following and won over new fans with each beautifully harmonized vocal, easily reaching those even in the back half of the main stage field.
Across the island in the height of the hot, hot, afternoon sun, Fitz & the Tantrums amped up a crowd that showed no concerns of dehydration. Saturday boasted a much larger showing than the day before, and the park was split between this set and Chance the Rapper across the park.
Back at the main stage, James Mercer & Danger Mouse of Broken Bells performed for a laid back crowd. On a stage that looked like the repurposed set of 2001: A Space Odyssey, band members played hits like, “Holding on for Life”, “After the Disco”, and “The High Road”, from individual white booths.
If The Strokes were on time, it wouldn’t have been rock & roll, but fifteen minutes is pretty forgivable. One of the most anticipated sets of the fest started with Julian Casablancas belting out “Barely Legal” with a crowd singing along nearly as loud. The band continued with “Reptilia”, “Someday”, and ended with “Last Night”. Up on a hill above the madness, I overhead a fan say, “[Casablancas’] voice sounds like an angel with a hangover.” I tend to agree.
Spoon proved to be a great recharge for those needing a bit of a reprieve between The Strokes and Jack White. Fans were able sing and dance along to favorites like “The Way We Get By” without losing steam after an already jam-packed day of music.
Just as the very last of the day’s light went out, Jack White took The GovBallNYC Stage, lit in hues of bewitching blue. Opening with The White Stripes’ hit “Dead Leaves & The Dirty Ground,” White hypnotized the audience. Everywhere you turned, eyes were closed and bodies were moving to the erratic sounds of guitar and violin coming from White and his backing band. Three songs into his set, White hit the crowd like a loose cannon with “Lazaretto,” the super-charged new single off his forthcoming album.
Cayucas greeted those who came out early on Sunday with a sound fit for an island (even if that island was located in NYC and not a more tropical locale). Fans were transported with easy-going sing-alongs off of the bands 2013 debut, a summertime favorite.
In the heat of the day, Wild Belle was a drink of cool water for those who caught their afternoon set. Natalie Berman captivated onlookers with her style and vocals as her brother and bandmate, Elliot, transfixed them on the saxophone, closing their set with the hit “Keep You.”
Odd Future fans got a bit of exercise on Sunday afternoon, walking from one end of a field to the other for the back-to-back Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, The Creator sets. The Odd Future crew (Tyler, The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, Jasper Dolphin and Taco) were up to their usual jokes and antics; the more Tyler heckled the crowd, they more the crowd was theirs. At one point during Tyler’s set, he asked the crowd to “boo” him when the boys told him he messed up the song order. A humble moment showing that Tyler can both dish it and take it.
On a far more wholesome note than the previous Odd Future sets, the sweet, poppy melodies of The Head and The Heart were a relaxing treat for a tired third-day crowd. Fans sang along in a dream-like haze as they ended their set with “Lost in My Mind”.
An hour later across the park, James Blake was greeted by swarms of eager fans waiting to hear the crooner sing along to heavy beats. Blake’s sound resonated with one of the more diverse fan-bases at the festival. He appealed to all by playing songs off both 2013’s “Overgrown” and 2011’s self-titled debut.
To those who came of age in the early-2000s, Interpol’s evening set did not disappoint. Playing hits like “Evil” while also adding in anticipated new songs from the forthcoming Elpintor, the band seemed to be genuinely excited about playing in New York City again as one of Sunday’s final acts before Vampire Weekend closed the festival out.
Check out images from the festival by photographers photographer Julia Rickles’ and Taylor Swaim in the gallery by clicking above.