We weren’t prepared for Governors Ball 2015.
Almost no one was. The 4 & 5 trains certainly weren’t ready for the sudden influx of fanny packs and floppy hats. The Duane Reade on the corner of 125th and Lexington – the last train stop for festival goers – wasn’t ready either. They ran out of ponchos and umbrellas in the first few rainy hours of the festival’s opening day. The residents of East Harlem weren’t ready to wait in lines behind teenagers and twenty-something’s covered in rhinestones and Hawaiian shirts. And the RFK Bridge wasn’t ready for the pileup of Red Bull cans and mini liquor bottles lining the walkway to Randall’s Island.
But luckily, Governors Ball was ready for us. In its fifth year, festival organizers have learned how to cater to the crowd. They had everything a 2015 festival goer could possibly need – stands selling flower crowns, metallic tattoos, $13 Miller Lite tall boys (this is New York City, after all), Momofuku baked goods, and best of all, a lineup that just wouldn’t quit.
If you missed Gov Ball this year, we’re sad for you, but don’t worry. Here’s a daily breakdown of the festival’s biggest and best acts this year.
Friday was a gloomy and cold day by June-in-New York standards, but that couldn’t stop the tens of thousands from coming. Anticipation for Drake was high, so Friday was a great day for hip-hop fans. As people trickled in, rapper Future pumped them up from the main stage with some auto-tune songs, including his newest single, “Fuck Up Some Commas.”
Meanwhile, Danish badass MØ took to the Gotham Stage. She performed songs from her debut album No Mythologies To Follow wearing a sports bra and Adidas track pants, scrunchie high on her head; her appearance paired with her high-pitched, sweet-toned voice and turned up bass putting her in some perfect sweet spot between Mel C. and Gov Ball alum Grimes.
By late Friday afternoon the sun still wasn’t shining, but Chromeo’s stage set – complete with mirrored guitars – sure was. The Canadian electro-pop duo launched a full-scale dance party amidst chants of “Chro-me-o, ooooh” (to the tune of the Witch’s guard in the Wizard of Oz). Mid-set, Ezra Koenig joined Dave 1 and P-Thugg onstage for Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” leading into Chromeo’s “Bonafide Lovin’.”
From Canadian dance party and White Women to Canadian doom and You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine, rockers Death From Above 1979 delivered a highly anticipated performance after a cancelled 2013 Governors Ball appearance. Sebastien Grainger, wearing only white overalls, took a seat behind his drums and mic while a black-clad Jesse Keeler strummed a few distorted chords, adjusted his earplugs, and let it rip.
Back at the main stage, a large crowd turned out for Florence And The Machine, who performed a well-designed set with the help of a harp, backup singers, and a backdrop like a flattened disco ball. The setting sun to stage left turned Florence’s silhouette into that of a Greek goddess as she performed crowd favorites like “Ship to Wreck” and a soft version of “Sweet Nothing” — all with a broken foot.
At the Big Apple stage, the crowd chanted for singer-songwriter Annie Clark, but Annie never came. In her place was St. Vincent (or St. V, as her set and merch read), who has evolved into a high-fashion and artful semi-fembot. In an all-black-everything look, with the exception of her white guitar and pink staircase, atop which two dancers in silver body suits jerked from side to side and clutched their heads during the opening song “Marrow” from 2009’s Actor. Before the set, a disembodied but friendly robot voice encouraged the crowd to be “analogue witnesses” by putting down their cameras and phones. For the most part, the crowd obliged.
The two Friday headliners, My Morning Jacket and Drake, could not be more musically different, but drew crowds for the same reason: their respective bodies of work exemplify what it means to evolve as an artist over several albums and years.
Any My Morning Jacket show is guaranteed to bring the you the best of their nearly two-decades as a band, and Jim James will leave you feeling a little bit younger but a little bit wiser. Friday they played to a small but devoted crowd, kicking it off with “Believe (Nobody Knows)” from their latest release The Waterfall. They continued their set with “Magheeta” (2003’s It Still Moves), weaving in songs like “Lay Low” from Z and the title track from Circuital along the way.
But Drake was, without a doubt, the most sought-after act of the day, and possibly the whole weekend. Gov Ballers camped out for hours in front of the stage to get a close view of the “Legend” in a lime green sweatshirt and skinny jeans. With a set list spanning almost his entire career and stage decorated to match his “Jungle” tour, it’s no wonder the crowd went ape shit for him.
He took a minimal approach during the first half of his set, focusing on cuts from the If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late and sentimental songs like “I Better Find Your Love,” before he went 0 to 100 (real quick) with an a cappella “All Me” verse that led straight into a solo “HYFR (Hell Yeah Fuckin Right).”
But Drake fans know sometimes the dude gets lonely at the top. There was hope that he would bring out some friends—at one point, he teased the crowd with mentions of Kanye and Beyonce (and fingers were crossed for a Madonna makeout do-over)—but Drizzy proved himself more than capable of holding a crowd of several thousand on his own, celebrating at the end of his set with fireworks and pyrotechnics.
Saturday was warm and sunny – the perfect festival weather. Future Islands’ front man Sam Herring declared, “Let’s celebrate the sun. What a beautiful fuckin’ day!” So celebrate we did.
Even the most hung over of Gov Ballers were soothed by the perfect sunny afternoon swoon from the casually cool Sharon Van Etten, who drew people to the Big Apple Stage with “Serpents,” from 2012’s Tramp. She treated the crowd to newer tracks as well as numbers from Are We There before throwing it back to “Don’t Do It” from her 2010 release, Epic. After acknowledging the enthusiastic crowd with a quick “Thanks, yo!” she apologized to her parents, who were in attendance, for her potty-mouth lyrics in “Every Time The Sun Comes Up.”
Canadian electro-pop musician Kiesza showed off her vocals and her dance moves, performing tracks from Sound of a Woman. She even managed an onstage handstand during “Take Ü There” with Jack Ü before closing out with her hit single “Hideaway.”
Little Dragon frontwoman Yukimi Nagano was met with a collective gasp and whispers like “She’s a goddess,” as she commanded the main stage in a layered metallic silver skirt, cropped yellow jacket and white sneakers. The four-piece Swedish electronic group pumped up the crowd with songs like “Killing Me” and “Little Man.” Nagano’s athletic look matched her energy as she swept across the stage, as if performing some cosmic ritual with her tambourine, infecting spectators across Randall’s Island with the energy to dance throughout their hour-long set.
SBTRKT members quickly established themselves as the hardest working humans at Governors Ball, working their respective instruments with incredible speed and precision. Sampha’s smooth vocals in the title track from 2014’s Wonder Where We’ll Land coaxed the crowd into an all-out rave with the second song, “Hold On.” When the stage crew set out a guest mic, we knew what was coming – a performance of “NEW DORP. NEW YORK” with an appearance from Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. The guest mic was left onstage for the duration of the set, but prayers to the 6 God for a surprise performance of “Too Much” with Sampha and Drake went unanswered. Instead, SBTRKT closed out with an equally kickass remix of Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower.”
“Let’s get this shit goin, I don’t wanna fuckin talk!” was the opening sentiment from a chest-thumping and air-humping Future Islands front man Sam Herring – and the massive crowd at the Gotham Tent loved it. The Baltimore-based band has garnered a cult following, and it seemed at least some of the cult members were on hand for Future Islands’ debut Gov Ball performance. Herring has the look of a man who feels every single word he says, and his free-spirited stage presence was a welcome breath of fresh air.
Across the island, Bjork had an entire orchestra and producer Arca onstage behind her. Seemingly unaffected by her recent heavily-criticized mid-career retrospective at MoMA, Bjork just did her newest Bjork thing and it was as charming as ever. Drawing mostly from Vulnicura she often traded vocals for interpretive dance moves—not that it mattered, as you could barely hear her anyway (indicative of main stage technical issues, not problems with Bjork’s voice). Giant slugs slithered onscreen behind her, and insects attacked each other during crowd pleaser “Army of Me.” She ended her set with a request to the crowd to help her sing “Hyperballad” (“Karaoke! Come on!”) while a Sims-like character fell to its death over and over on the big screen behind her. The whole performance should have been a dream, but it was hard to transcend to Bjork’s level while people in the crowd talked Snapchat and the merits of Miller Lite vs. High Life (High Life is better, no discussion necessary). Thought Bjork’s performance may have been lost on some of the thousands of youngin’s in attendance, it had nothing to do with the quality or authenticity of her show.
Alt-country and roots-rock loving Gov Ballers, Saturday was a day for you, too. J. Roddy Walston & The Business got rowdy early in the afternoon, and Connor Oberst performed a mid-afternoon set on the Honda Stage.
Later, headliner Ryan Adams played two hours of some of his oldest and best material in the most intimate show of the festival. Adams thanked his captive audience by saying, “You had the choice to go see KISS or us, so thanks for coming to see us.” Unfortunately KISS wasn’t in this year’s lineup (fingers and toes crossed for 2016) but the Saturday night crowd did make a choice to see Adams over Deadmau5, whose booming set often bled into some of Adams’ softer songs. “This song’s not gonna match the robot shit coming from over there,” Adams said. “Try and make this song on your fucking iPhone! It’s like we’re living in a Terminator nightmare.” The audience laughed and took it in stride, but it turns out that Deadmau5’s equipment malfunctioned during his show. Though some may blame it on Ryan’s seemingly ill will, the two artists publicly cleared the air later in the evening via twitter.
Adams played stunning versions of classics like “When The Stars Go Blue”, “To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High),” and “Peaceful Valley”, which turned into a 10-minute jam with stellar backing band The Shining. He closed his set with some serious nostalgia, choosing “Come Pick Me Up” from 2000’s Heartbreaker.
Sunday was another gorgeous festival day packed with bands from across genres and geographical locations – like up-and-coming Riding Easy Records’ band, The Picturebooks, who generated some attention with their raw rock n’ roll approach as they kicked off their U.S. tour with an early set at Gov Ball. The German duo put out a loud and heavy sound with songs like “Your Kisses Burn Like Fire” and “The Rabbit And The Wolf” and a show worth checking out if you’re in the path of their tour.
People were stoked to get trippy with the long-haired Australian boys of Tame Impala, who greeted the crowd with a to-the-point “New York City, holy shit,” before sucking everyone into a hazy psychedelic soundscape accompanied by Technicolor visuals that looked like those fuzzy channels your parents never knew you watched, or those books you looked at as a kid and had to practically cross your eyes to actually see the image. The band spent most of their set on Innerspeaker, but treated the crowd to a few songs from their forthcoming Currents, to be released in July.
If you’ve ever been at a festival and uttered the ubiquitous phrase “lets get weird,” well, Sunday afternoon was your chance. Weird Al Yankovic brought his accordion and his un-ironic Hawaiian shirt style to the Gotham Tent, where he opened with a cover of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball” before launching into a polka medley of Daft Punk, Shakira, Gotye and others – which served him well, as passersby heard the notes of popular songs like Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” and said, “Oh my god, are they playing here?” Surprisingly the young crowd loved Weird Al, especially when he performed his classic Michael Jackson covers, “Eat It” and “I’m Fat” — though whether they loved his songs or just had a case of the munchies is still unknown.
The War On Drugs’ set on the Big Apple stage went smoothly; all was calm, all was bright, with nary a Mark Kozelek in sight. The crowd was very much obliged to hear the band shred a little before everyone was totally Lost In The Dream. The band blew everyone away with their enormous sound and seamless set, with songs like “Eyes To The Wind” making it seem like no time passed at all, swiftly switching leads from Adam Granduciel’s guitar to Jon Natchez’s saxophone and back. Though they stuck mostly to Lost In The Dream songs – a small disappointment for Future Weather and Slave Ambient fans – they closed with “Baby Missiles” and the crowd stuck around, applauding and hoping for more.
Across the field, the dudes from Big Gigantic were having a blast while the crowd danced and waved their hands to the pulsing beat. The Boulder-based jamtronica band had two sets of visuals that includied strange Grimace-like creatures, totems, and Pac Man; fireballs and pyrotechnics exploded behind them while they combined electronic beats and hip hop samples with saxophone and drums.
Where were you when you saw Noel Gallagher perform “Champagne Supernova” live? After Sunday, the answer for tens of thousands of millenials will be the same: Governors Ball 2015. Gallagher’s new band, The High Flying Birds, finished their month-long US tour Sunday at Gov Ball. Their set included old Oasis hits – including a very popular “Don’t Look Back In Anger” – and songs from their March release Chasing Yesterday.
A packed and anxious crowd waited for Steven Ellison, the brilliant experimental electronic musician known as Flying Lotus (and grand-nephew of Alice and John Coltrane) to take over the Gotham Stage. FlyLo took it up slow, adjusting to his audience and their mood by asking, “What do you all want to hear?” then remixing Drake’s “Know Yourself” and playing Kendrick Lamar and Dr. Dre cuts in response. But he wasn’t there to play other people’s songs, and he quickly dove into songs from Cosmogramma and Until the Quiet Comes before getting into his latest and most complex album, 2014’s You’re Dead! FlyLo himself was silhouetted between two screens, on which visuals throbbed to the beat. At one point, he lost himself in the set, asking, “Who’s the stage man here? How much more time I got? 18 more songs?” before emerging from behind the screen to unleash his rapping alter ego, Captain Murphy. Before leaving the stage, FlyLo’s silhouette tipped back a bottle of tequila, laughing as he said, “Please do not support my drinking habit.”
As the sun set on Gov Ball, one of the biggest crowds the Honda stage saw all weekend gathered for festival closer Lana Del Rey. The saddest girl in the business had a set to match, all blue lighting and silhouetted skyline, while the jumbotrons featured on her mostly downcast gaze.
But once again, high-energy and bass heavy songs drowned out the quiet moments on the Honda Stage. The Black Keys’ lit up the main stage as Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney charmed the crowd with hits like “Next Girl” and “I’m A Lonely Boy.”
If Governors Ball keeps up with trends, next year Gov Ballers can expect a Hawaiian shirt stand, even MORE bass, and about dozen new Brooklyn food stands. Hey, we can dream, right?
For more from the festival, check out photographer Taylor Swaim images in the gallery above.