Day one of Governors Ball 2019 was sunny, muddy and inspiring. A full day of live music outdoors in the sun is always the best medicine to treat whatever life is currently throwing at you.
I walked into the festival around 2 p.m. and was greeted by a performance from Dennis Lloyd on the Gov Ball Stage. Lloyd had the crowd screaming along exuberantly to his tune “GFY” (you could guess what that stands for). He announced to his fans that he’d like to give them his best advice about relationships, and he broke out into his single “Never Go Back.” Dennis had a brass band on stage with him, which added an exciting new flavor to his pop/dance sound.
The highlight of the day was undoubtedly at 3:45 on the Bacardi Stage, starring Jessie Reyez. This woman is a force to be reckoned with. The Colombian-blooded Toronto native is a fierce ball of positive and contagious energy. Aside from her impeccable vocal style and range, comparable to that of Amy Winehouse, she uses her platform to speak about the current political and social climate, particularly in regards to immigration and sexism. She opened her set with a backdrop slideshow of news clips in critique of the Trump administration’s immigration and border patrol policies as she chanted out lyrics from “Dear Yessie” off her latest EP, Being Human In Public, “I’m the peoples champ, Obama, and you won’t understand, Melania.”
Later in her set, Reyez delivered a powerful, tear-jerking performance of “Gatekeeper,” which tells the story of how she met a producer early in her career who (unsuccessfully) attempted to take advantage of her sexually in exchange for a record deal. Her #MeToo movement anecdote was empowering and extremely important for all to hear. She even instructed the crowd to look to their left and right, and if anyone was not reacting to her words, she did not want them around.
Reyez crowd-surfed, started a mosh pit during her performance of Eminem collab “Nice Guy,” and personally engaged with fans in the crowd, letting them sing their hearts out into the mic during fan favorites “Imported” and “Shutter Island.” In fact, her fans are so devoted to each and every lyric of her music, she barely has to sing at her own show!
Jorja Smith took over the Honda Stage at 5:45. The 21-year-old British singer radiates old Hollywood glam, decked out in golden attire with the soulful voice of an angel. Opening up the show with “Teenage Dream,” the vibe of the crowd could be described as awe-struck and grateful. Jorja’s voice and presence on stage has the power to leave one speechless. Fresh off a co-headlining tour with Kali Uchis, Jorja’s voice was worn, and she struggled with some of the higher notes in hit single “February 3rd.” She humbly apologized to the crowd multiple times, and it just made the crowd want to embrace her. Her voice on an off day was still stunningly beautiful.
Lil Wayne headlined the Bacardi Stage in full-on nostalgic manner. It was pretty cool to see a crowd of all ages, including parents and their young children. Wayne is such an enigma, and it felt incredible to be in the presence of the rap legend. He introduced himself to the crowd as Tunechi, and that raspy indescribable Weezy voice radiated throughout. Dressed in all white with blinged-out glasses and a huge hat, Wayne banged out hit after hit including “Yung Money,” “Lollipop,” “6 Foot 7 Foot” and “Mrs. Officer.”
Day two was equally sunny and muddy. I started my day off picnic-style on the lawn in front of the Bacardi Stage, enjoying a frozen Rosé and a crab roll from Luke’s Lobster. Sunflower Bean began their set at 2:15. The New York band gave off sweet 1980s vibes, and all members were decked out in punk rock wedding attire. Before singing “Twentytwo” from their 2018 album Twentytwo In Blue, lead singer and bassist Julia Cumming proclaimed, “This song goes out to all those 22 and younger. I’m 23 now and it sucks.”
Gov Ball’s monstrous crowd of underage high school kids led me to seek solace in the 21+ caged-off food and drinks area. The orange lounge chairs were a treat when you could snag one, and it was still possible to enjoy a set from the nearby Gov Ball main stage. Clairo was on at 3 p.m., and despite being sick, the 20-year-old New York newcomer (she announced she just moved into her apartment that morning) stood her ground. When the laid-back singer/songwriter and guitarist played her closing track “4ever,” she asked the crowd to dance along and show her why she made New York her new home.
Kacey Musgraves brought her small town country girl turned pop star energy to the Gov Ball main stage at 5:45. Opening her set with single “Slow Burn,” a shift in energy could be felt amongst the Gov Ball crowd who’s used to pop, hip-hop, rap and rock stars rather than country-pop. Her twangy vocals felt warm and cozy, and she seemed super excited to be there. The recent Grammy Award winner told the crowd about her upbringing in a tiny town in Texas called Golden, which sounds straight out of a fairytale. She had an awesome band alongside her including banjo, keys, cello, drums, and guitar, and the set concluded with gold and blue balloons flying into the crowd.
Mikaela Straus aka King Princess has it. The 20-year-old graced the Bacardi Stage with a superhuman energy. The openly gay and inspirational icon wished everyone a happy Pride Month, and cheekily stated “We get one month, June, that’s it.” If the New York native was even slightly nervous, she didn’t let it show. Her set design included a larger-than-life sized golden couch, and her band mates took turns running and jumping on top of it. She calls Gov Ball “the festival of her childhood,” which made me feel kind of old. She’s charismatic, and her vocal style resembles that of a young Fiona Apple. She hit her Juul in true millennial fashion after delivering a stunning performance of fan favorite “Pussy Is God.” During the adrenaline-pumping single “Talia,” the crowd jumped each time the beat dropped after the line “Bought four drinks, I’m wasted.” She also performed an unreleased track “Ohio” with a backdrop of faded rain, and chills seemed to permeate throughout the audience—both from the cold and her vocals. She finished up her set with hit single “1950,” and the crowd could be heard from far away singing along from the very first line, “I hate it when dudes try to chase me.”
With thunderstorms in the forecast for Sunday, day three was a mess to say the least. An email went out that morning, announcing that the gates would open at 6:30 p.m. I arrived at the Harlem 125th Street Station around 6 p.m. and walked over the RFK Bridge surrounded by a stampede of high schoolers who seemed to shriek with thrill at the possibility of being out super late on a school night.
When I saw Lily Allen on the lineup, I was admittedly skeptical, but she absolutely blew my expectations out of the water. It was such a treat to walk into the festival and see her on the main stage performing 2006 breakout hit “LDN” in her awesome pink-fitted suit. The London native seemed aggravated at the set time change, but she radiated positive vibes throughout. Allen sang hit after hit, including “Smile,” “The Fear” and “5 O’Clock in the Morning.” She expressed how excited she was to be in America while our president was away for the week. She then gave Donald Trump a nice little ad-libbed shoutout between the lines of finale song “F You,” “‘Cause there’s people like you who need to get sued, Donald Trump no one wants you’re f—ing opinion you loser!”
Over at the American Eagle tent at 8:30 was Danielle Balbuena, who goes by her stage name 070 Shake. Before the schedule change fiasco, she was set to play a longer set on the Bacardi Stage, but Gov Ball limited her to just 15 minutes, which seemed somewhat offensive. 070 still brought the fire; the tiny 21-year-old powerhouse entered the stage singing “Glitter” off her 2018 EP of the same name.
Her deep, jaw-dropping soulful vocals matched those of the album. She told the audience, “I’m here because I wanted to share my energy with you, and hope you will all share yours with me.” The exchange of energy was certainly reciprocated. You could see and feel the pure joy the young songwriter has for her craft, especially during her performance of “Ghost Town,” her breakout tune from Kanye West’s 2018 album ye. The crowd chanted her lyrics along with her, “And nothing hurts anymore, I feel kind of free,” producing a magical feeling of nostalgic wonder.
I only caught the tail-end of Nas’s set on the main stage, where he brought out Havoc of hip-hop duo Mobb Deep as well as newcomer Dave East. His set seemed to have been cut short as he finished with a song that certainly was not a finale. Soon after, a voice came on the loud speakers, instructing everyone to calmly leave the festival due to “safety precautions.” Loud boo’s could be heard throughout the Island. Joey Bada$$ and the Flatbush Zombies were all set up on the Bacardi Stage as I was leaving, still trying to put on a show for their hyped-up crowd before Gov Ball shut the lights on their hopes. The rain started coming down hard as patrons made the way over the RFK bridge to exit the festival. I appreciated the positivity from one guy next to me who shut down his friends’ complaints by breaking out into the chorus of Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten,” “Feel the rain on your skin! No one else can feel it for you!” Ah, the power of music…despite being soaking wet and feet deep in puddles (another dude stated, “I am not wet. I am water.”)