Music fans and the media said this was the year Governors Ball could compete with the top summer festivals. An incredibly dense three-day lineup of major indie-rock names mixed with top-selling EDM and a sprinkling of major hip-hop gets sold the tickets. Gourmet fast food vendors, bar stands, a tent with white couches and free beer and four stages of non-stop music had the party all set up waiting for the guests to cross over the two bridges of tiny Randall’s Island.
Day one’s headliner, unfortunately for bands and even more so for the fans, was tropical storm Andrea. Cold rain and increasing winds made for chill-inducing lakes of mud that gradually became a sea, swallowing shoes, flooding all the tents and making shows at outdoor stages an exercise in stamina. There was no escape from the water, unless the ample supply of porta-potties counted.
Early bands on the outdoor stages had a rough go of the festival with sparse crowds who hadn’t yet given up on the thought of staying dry. But sets in the Skyy Vodka Tent—the only stage with a covered area and the one most focused on dance music—had a party in a box just waiting to be unwrapped. The first to light the fire (which might also explain all the…smoke) was Bear Mountain, an alt-dance band with tiny drums and big falsettos, tropical touches and a lead singer who looks and sounds like a more down-to-earth Adam Levine. They danced, clapped in sync and cued jumps along with the crowd.
St. Lucia tried to bring some sun to the dank weather with catchy, dramatic Miami Vice-hued synthpop, even if hardly anyone was venturing to the outdoor main stage. Jean-Philip Grobler showed off drawn-out strong vocals, longing lyrics and floral pants. It was equal parts chillwave and Wham!, perfect for the island in the band name or anyone who wished they were there.
Dinosaur Jr. drew the biggest mid-day crowd for an awe-inspiring display of J.Mascis’ trips down the fretboard, distorted and amplified a hundred times over, matched with impossibly catchy hooks. The volume was almost My Bloody Valentine level loud. The crowd sung out, “I feel the pain of everything, then I feel nothing,” over their emergency ponchos. The surprise of their set was a cover of The Cure’s, “Just Like Heaven” set to crunchy grunge guitars.
Poliça had sexy synthpop on lockdown for Day One. The rain wasn’t yet heavy, but the echo effects on Channy Leaneagh’s velvet alto backed by sultry R&B electro were. Her slinky dance moves were multiplied in the crowd, who cheered loud at the first discernable beats of their dancey single “Dark Star.” Justin Vernon didn’t show for their recent duet, “TIFF,” but it was just as bad-and-you-know-it good.
Best Coast played her swoony beach grunge hits, while somehow making leopard-print pants look sweat, like a perfect replica of her albums. She said there are no fans like the ones who stand in the rain to watch, then segued into, “This song is about California. I wish we were there right now where it isn’t raining,” before playing “The Only Place.”
Stompy Americana bands are in good supply for this year’s Governors Ball—including the impressive Icelandic force Of Monsters and Men, who brought an antique upright piano, an accordion and seven people who sing, stomp, play and “Hey!” in crushing harmony. Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir’s resembles Bjork in looks, a penchant for forgotten hair-wreath styles and sometimes cotton vocals, but the music is positive, excellently-played folk. The crowd sang along and waved their arms like they just didn’t care more for this band than most others on day one.
The biggest dance party of the day was back under and spilling out every side of the tent for Crystal Castles. Alice Glass hung her pink hair down most of the time while they created a dance-frenzy with brutal, epileptic beats and strobe lights. The watery mud was shin- to knee- deep around every side of the tent. One of many girls with neon face paint said, “This looks like diarrhea!” as she swung around her boyfriend deeper in it.
By the time Feist made it to the main stage for her delayed set, she told the audience to throw off their ponchos and, “Just give in to it!” and blew a giant conch shell. Though she was already getting soaked herself, she thanked the audience for waiting in the storm and said, “We will play music for you!” She didn’t even make it through an entire song—a pretty exciting rendition of “A Commotion”—before a big pop and a power outage forced the cancellation of her set due to unsafe stage conditions.
Back to the tents it was for most of the remaining crowd, whether that meant the free beer venue, the paid beer venue, the porta potties or the only music tent. For Erykah Badu that meant a huge turnout of both die hard fans who were singing along to the mostly classic-style soul she chose and the indie and EDM-leaning crowd who maybe discovered her. Her band, The Cannabinoids (plant or carnivore?) pushed beats through a collection of five different Macs and live drums while she alternately sung, and slow-rapped while acting out her independent lady lyrics with gusto.
For the fans, though, there was still a couple more hours of standing out in a fierce rain while the festival tried to clear the main stages for scheduled headliner Kings of Leon and sub-headliner Pretty Lights. It didn’t happen. At 8:30, the freezing, soaked crowd was sent out to find boats, buses and bridges or figure out how to get their cars unstuck from the mud.
The next two days are even more packed with names and better weather, so even the standing mud soup won’t stop the shows and the energy.
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