Governors Ball is decadent but not all that depraved. I was hoping it would be more depraved, so then I could make an obvious Hunter S. Thompson reference here, but people were surprisingly mostly sober.
I badly wanted to make fun of this festival because they denied me press credentials. I wanted to call it “Governors Ballz.” But, alas, Governors Ball, you win this round, cuz you were pretty fun.
Governors Ball is decadent because it cost a load of money to attend: $115 for one day and this was a three-day thing, so I just went for the Saturday, when The Strokes were playing. They almost never perform anymore and I was too young to see them in their heyday. “Is This It?” was the first record I bought solely based on a good review, via the BMG Music Club “buy one CD, get 12 free deal.” I read the review in Rolling Stone, which I had a subscription to during the overhyped early 2000’s garage rock revival, with The White Stripes, The Vines, The Hives, and The Strokes leading the way. To me, this hype was all worth it because it gave us the music video for “Fell in Love with a Girl.”
I was a freshman in high school during this hoopla and a friend might have called me a bad name after I expressed interest in the “Last Nite” video. This same song is now my go-to whenever I do karaoke, because I like hanging on the mic a la Julian Casablancas.
After I purchased my ridiculously expensive ticket, I realized that, aside from The Strokes, the rest of the bands playing on Saturday were pretty bad. At best, there was Spoon and Jack White, but the drop-off from there was catastrophic. Everyone else sounded like they were into synth pop and dub step or a combination of the two. At the front-end (The Strokes, Jack White, Spoon) we were stuck in 2001, and at the back-end we were stuck with my two least-favorite styles of music. I thought I was going to be stuck with a buncha kids strung out on Molly and Ritalin and jungle juice and bootleg Four Locos, all listening to boom-boom music, and things just weren’t looking so hot.
Festivals are for people who don’t go to shows regularly but want to list that they’re interested in music on their Facebook or Tumblr or Instagram or OKCupid. Festivals are for people who think they’re being subversive when they use Pandora. Festivals are sold as destinations, a place where you can experience once-in-a-lifetime moments. Festivals are perfect for taking poor-sounding videos and selfies and immediately posting them on Instagram, cuz that’s more important than curing cancer these days.
Overall, in reality, festivals are just prepackaged cool, consumerism at its finest. It doesn’t take too much thought to press “buy” on a website after plugging in a credit card number, at least compared with actually critically thinking about anything at all. Truly unique and interesting festivals are hard to come by. They’re always overly expensive. I usually avoid them because I can just go see most bands when they’re on tour and not have to go through all the trauma that is almost guaranteed at a festival.
On the positive side, Governors Ball offered a much better line-up than, say Boston Calling, the other big hipster/indie/trendfest situated in the Northeast this year. That nonsense featured Jack Johnson, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse, Built to Spill, Brand New, and Death Cab for Cutie. It hurt my hands trying to type that list of bands into my computer. Hey, 2004 called, they want their shitty soft white fake-interesting music back. Jack Johnson is only played at frat initiation parties. Lastly; fuck you, Portlandia.
Also cool: Governors Ball was on Randall’s Island, which is situated off the top right-hand corner of Manhattan. If you wanted to be a lazy spoiled rich kid, you could pay twenty bucks and take a shuttle bus or ferry to the island. It was more worthwhile to pay $2.50 to take the 4 or 5 to 125th, and then walk thirty minutes to the island, via the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge. There’s something exhilarating about walking over a bridge to go to a festival and hearing carnival-esque sounds in the distance and seeing some of the stages and knowing you were going towards something potentially interesting or disastrous.
We started the festival with Chance the Rapper, from Chicago. I had attempted to listen to his tunes a few times and I had to shut that down before he could even get to the chorus. Fortunately, he was much better in this setting. Although I could barely see him over the massive crowd, we were at least under a tent. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have shelter from the sun at one of these all-day events.
Chance had a band, with horns, and this stage had a great sound system. The music was loud and visceral.
I saw the only person under thirty at Governors Ball at this performance. He was a white-haired elderly gentleman and was jotting notes down on a note pad. I didn’t get a chance to talk to him.
After Chance the Rapper we headed to Disclosure and that wasn’t under a tent. Before Disclosure, while I was in the water re-fill line, I zoned out listening to Fitz and the Tantrums. They played mild, unimaginative, mediocre, inoffensive pop music.
Unfortunately, the line took forever, and I got separated from my friends at the start of Disclosure’s mind fuckery. I attempted hunting them down in the swamp of bodies and felt like I was stuck in a crushing undertow. I felt overwhelmed and the loud dub-step was agonizing so I retreated to the stage where Broken Bells were performing. I never thought I’d ever be comforted by such bland music.
Glitch Mob came up next and did some stupid dub-step thing that I secretly liked. I ate a couple hot dogs with peanut butter and pork belly toppings and some French fries and washed it down with decent iced coffee. I don’t want to think about how much this cost me. My friend bought us a round of four large cans of Fosters and they cost more than $50. Did I mention this shit was decadent?
The Strokes were on next and were better than I was expecting. Sure, there were a few moments of feedback in the vocals, and Julian had a Jim Morrison paunch going on, and he was wearing this bizarre and terrible blue Hawaiian shirt. But the dudes looked like they were actually having fun up there! Julian wasn’t attempting to be too cool for school. He kept looking at the crowd with a mildly shocked expression and he kept chuckling and making funny comments. Maybe he did this because there were so many goddamn people at The Strokes. It had to easily have been the biggest turnout of the day for any act, maybe of the whole festival. Childish Gambino, who was scheduled at the same time on another stage, could not have taken too much of the crowd away. It was an endless ocean of people everywhere you looked. I think it was the biggest mass of people I’ve ever been in for a live concert.
Luckily, for such a big crowd, the sound at this stage was also excellent. Both Julian and the guitars sounded perfect, and I got the sensation that they were playing right in front of me. I wasn’t familiar with many of their songs after “Room on Fire” and I was pleasantly surprised how good much they rocked. They started with “Barely Legal.” I had been curious about how they’d approach their set list and I appreciated what they did: they played a classic, then a new one, then a classic, and so on, for pretty much the whole show. I never got bored.
After an hour, they ended with “Last Nite,” and we started shuffling our way towards the other side of the festival, where Spoon were playing. No encore, poor us. Then, suddenly, The Strokes were back onstage, and the crowd was stampeding towards them. Our New York heroes broke into “NYC Cops,” and my friends and I started a circle pit.
Before you start imagining my four-person crew as a buncha of hardcore bros, let me just clarify: nope. The real problem was that the crowd was pretty wimpy. There were not many people freaking out or dancing during The Strokes at all. It was astonishing that a circle pit broke out due to our enthusiastic, excessive dancing. Don’t get me wrong, we were freaking out, but the people around us were way more sensitive to their personal space than necessary.
We were properly satiated at that point, and the rest of the festival felt pretty anti-climatic. There was no way to top that. We headed to Spoon, but the sound at that stage was some weak bullshit and you couldn’t hear Britt Daniels’ wonderful voice at all. Still, I was briefly separated from my friends cuz they played a song that I love and I started drifting towards the stage like some magnetic pull had come over me. I love Spoon, it makes no sense cuz all their songs all sound the same, but whatever, Britt Daniels voice is flawless, and they write great songs. Why am I defending myself?
After hearing half of Spoon’s set, we stumbled back to the stage where The Strokes had played. Jack White was going on next and we hung out way in the back on a nice piece of grass. JW wasn’t very interesting. “Dead Leaves” was cool, and “Hotel Yorba” sounded good, but his new solo stuff is pretty much garbage, and that’s what he mostly played. Sorry Jack, you aren’t Led Zeppelin. All I could think during the non-White Stripes songs was: “70s bloated rock guitar God excess.” I kept repeating this to myself like a Buddhist prayer. I just wished he had gotten rid of the violin player and every other instrument except the drums, and substituted the drummer for Meg White, and only played White Stripes songs.
On the way out, we caught twenty minutes of Skrillex. I was content observing this scene at a far distance as we departed. We walked back over the bridge, the boom-boom music fading in the distance, and headed back into Harlem.