The First Timer’s Guide To Governor’s Ball

The First Timer's Guide To Governor's Ball
Image: Consequence of Sounds

Tomorrow marks the first day of Governor’s Ball, which is now in its 4th year. As usual, the festival will bring all kinds of big names to Randall’s Island, and there will be many must-see acts, but to make it through all three days, you gotta keep your head on straight. Here are some energy-saving tips for first-timers, which will save you a lot of heartache and make the experience one you’ll look back on with at least some fondness.

DO take the 4/5/6 line to 125th Street in Harlem and then just walk to Randall’s Island.
Hop a 4/5 express train to get there extra fast or a 6 if you’re just not in a rush, but once you get there walk to the island. Last year, when Gov’s Ball kicked off it was pouring. I was miserable. I was standing in line for a free shuttle bus to Randall’s Island like a fool. Only after did I learn that in the time I spent waiting for the bus, I could have walked there. Seriously, it’s like a 20-minute walk and you get a sweet view of the city on the way over. Here’s what you do, get out of the subway station and start walking down 125th St./MLK Blvd. toward 3rd Avenue. At 2nd Avenue turn right and you should see volunteers point the way toward the pedestrian walk way for the RFK Bridge. Walk across the bridge and at the end, you’ll see some stairs. Follow those stairs and the rest of the festivalgoers to the gate. It’s as easy as that.

DO arrive early if you want to get a feel for the island.
Every music festival is kind of the same: they kick off at noon, but the party doesn’t really get started until around 3:30. Since this is your first time at Governor’s Ball, it may behoove you to arrive on the early side and get a feel for the festival grounds. Figure out where the bathrooms are, find the location for your favorite food truck before the dinnertime onslaught and take note of which stage is which. I promise you, it’ll save you so much time.

DO expect smokers.
Music festivals are essentially where smokers (of all kinds) let their freak flag fly. And after living in smoking-unfriendly NYC, Gov’s Ball smokers basically revel in their newfound freedom. So just expect them to be smoking everywhere at every time of the day.

DO arrive for shows you really want to see about 45 minutes early.
The way Governor’s Ball works is that at any one time only two stages are being used. So let’s say you really want to see Janelle Monáe play the big Gov’s Ball NYC stage at 3 pm. Well, that stage area will actually clear out at 2:15 pm when Jason Isbell’s set is done. If you want a good view of Ms. Monáe, head over at the end of Isbell’s set and you’re almost guaranteed to get a good spot. And that’s a general rule with all Gov’s Ball shows except for the headliners/big names whose stages can start filling up as early as 2 hours ahead of their performance.

DO look for high-energy shows under the Gotham Tent.
For some reason, organizers always place the highest-energy shows underneath the Tent.  This year, festivalgoers will find Empire of the Sun, Grimes, Ratking, AlunaGeorge, Sleigh Bells, Chance The Rapper, The Internet, La Roux, and the great majority of young, hyperactive performers under the Gotham Tent. So, keep that in mind if you find yourself bored at any point during the weekend. 

DON’T feel pressured to get fucked up.
Governor’s Ball is a three-day marathon. So, don’t throw all your drunken energy into that first day because the trek to and from the Island gets progressively harder as the weekend wears on. In that vein, get drunk if you like, get high if you like, it’s your body. But if that’s not really your thing, Gov Ball does have a program this year called Sober Ball NYC where you can hang out with a group of people who aren’t interested in getting messed up either. Join them if you want to have a nice, drug- and alcohol-free time.

DO check out the after-parties (if you have the energy).
On the lesser known facts front, Governor’s Ball hosts a string of after parties featuring special performances by festival performers. The tickets are under $20 and you can see DJ sets by some of your faves as well as more intimate shows by headliners. Tickets to after parties with James Blake, AlunaGeorge, Diarrhea Planet, Classixx and others are still somehow available. Buy them here.

And finally, DO bank on waiting in line to leave the island on Sunday.
Last year, Kanye West headlined the festival’s last night and accordingly, a whole lot of people stayed until the last minute of his two-hour set. This year’s Sunday night headliners are Vampire Weekend and Axwell ^ Ingrosso and if you’re set on seeing them and you’re walking or taking the shuttles home, bank on not getting home until late. A lot of people stick around for that last night and when it’s over, you will be caught in bumper-to-bumper human traffic in the most literal sense. That’s just the way it is.

Follow Nikita Richardson on Twitter @nikitarbk


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