There’s always a lot to be excited about with Governors Ball, the annual 3-Day NYC music festival put on by Founders Entertainment at Randall’s Island. There’s the trek all the way uptown, across that massive bridge that we collectively grunt our way through, only to realize how worth it it really was once we finally make it through the gates. There’s the food trucks, the free snacks, and the art to glimpse at. But, of course, most importantly, there’s the music, and that’s what, really, bonds us together. There were a few headliners and bigger acts on this year’s lineup that didn’t really do it for me, but there were so many others that I was so, so, so excited to check out, and they all lived up to my sky-high expectations. From exuding youthful talent found throughout the festival’s grounds (the positivity of Chance the Rapper’s never-ending ride to the top, the pop royalty of Lorde, and the expanding indie rock stardom of Car Seat Headrest) to experimental and wide-spanning talent (Childish Gambino can do pretty much anything at this point) there were a whole lot of highlights at this year’s Governors Ball—and there was enough free Coca Cola, Vitamin Water, Subway, and Kettle Chips to power all the way through of it.
Francis + The Lights
Francis and the Lights was a fun early-festival act to kick things off on day one. He’s a good singer and dancer simultaneously, which is tough to do. He ran through songs from his debut album, Farewell, Starlite! including “Friends,” featuring Bon Iver, which was one of the best songs of 2016, and was interpolated into Chance the Rapper’s “Summer Friends”. Speaking of which, Chance the Rapper is also featured with a verse on the new remix of Francis’ “May I Have This Dance,” which closed out the set. When Francis himself performed Chance’s verse, it didn’t seem like there would be any type of special guest… until Chance himself showed up for a sneak peek, dancing alongside Francis to close the set out.
Photo via Charli XCX on Instagram
Charli XCX is an act I’ve long wanted to see, and her live energy definitely lived up to the energy on her records. Throughout her 3:45 set, she danced up and down her stage platform, dancing and singing along to all of her hits, including “Break the Rules” and “Boom, Clap,” as well as new bangers like “Dreamer” and “ILY2.” Through the day’s only bout with rain, she kept the spirits up: her cover of Icona Pop’s “I Don’t Care” had the whole crowd bumping.
I’ve seen Bleachers before, at Governors Ball back in 2014. At that point, Jack Antonoff’s project was playing, like, a 12:30 set, and hadn’t even released an album or an EP or anything yet; just a couple of catchy songs. We ran right up to the front row back then, and were entranced. We knew none of the music, but nevertheless this guy was such a great performer; he can command a big crowd like few others I’ve seen.
A few years later, and it was a little different—a late-afternoon mainstage show set the stage for Bleachers this time, who dropped their second album on that very day. Running through first album hits and new cuts from the second album, this set was great to be a part of.He gave off a distinct, 70s-80s classic rock vibe this time, with a full-band sound plus horns making him sound a bit like Bruce Springsteen; he even covered Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way,” which sounded pretty damn perfect. As a pop-music whisperer (he works with Lorde and Taylor Swift, among others), it’s great that Antonoff knows to keep some of the good stuff for himself, too.
After nearly every song, Lorde addressed the Governors Ball crowd, with her New Zealand accent, telling just how great she thought they were. Sometimes performing from a huge glass box in the sky above the stage, Lorde ran through her most popular songs, opening with “Tennis Court,” before eventually touching on “Royals,” and “Team.” Her voice sounded great throughout, and her crowd-engagement was really—possibly something she picked up from her friend, the aforementioned Jack Antonoff of Bleachers. He joined her to perform a tender rendition of “Liability,” off her forthcoming second album, which was already a crowd-favorite singalong (he remained on the stage to play after that, too).
By the time she closed out her set with “Green Light,” the lead single from the new album Melodrama, the crowd was a full-on dance party, everyone getting into it, jumping up and down and getting excited. Sometimes with a young performer you can see energy and passion and talent exuding, and it’s hard for that to be clearer than with Lorde on Friday night, only a few weeks before the release of her sophomore album.
Chance the Rapper
The cult of Chance the Rapper is as big as it’s ever been. Throughout the day on Friday, probably the most common fashion item glimpsed was the hat bearing the image of a ‘3’ on it—and it speaks volumes that essentially everyone in attendance knows what that stands for now.
Finally as the proper headliner, Chance filled the role admirably, opening his set with “Mixtape,” before touching on many other favorites from both last year’s Coloring Book and 2013’s breakthrough Acid Rap. He also kept it current, contributing his verse from DJ Khaled’s “I’m the One” and his own cover version of songs that he contributed to on Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo: “Father Stretch My Hands,” “Waves,” and of course “Ultralight Beam.”
By the time Chance closed his set out with a sing-along to “Same Drugs” (my favorite song of his, for what it’s worth) and “Blessings Part 2,” it was a beautiful cap for a day that was near-perfect. The weather held up, the music was good, and all was well under the NYC music sky.
My second day at Governors Ball started off with this set from Dua Lipa, who just released her first album. I didn’t know much of her music outside of her new single with Miguel, “Lost In Your Light,” which is pretty damn irresistible. But she was good! She’s got a strong voice that will definitely be the source of a lot of hits and catchy hooks down the line.
Car Seat Headrest
Will Toledo had made nearly a dozen albums on Bandcamp before signing to Matador Records and putting out the tremendous compilation-esque Teens of Style. The proper debut, Teens of Denial was one of my favorite albums last year, and firmly entrenched Car Seat Headrest as probably my favorite young band playing right now. In the very hot Saturday sun, I finally got the chance to see them play live for the first time.
Running through a 45-minute set, Toledo and the whole four-piece group performed with intense energy a collection of Teens of Denial and select back catalogue songs, while the crowd was super into it, mosh pits often breaking out. This band has so much energy, so much passion, and is just so damn good. This first time seeing them was fantastic, and I can’t wait for the next time.
The 3:45 Tent stage slot was clearly an underestimation of the draw that Rae Sremmurd has become, because this crowd was insanely huge and, from my vantage point, super lit and energetic (with even some glimpses of it being too much and people needing to get out/removed). I arrived at the stage around 15 minutes before the set was scheduled to start, and even with that cushion there were literally no good spots, so I took this time to get up to the Casa Bacardi roof (adjacent to the stage) for the first half of the set.
Rae Sremmurd’s set, in more ways than one, reminded me of Chance the Rapper’s set on the same stage three years ago—way overcrowded, super hyped-up crowd, and a lot of fun sing-alongs. Could Rae Sremmurd make the jump to headliner in a couple years, just like Chance has? Would not be shocking one bit.
Photo via Marshmello on Instagram
FIRST: I am not an EDM person. At all. But, it being a festival, there are different acts and cups of tea for everyone, and it’s also a great time to try out some live music that you would never find yourself checking out under any other circumstances. My friend who was attending the festival with me really wanted to see Marshmello, so I decided to indulge him and tag along. This set was super packed with youths running rampant, but it actually made for a fun dance party. Hip-hop fun like Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble” and Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR Llif3” made the set, as did a mash-up of Rick James’ “Superfreak” and Migos’ “Bad and Boujee,” which was the best thing I’ve ever heard in my life.
Donald Glover is many things—actor, comedian, musician, movie star, TV star, Golden Globe (and future emmy, most likely) winner—and now he can add Festival Headliner to that resumé as well, because he absolutely rocked it on Saturday night in his first show since the release of last year’s left-turn album ‘Awaken, My Love!’.
Opening with “Me and Your Mama,” Gambino played mostly music from the new album, interspersed with old favorites and crowd-pleasers like “IV. Sweatpants,” “Sober,” and “I. The Worst Guys” (though Friday night’s headliner unfortunately didn’t stick around for that one). The set closed out, of course, with “Redbone,” which has become, probably, the defining song of Glover’s new album at least, but when all is said and done, it could be the musical peak of his career—he announced as he left the stage that the next Childish Gambino album will be his last.
It wasn’t clear what to expect with the 2:15 set for Zane Lowe, one of the most famous DJs in the world, and the rain didn’t help much with fan attendance (Car Seat Headrest’s crowd a day earlier on the same stage at the same time was much, much bigger). But Lowe did his darndest throughout, constantly calling out the crowd for what he deemed they could be doing better (and them subsequently responding), and generally showing why he’s considered to be such a hype-filled DJ around the world. He did what a mid-day DJ pump-up set should do, and despite the rain, had the people dancing to hits like Drake’s “Portland,” and sneak peak to later with Skepta’s “Shutdown”.
Now this is what it’s all about. Even in a rainy Sunday festival set, relatively early in the day, Parquet Courts just straight up bring it. Their crowd engagement is great, and with minimal bells and whistles by way of production, it was just fun. The set opened with a combo from their latest album, “Dust” and the eponymous “Human Performance,” and by the time it reached “Berlin Got Blurry” at the back end of the set, everyone who made the choice to check out the hometown band and local favorite—they’re even signed to the Rough Trade label—walked away extremely happy, even if the rain may have dampened that a bit.
Looking for an escape from the increasingly heavy mid-afternoon rain, Skepta’s 3:45 set underneath the Bacardi Tent became extremely prime real estate. Luckily, the british rap icon’s show was more than just a break from getting wet, and was actually really, really fun. Personally, I didn’t know much of the music (only a couple songs in passing), but the crowd was wildly into it, Skepta himself was an insane performer, and the set closed out with a cover of Playboi Carti’s “Magnolia.” What more could you possibly ask for?
This is the second time I’ve been lucky enough to see Mac DeMarco, but the first time I’ve seen him on a stage the size of the Honda Stage at Governors Ball, and with an audience the size that he even managed to draw on the crappiest-weathered day of the festival. Walking on stage with a beer in his hand and a cigarette in his mouth, Mac stuck to all the usual tricks up his sleeve for this set, running through songs from his new album This Old Dog, including the title track which will give you the feels if you have a heart. Personally, though I was just happy that my favorite Mac song, “Cookin’ Up Something Good,” remained a part of his set even after adding the new music.
Right after Mac Demarco, I headed across the other way to see Franz Ferdinand get their set started. Around ten years ago it seems like everyone was saying these guys were going to be the next big thing in indie rock, and with that first album and “Take Me Out” as a beloved single, it seemed like they were right there with Arctic Monkeys (not to mention that Franz Ferdinand also won the Mercury Prize after their first album, and performed at the Grammys). They’ve quieted down in the years since, but nonetheless have continued a steady stream of fun indie rock, with tunes you can dance along to (as most of the crowd did throughout their set on Sunday, despite the cloudy skies and rainy atmosphere)
But, I digress, because regardless of what was or what could have been, this was a very gregarious set. The voices and instrumentations sounded great, and so did “Do You Want To,” another great Ferdinand single. A strong and devoted crowd remained up front from start to finish, and even stragglers in the back like myself were grooving back and forth with each guitar lick and catchy chorus. My interest has definitely been resparked; I’ll be checking out their newest music for sure.
Photo via Phantogram on Instagram
The last act I saw at Governors Ball this year was Phantogram, who weren’t technically a headliner at all, but served very well as one for what I needed them to. With an A+ stage production, the duo from upstate New York played their electro-rock brand to perfection, and proved to be a group that I will definitely give spins to in the future that I haven’t given as many in the recent past. This was a fun way to close out a very fun weekend, and one that I’ll look back on fondly for quite a while.
NYC’s own A$AP Ferg performing on Saturday
Cage the Elephant performing on Saturday night
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Original Photos By Kelsie Netzer