by Katie Zepf
The eighth edition of the Governors Ball Music Festival kicked off on Friday, drawing a capacity crowd once again to Randall’s Island. Launched in 2011 by Founders Entertainment, the festival draws in roughly 150,000 patrons every year, making it one of the most anticipated and popular music festivals in NYC. In addition to the music, which plays out across four stages, there are food trucks from across the city, including Brooklyn-based ice cream shop Van Leeuwen, local burger joint Bareburger, and the popular John’s Juice, which sells fruit juices served served straight from the shell (think watermelons, pineapples, etc.) Gov Ball also displays countless murals painted by New York City artists, and there's even a mini golf course if you wish to take a break from all of the music madness.
The first act I saw on Friday was Sir Sly, an indie rock trio from Los Angeles appearing on the Honda Stage. With lead singer Landon Jacobs on guitar, Jason Suwito on keyboard, and Hayden Coplen on drums, the band delivered a short set of songs from their first two releases, You Haunt Me and Don’t You Worry, Honey. Jacobs used a vocoder that allowed him to sing with different added effects, though he also sang with his natural voice. Playing to a large, yet intimate crowd, the band played in front of a projected anime show, with Jacobs dancing wildly throughout the stage. Sir Sly finished with their two biggest hits from Don’t You Worry, Honey: “High” and “&Run.”
Next, I went over to the Main Stage to check out another anticipated act, indie singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers. A recent graduate of New York University’s Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music, Rogers rose to fame after showing her hit song “Alaska” to singer and producer Pharrell Williams. She began her set with “On + Off”, a song from her EP Now That The Light Is Fading, and followed with "Fallingwater," "Split Stones," and several other tracks. Accompanied by two backup singers and a full band, Rogers captivated the audience with her energetic dance moves and overall fun stage presence.
Back at the Honda Stage, I caught the last song of rapper DRAM, followed by a short set by 19 year old Canadian pop sensation Shawn Mendes. Mendes was a late addition to the festival’s lineup, but that didn't stop the crowd of teenage girls from rushing the stage and belting out every lyric to his songs. Backed by a band, Mendes sang tracks from all three of his albums: Handwritten, Illuminate, and his newly-released self-titled album. He picked up the acoustic guitar for the upbeat pop track “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” and a cover of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” before ending with his 2017 hit “Treat You Better.”
After Mendes came American rapper Post Malone, who attracted the largest and most chaotic crowd of the day, thanks to his status as one of today’s most popular - not to mention populist - musicians. As the crowd was mostly a mix of college and high school students (like myself), I found that many people were watching the performance through their phone screens rather than with their eyes. Post Malone did little to really hype up the crowd, as his persona is more laid-back than a typical rapper’s, yet the crowd was by far the most excited and engaged I saw all day. Playing solo, he performed tracks from his 2016 album Stoney (such as “White Iverson”) as well as his new release, beerbongs & bentleys.
At the end of the night, concertgoers had to choose between two headliners: Jack White (rocker, ex-White Stripes) and James Blake (downtempo musician from London). Being a fan of White's, I chose his set over Blake’s, and he did not disappoint! White started with the spiky, rocking “Over and Over and Over”, from his new album Boarding House Reach. He followed this with “Lazaretto” from his 2014 album of the same name. The heavy instrumentals and White’s electrifying stage presence enthralled the audience, and when White unexpectedly hopped on the drum set for a few songs, the crowd was ecstatic. White continued with several solo tracks, as well as songs from his supergroup side projects, The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs. His set also featured many of the hits from his White Stripes days, such as “Icky Thump” and “We’re Going to Be Friends.” He finished off the night playing “Seven Nation Army,” with the the crowd chanting along to the familiar guitar riff.
Gov Ball tends to attract a younger crowd, causing the general admission pits to be generally hectic while the V.I.P area is more sedate, with the occasional celebrity appearance (I spotted Halsey, one of Saturday's headliners, taking in Post Malone from the V.I.P. section.) Regardless, people of all ages (including children under the age of 5, who are admitted free) enjoy this annual festival, making Gov Ball one of the most popular festivals on the East Coast.
Gov Ball concludes today with sets by Margo Price, Dirty Projectors, Sylvan Esso, and Eminem, among others. Tickets are sold out, but there will be a live stream starting today at 4:45. Go here for more info.