Governor’s Ball Music Festival: Top 10 Highlights

Coined by The New York Times as “the festival with a New York heart,” the Governor’s Ball music festival has been drawing music lovers from near and far since its creation in 2011. The first year the festival ran, it was held on Governor’s Island. It has since moved to Randall’s Island, and while that has drawn questions about the sense of the festival’s name, it has not changed the spirit of the event. With each successive year, Gov Ball has grown bigger and bigger, expanding its lineup and drawing more popular headliners each year. Even with some unprecedented challenges (its 2013 run will forever be known as “mud ball” in honor of all of the rain that flooded the grounds), the festival has proven strong enough to last beyond a New York minute. After attending Gov Ball every year since its birth, I can say with confidence that this year’s festival proved to be the biggest and most hyped of them all. Here are my top 10 highlights from Gov Ball 2014:

10. Silent Disco Let’s set the scene. You’re walking by a giant tent, and under it are groups of people dancing like madmen and jumping all over the place. The thing is, there’s no music playing.. Or at least, so it seems. For silent disco, each participant is given a set of headphones. Everyone under the tent hears the same music in their headphones, provided by the DJ of the hour. Basically, from afar we all look like a bunch of crazies dancing around in silence. Silent disco made the list mostly because of all of the random friends made while dancing, including some dude wearing a croptop who apparently is internet famous.

9. The Leading Ladies of Lucius  Lucius is an indie-pop band hailing from, surprise surprise, Brooklyn. Frontwomen Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig stole the show with their complete coordination, from hair to outfits to dancemoves. The two fabulous ladies were dressed in matching ensembles that were composed of rainbow sequins. They both sported blonde bobs with bangs and long hanging earrings. They sang and danced in unison, their moves perfectly in sync. How’s that for seeing double?

8. Phish Food You may know the band Phish for their music. Or, more importantly, their Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor. B&J’s had a booth set up on the Gov Ball grounds and gave out free ice cream all day, every day, for all three days. Sure there were lines, but the feel of the cold treat on a hot, sweaty day plus the fun photo op was worth every moment on line. So much so that I may have gone for seconds. Or thirds. Or tenths. I lost count. Whatever. Plus, the people handing out the ice cream were super nice. One of the guys saw me use my camera and made a scene. “Wow, I haven’t seen one of those in a WHILE! So traditional of you!” He was referencing the fact that everyone uses their cell phones for pictures nowadays. Does this make me #vintage? Anyway, that was some good ice cream.

7. The Artwork The Gov Ball grounds aren’t home to just stages. Art installations could be seen all around Randall’s Island, many of which were by local artists. It was photo op central with features like a giant picture frame (perfect for group photos), a Hollywood-style G O V B A L L N Y C sign (my friends and I each chose a letter to climb on), and a colorful mural of the notorious B.I.G. Stunning graffiti art was spread throughout the fields, making for great meeting places (“Hey, wanna meet up at the punk jellyfish mural at 6?”). The colorful pieces both supported local artists and added vibrancy to the festival.

6. The Statue of Judging You All Speaking of installations, it would be wrong not to mention the giant Statue of Liberty head emerging from the ground. Lady Liberty was rocking a pair of shades as she stood (err, sprouted?!) in between the Honda Stage and the Big Apple Stage. The apathetic look on her face made it seem as if she was judging everyone who posed in front of her. Especially those girls taking a hundred selfies. And the ones throwing the peace sign up in the air. (Disclaimer: I may or may not have been one of said girls)

5. Empire of the Sun I refuse to pinpoint one specific moment. The entire set was glorious. Empire of the Sun brought the party in a performance unlike any other. It didn’t feel like being at a concert – it felt like watching a Broadway show. Just with a lot more bass and sweaty bodies. The lead singer rocked bright blue eyebrow makeup and a giant golden triangular-shaped neckpiece. Professional dancers performed in the background on stage, grooving to each song. Toward the end of the set emerged a gigantic Dia de los Muertos skull that puffed out smoke into the audience. The set design, lighting, and of course the music had everyone loving every minute and feeling so alive (see what I did there?). Still recovering.

4. Two Words: Food. Trucks. As a New Yorker, I am completely spoiled when it comes to food. I’ll say it. We have the best food around. Much more than just our pizza and bagels (although those are delicious). That’s why it was so incredibly genius of Gov Ball to bring in all their favorite eateries from around Manhattan and Brooklyn and have them set up tents and food trucks to serve their goods. Tacos, sushi, whoopee pies, falafel, and practically anything you could dream of was available for purchase within the grounds. There were also plenty of options for a veghead like me, which I can’t say I’m accustomed to. Can we talk about that crepe cone filled with yogurt and fruit I got? I still dream of it every night. The best part is, these NYC-based eateries are getting tons of exposure thanks to Gov Ball. I keep in mind the names of the food stands I loved at the festival and make a habit to go visit them in the city. Gotta support local businesses!

3. The Crowd at Disclosure We knew British dance darlings Disclosure’s set was going to be a scene and a half. What we didn’t know was that it would take place in broad daylight. Seeing the “Latch” DJs while outdoors under the sun made for a strange experience. When I picture a Disclosure concert, I picture a dark club at night with flashing lights. Nevertheless, having their set in the open during the day made it all the more memorable. It was one of the most condensed crowds I had been in at the fest, and that comes as no surprise. Being packed together like sardines, we were able to make friends with the people around us. Good convos and lots of dancing were had. For most of the set, my friends and I created a circle within the crowd. When anyone would try to walk through it, we would yell “NOOOO” and “YOU RUINED IT!” Obnoxious? Yes. Fun? Extremely. I didn’t realize the full capacity of how immense and energized the crowd was until we played back footage on my friend’s GoPro which we had taken turns holding up on a stick. So much jumping. Sorry, feet.

2. Andre 3000’s “Art or Fart?” Shirt  I have waited my entire life to see Outkast live. That is not an exaggeration. I have stayed a loyal fan from their Hey Ya! days to Speakerboxxx vs. The Love Below (no, I’m not going to take a side) and beyond. The problem was, I could never see them because they stopped touring. When I heard they would be reuniting at Coachella, I screamed in agony because I knew there was no way I could afford a flight out to Cali. But by some miracle, they came right here to New York. And it was everything I’d ever dreamed of. First of all, Andre 3000 was wearing a shirt that said “Art or Fart?” Again, I’m not taking sides. Secondly, what was on his head? A hat? A wig? I don’t know. But it was beautiful. Highlights include: seriously jamming to I Like The Way You Move and me puncturing everyone’s eardrums as I screamed every word to Roses. Almost every word, at least (hey, Big Boi raps really fast). At the end of their performance, I walked up to the barricade to get a closer look at the set design. It was here I met random friend #183472 who when asked my name, I responded with “Amanda 3000.” I think I made him laugh a little too hard.

1. Drumroll please… THE STROKES!!!!!!!!! Every one of those exclamation points was necessary. This was their big reuniting moment. Right here in New York, where all the band members are from. Just to put things into perspective: when the complete Gov Ball lineup was released, there were actual tears of joy in my eyes. Whenever anyone tried to talk to me that day, all I could respond with was “yes, but have you seen the Gov Ball lineup?” I was obsessed. A major reason being The Strokes. And let me tell you, their set was amazing beyond anything I’ve heard/seen/experienced. I’m 99% sure I was projected into another galaxy. The crowd must’ve felt the same, because there were more people jamming their hearts out than any other set I’d gone to that day. Their setlist spanned songs from all of their albums, from Is This It? to Comedown Machine. They played every single one of my favorites. Julian Casablancas wore a bright blue Hawaiian shirt and was smiling and laughing with his bandmates at some inside jokes. It was also great to see Albert Hammond Jr again on stage. I had seen him earlier in the year on his solo tour when I got press passes to photograph him. I met him after the show and he was super friendly and goofy. Those same character traits translated on stage. The crowd lost it when Julian said “YOLO” and proceeded to play the opening chords to You Only Live Once (they coined the saying waaaay before Drake). If only the look on my face had been recorded when the first notes of 12:51 were played. It’s one of my all-time favorite songs, and definitely my favorite Strokes song. It’s also my good friend’s favorite Strokes song who was in the crowd beside me, and we physically held on to each other during the entirety of it to keep from floating away. I have never smiled so genuinely as I did in that crowd, singing along and looking out at the New York skyline. It reestablished to me that I am happiest when I’m surrounded by good people and live music, all in a place I love.

And the award for worst part goes to….
1. The Subway Station to get Home. The photo says it all. I considered crowdsurfing when it was time to get off at my stop.

…And the countdown to Gov Ball 2015 begins!

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