It happens in the state that gave us Woodstock and manages to retain some of that free-flowing, fun-loving, just-rebellious-enough feel. The Governors Ball Music Festival (often just called “GovBall”) is a three-day music festival featuring acts from a wide range of genres, including rock, rap, electronica, hip-hop, indie, Americana, pop, and folk.
In the park space of NYC’s verdant Randall’s Island, this festival expanded during 2013’s installment from a two-day regional event to a larger-scale three-day one. That means it’s growing in scope, audience size, and reputation to become on par with other major U.S. music festivals like California’s Coachella and Tennessee’s Bonnaroo.
Striving to be the East Coast’s long-needed answer to a major music festival, headliners have not disappointed and included Kanye West, Kings of Leon, Guns ‘N Roses, OutKast, Jack White, the Strokes and Damian Marley—plus lots of almost-famous bands always rock GovBall’s stages.
GovBall’s Short, Bright History
The Governors Ball Music Festival had its inaugural year in 2011 on Governors Island (hence the event’s name). Back then, it was just a one-day event with a not-so-grand musical lineup. Still, it broke attendance records for any kind of event held on the island, so it migrated to its current larger venue on Randall’s Island in 2012.
While many music festivals fall victim to poor planning, reviews for GovBall have been positive from the start, thanks to good execution and foresighted organizers (the event-production company Founders Entertainment). The event’s good reputation allowed its credibility to grow fast in just a few years, which has made it a magnet for high-profile artists.
A Rainy-Day Plan
A well-balanced musical lineup is essential to the success of any music festival, but certain factors can dampen the vibe no matter how epic the slate of performers. The first day of 2013’s GovBall was one such occasion; the soggy remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea portended flash floods, forcing the festival’s organizers to cancel the evening’s headliners—despite their previous insistence on “rain or shine”—due to high winds and unsafe conditions. To the organizers’ credit, though, they rescheduled the Kings of Leon for the following day, and Friday’s ticketholders were allowed to re-enter the festival on Saturday. By all accounts, the rest of the festival made up for Friday’s calamity.
In the New York Times, music critic Jon Pareles reported: “I’ve seen festivalgoers party through steady drizzles and long showers, from the first Woodstock Festival through the 1992 Reading Festival in England and more than one drenched Bonnaroo. But Friday’s daylong, relentless rain, continuing from the night before, left me thinking more about drainage and soil runoff than about much of the music.”
That day, bloggers’ accounts became more about attendees’ stylish rainwear than the music itself—they documented looks that appeared as though they belonged at the daddy of all music festivals: Glastonbury, held each summer in southwest England, where wellies and waxy raincoats have been de rigueur since its 1970 beginnings, due to the very British June weather.
Attire aside, perhaps it was the rain (or perhaps not) that made Kanye West even more ornery than usual during his closing set of the 2013 festival. First he warned the crowd: “This is the part of the show where I start complaining about shit and justifying shit.” Then he went on a now semi-famous rant: “With this album, we ain’t drop no single to radio. We ain’t got no big NBA campaign or nothing like that. Shit, we ain’t even got no cover. We just made some real music . . . Honestly, at this point, I could give a fuck about selling a million records . . . And I don’t give a fuck to what the label tell me.”
Efforts to Green
After Randall’s Island was left in a state that some described as “mud-pie” after the 2013 Governors Ball, festival organizers promptly released the following statement: “Randall’s Island Park is such a beautiful public space, and after this year’s record rainfall resulted in lost grass and excessive mud in the event area, we knew immediately we had to restore the event site and leave it in even better condition than it was before Governors Ball took place.”
Restore it they did, and they’ve taken some other environmentally-responsible measures too, creating “waste reclamation stations” throughout the festival’s site not just for trash destined for the landfill but also for compostables and recyclables. The food for sale at GovBall includes locally-sourced fare with lots of vegetarian options. And when it’s time to buy your commemorative Governors Ball T-shirt, you can choose one made from eco-heather.