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A Pearl in the Storm: Governors Ball 2019 Festival Review

on June 03, 2019, 4:55pm

Beyond the Gates: Getting to Governors Ball is a task. Attendees have the option of taking a ferry from Manhattan or going up to Harlem and walking or bussing over the RFK Bridge. The path over the bridge provided a slow introduction to the fest. You could hear the bass of the far-off stages as you approached. Once inside, the grounds of Governors Ball unfurled to reveal a playground of vendors, stages, and art installations. Friday afternoon, while the grounds were muddy but not yet filled to capacity, the air was excited. With a view of the city behind the main stage, a stacked lineup, and, for the hoards of youths who flocked there, endless Instagram opportunities, it’s obvious why Governors Ball is one of the East Coast’s biggest festivals.

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Governors Ball 2019, photo Ben Kaye


Notable Choreo: Mitski walked onto the stage and up to a a sturdy, white table and a single chair. She was wearing an outfit fit for a pilates instructor, but with knee pads. It didn’t really make sense. Then, as the music kicked in, she began to move, and it began to click. She didn’t dance, exactly. Rather, she emphasized her already impactful lyrics with purposeful kicks, points, and strides. She used the table to highlight and elevate her body — she stood atop it, laid across it, and even flipped it over and used it to frame her as she stood. She would strike a pose and hold it, earnestly singing all the while.

The knee pads weren’t a fashion choice. They allowed Mitski to crawl and slide across the stage on her hands and knees. Some of her movements were childlike, like when she laid on her stomach and playfully kicked her feet in the air to “Dan the Dancer”. Others were performative, like when she flipped the table over to form a war-like barricade as she sang “Drunk Walk Home”. She was equally sincere and goofy, but never broke from this choreographed character. Free from the bass she usually plays when performing, Mitski pushed her music from something to be listened to to something you couldn’t take your eyes off of.

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Mitski, photo by Ben Kaye

Best Entrance: Even before their set, Brockhampton transformed the main stage into something to be watched. An enormous tarp billowed over something that took up almost the entirety of the stage, and a contraption that looked like a cherry picker lay in wait. The show officially began when bearface., wearing a metallic silver space suit, stepped onto the cherry picker. As he sang “Summer”, the enormous silver contraption extended out over the crowd. The effect was insane — it was the sort of stunt usually reserved for arena shows. And just as bearface. returned to the stage, the tarp was ripped off to reveal the remaining members of Brockhampton sitting in a golden airplane. (They were all wearing the same metallic jumpsuit, of course.) The boys then burst into “Boogie” and, for the next hour, delivered one of the highest-energy performances of the weekend. At one point, Kevin abstract claimed the crowd was watching “the greatest boy band on the planet.” And, after that entrance, he might not be wrong.

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BROCKHAMPTON, photo by Ben Kaye

Best Ensemble in a (Major) Supporting Role: Dev Hynes, on his own, is an incredible talent. But, when backed with the crew he had with him on Friday, his performance came alive in a way he likely couldn’t have done on his own. Eva and Ian Isiah, Blood Orange’s backup singers, are stars in their own right. The trio stood front stage as the musicians — a drummer, guitarist, keyboardist, and wind instrument player — performed on an elevated surface behind. Each member of the ensemble was clearly visible to the crowd, just as they each were each clearly masters of their craft. When one person would burst into a solo, the others would enthusiastically look on — the crowd was witnessing a jam sesh, not a performance. And that’s what made it so great. It wasn’t about putting something on; it was about the music.

Blood Orange Governors Ball Music Festival 2019 Ben Kaye

Blood Orange, photo by Ben Kaye

Something About an Outfit Change: IGOR came out in full uniform — neon yellow suit, blunt blonde bob, and black sunglasses. Tyler, the Creator thrashed his latest persona around the stage, and the crowd thrashed back. The suit and wig appeared to change color in the flashing stage lights as he raged through “I Think” and “New Magic Wand.” He said nothing to the crowd, but his equally flamboyant and aggressive motions were enough to keep them locked in. Then, after the comparatively mellow “Puppet”, he disappeared for a few beats. When he reemerged, Tyler looked like his normal self — shorts, a patterned button-up, and a baseball hat. He was no longer just IGOR, but all of his past selves. He launched into “Boredom” and other Flower Boy favorites. He went deeper, playing “Yonkers”, “Tamale”, and “She”. The crowd roared to every era of himself Tyler presented.

Tyler, the Creator, photo by Julia Drummond Governors Ball 2019

Tyler, the Creator, photo by Julia Drummond

Festival Fashion: If you have any doubts about the power of the yee-haw agenda, look no further than Gen Z festival fashion. Cow print, cowboy hats, and, yes, even cowboy boots were everywhere. Some festivalgoers were more low-key country, wearing fringed vests and skirts or denim-on-denim ensembles. But, of course, all these looks were still spiked with 2019 trends — tiny sunglasses, sparkly hair barrettes, baggy track pants, and, of course, chunky dad sneakers. What a time to be alive.

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Governors Ball 2019, photo by Ben Kaye

The Best of the Tiny Fonts: Don’t let the name fool you — there’s nothing fragile or small about Sunflower Bean. The foursome turned their 2:15 time slot into a bona fide rock show, mosh pit and all. Julia Cumming, the 23-year-old frontwoman, moved expertly from growl to scream to airy falsetto. Her striking performance was made even stronger by the band’s serious skills: Nick Kivlen on guitar, Jacob Faber on the drums, and Danny Ayala on the keyboard. Kivlen delivered punk perfection in an ’80s suit, and at one point Ayala picked up his keyboard with one hand and played it with the other. At this rate, Sunflower Bean won’t be among the tiny fonts for much longer.

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Sunflower Bean, photo by Ben Kaye

Carbon Copy: Country pop darling Kacey Musgraves didn’t miss a note, literally. Her voice, sweeping over the cowboy-hat-wearing crowd, sounded nearly identical to her records. That’s not to say Musgraves didn’t add any flair or variation for her live performance. But rather that she just really is that good. Backed by a full country band, complete with a pedal steel guitar, Musgraves stuck almost exclusively to material from Golden Hour. Her one deviation came when she played “Family Is Family”, giving the crowd a stronger dose of country twang. If there were any doubts among festival goers about Musgraves’ chops, they were soundly put to rest Saturday afternoon.

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Kacey Musgraves, photo by Ben Kaye

“Right Place, Wrong Time”: Denzel Curry’s set could also easily have been awarded the title of “Most likely place to get hit in the head with an airborne Bud Light bottle.” Despite being early afternoon, Curry brought the energy of a sold-out solo show. He jumped, ran, and swerved himself — and the crowd — into a frenzy. If the grounds weren’t so muddy, there surely would have been a cloud of dust above the crowd. He stopped only momentarily, after telling the crowd he was going to slow it down a bit. The young, sufficiently inebriated crowd were displeased, to which Curry responded: “Don’t worry, I’m still gonna play good shit. I just gotta catch my motherfucking breath.” And, after a few (only comparatively) chill tracks, Curry cranked it back up to a 10, where it stayed for the remainder of his set.

Denzel Curry, photo by Julia Drummond Governors Ball 2019

Denzel Curry, photo by Julia Drummond

Dancing in the Back of the Crowd: The 1975 brought their signature indie rock, emo pop mix out in full force. The sun was just beginning to set on Randall’s Island, and the band sounded fantastic. Frontman Matty Healy, dressed in a David-Byrne-esque black suit, sauntered across the stage like he owned it. And, for those in the packed crowd, he did. Confidently straddling the line between millennial and Gen Z, the band’s visuals were comprised of smatterings of typeface text, vintage video footage, and a screen recording of Google Maps. To someone unfamiliar with them, The 1975 might seem like they could only exist as the fictional synth pop band in a moody coming-of-age film. But they’re real, and the crowd loved it. The second the opening notes of “Chocolate” rang out, the crowd danced. And they kept dancing through “Sex” and “The Sound” — from the superfans in the front row to those lounging on the lawn. Those three songs made abundantly clear why The 1975 are so popular; their music is just so damn dance-able.

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The 1975, photo by Ben Kaye

Running like the Wind: There were plenty of high-energy performances on Randall’s Island this weekend, mostly of the rap and rock variety. But Florence Welch brought a different, unbridled energy to her Saturday night show. Instead of thrashing and jumping, Welch ran. In her bare feet and sheer gown, she ran back and forth across the stage and only occasionally stopped to spin or speak to the crowd. “American women deserve better,” she said, before asking attendees to donate to the ACLU instead of buying merch. Then she took off again, running off the stage and along the barricades while singing “Delilah” and “What Kind of Man”, never losing her breath. She moved so swiftly that the spotlight couldn’t follow her fast enough. Her exuberance left the crowd glowing as the final notes of “Shake It Off” rang over the island, surely leaving all within earshot feeling lighter than before.

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Florence and the Machine, photo by Ben Kaye-4

Best Bites: Gone are the days when festival food was synonymous with outrageously overpriced slices of pizza and soggy fries. The dining options were at Governors Ball were nearly endless (although still pricey at times). Classics like Big Mozz mozzarella sticks and Roberta’s pizza were crowd favorites along with vegan options like Marty’s V Burger and Southernmost Falafel. You could also choose from a ton of extremely Instagram-able desserts — colorful ice cream sandwiches, ice cream wrapped in a fluffy waffle cone, edible cookie dough, and even a MatchaBar. As if this wasn’t already a millennial food paradise, there was brunch. Yes, brunch. Suffice to say even the pickiest of eaters were satisfied.

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Governors Ball Music Festival 2019, photo by Ben Kaye

Sound Bites: Walking across the bridge to Randall’s Island on Sunday evening — when hopes of a rain-free evening were still high — two youths huddled together, holding a phone speaker to their ears. The muffled sounds of “Last Night” started to play. Moments later, they turned to the masses walking behind them and asked, “Do you guys know who The Strokes are?” Ouch. And now, thanks to Mother Nature, they may never know.

Soggy Sunday: Those who braved the park for the few hours it was open on Sunday were rewarded with excellent performances from Lily Allen and Nas. Allen was equally affable and overtly political, looking completely at home on the enormous main stage. “I thought the world was messed up then,” she said, referring to when she wrote “The Fear.” She continued: “Are you scared? You should be,” and then launched into the song. She closed with “Fuck You”, which pretty much sums up her whole ethos — playful and fun yet fiercely unapologetic. Nas took that same stage later that evening. He opened with a trio of tracks from Illmatic — “The World Is Yours”, “NY State of Mind”, and “Life’s a Bitch”. Though entirely different in genre, Nas and Lily Allen are otherwise similar: they’re music industry veterans with whip-smart, personal lyrics.

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Nas, photo by Ben Kaye

Leaving the Park: Once again, Governors Ball had to close its gates early. Tens of thousands filed, pushed, and slogged their way off the island Sunday night. Despite its unfortunate end, Governors Ball ultimately delivered. The fest offered solid headlining performances from Tyler, the Creator and Florence + the Machine, while stacking the supporting lineup with rap, R&B, rock, and most things in between. Seasoned festivalgoers may have found themselves feeling drained by the young, glitter-coated crowd and extravagant food options or wondering how many Instagram photo shoots they unknowingly walked through. If you were looking for a party, Randall’s Island Park was your place. As for the throngs of sopping, sad Strokes fans, there’s always next year.

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Governors Ball 2019, photo by Ben Kaye

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