Gov Ball: The Music Was Great, Even if Half the Crowd Wasn’t Listening

Music may enrich our memories of a time and place, but at festivals, it only tells half the story; the only real constant are the attendees.

At Governors Ball, which is finally “hitting its stride” according to The New York Times, the two get along, but aren’t a match made in heaven. The music lover in me remembers a tainted story, one that was muggy, muddy, and mostly underage; four stages of world class talent performing to a crowd that was having the time of its life but only while halfway listening.  And while it remembers Ratatat slaying, ripping through their first NYC performance in almost four years, it also recalls obnoxious tweenage groping, $13 Miller Lites, and crushing sound problems galore. It remembers a weekend awash in a sea of macrame crop tops and balloon chain eye candy.

Now that that photo’s painted, take it back a notch. The festival isn’t trying to be the next music lovers’ paradise (Bonnaroo) or the trendiest place to be this summer (Coachella) or a close-to-home musical getaway (Firefly). It’s a fast-paced social urban festival with little seating, lots of shuffling, sets that only go till midnight and several choices of transit to shuttle you to the afterparty of your choice.

With a catchphrase of “You’re Doing Great!” the festival puts the decision in the hands of the fan- to do whatever having a good time means to them. So: food trucks, yard games, cyber photobooths, charging stations, ferries, afterparties….bring it on! The pacing of the festival matches the priorities of the attendee- which includes little relaxing, much dancing, lots of chitchat, and of course, lots spending to get that optimal experience.

Despite its setbacks and less than ideal conditions to sit back and absorb a musical experience, Gov Ball was a really good time. Its bill was packed enough punch to bring outer-boroughers and even out-of-towners to a reasonably diverse count, a sprinkling of socialites here (the VIP cabanas), camp of hipsters there (spread out by the decidedly “alt” Honda stage), belly-button baring fashionistas (prancing across the main lawn for Vogue and all the others), and of course the foodies (in line for the ramen burger).

And the music, well, if the crowd shut up enough to let you listen, it was great.

Friday saw a manageable crowd filled with lots of energy: Gorgon City, a British DJ outfit with live singers and percussion, captured hearts around 2:30, later on an Ezra Koeing-and-Chromeo confused the mid-90s kids but charmed millennials, Death From Above 1979 caused a mudpit make out session, while the evening belonged to My Morning Jacket‘s rich, booming folk rock sound soaring miles above a mumbling Drake (even if there was a surprise cameo from ILoveMakonnen).

Sunday’s bill was full of senseless conflicts but still came out on top as the best day of the festival: Tame Impala (semi-affectionately shortened to “Tame,” as a friend learned from a Bro on the Subway) swept up the crowd into a psychedelic storm at the main stage, The War On Drugs, though under-attended, ripped through their set with incredible fidelity, proving that the sound guys were doing something really, really right, Noel Gallagher fulfilled my high school fantasies by playing “Champagne Supernova,” Hot Chip created the most authentic steel drum-fueled dance party GB saw all weekend, then Lana Del Ray puckered her lips and crooned, vocal only to about a fifth of a crowd, proving the sound guys had fucked it up again.

But this rant of an article was all about the crowd, wasn’t it? Let me give you that context you so desperately crave. And GovballNYC, see you next year…. giddy-but-reluctantly.

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