The start of summer is marked every year by Governors Ball, the annual three-day festival held on Randall’s Island between the upper east side of Manhattan and Queens. This year’s was epic and bombastic, from its musical acts to its abrupt end on Sunday thanks to mother nature.
It’s something of a trek up to the buses running from Harlem across the bridge onto Randall’s Island, but it hasn’t quite gotten to the point of sweltering and the commute is as comfortable as it possibly could be. The first approach – being late, coming straight from work as early as I could manage – across the green, passing a replica of the Statue of Liberty’s bust with sunglasses and a memorial portrait of Mac Miller, had the hazy sample sounds from The Internet from what seems like miles away at the mainstage.
Mitski is at the Honda Stage, tucked away in a corner across from American Eagle and bordered by fences and food stalls, as she breaks into the chorus of “A Pearl” from her most recent release, the epic and life-changing Be the Cowboy. Seeing her here and now is seeing her with the new confidence and understanding after a year of her fifth studio album being out in the world, rather than in the initial press cycle of the album, as she recently revealed in a tweet. To close the set, she ran through a variety of songs from years past, including “Best American Girl” and “Drunk Walk Home.”
Blood Orange — with a multi-piece backing band and singers to support his smooth and slinky R&B – aka Dev Hynes and energetic Danish pop sweetheart MØ followed this before Jorja Smith takes the Honda stage just as golden hour hit. She glowed in orange as the sun approached the horizon behind the skyline just visible to the west before finishing with “On My Mind” as the crowd sang along.
Brockhampton took the mainstage with the backdrop of a gold space shuttle clutched by giant blue hands and clad in silver space suits that glittered in the lights as they launched themselves across the stage in an energetic whirlwind. Lil Wayne followed at the Bacardi stage, being his Lil Wayne self, but even before his set ended, the crowd began to trickle then flow then fully barge towards mainstage for the act many had been waiting for all day. It was here one could see just how impressive attendance for the festival was, with almost every body pressing forward eagerly.
Tyler, the Creator cycled through the eras of his career, beginning by the most recent. Opening on plain blue curtains and a droning backing track, he emerged in a neon yellow-green suit and his IGOR wig and began “IGOR’S THEME,” then morphed into the classic flower boy-era garb of shorts and a floral shirt. His demeanor towards the crowd was familiar, friendly, and the banter only kept coming. “Are y’all drenched in moist and sweat? My dick is dripping,” and his response to the crowd chanting his name (“I know my name.”) is followed by genuine and grateful thanks to those who had supported him all the years.
Day two started with majority NYC-locals, both new and old, first with Sunflower Bean – who run through discography from start to finish, including songs from the recent EP King of the Dudes – then Clairo (a recent transplant to New York, as she told us) delivers her chilled-out jazzy songs at the mainstage, followed by Greenpoint-native King Princess. June 1st meant the start of pride month, rainbow flags flapping in the light breeze off the East River, and Mikaela Straus (KP’s aka) played to the gays with all the enthusiasm of a young pop queen with the backdrop of a giant yellow couch and funky green-screened projections as a backdrop. A runthrough of her debut EP and singles from her forthcoming debut album (“Cheap Queen,” released a few days prior, “Pussy is God,” and other new yet-to-be-released songs) has the crowd screaming along in utter bliss.
“I know yeehaw is having a moment, but I’ve been yeehawing my whole life,” is what Kacey Musgraves told us from the sunset-soaked mainstage before launching into a call-and-response a-la-“I didn’t say fuckin’ yee,” the viral video from Coachella in April. I promise this isn’t the only thing I remember from the set – her sweet and smooth country is always memorable, as were the beach balls with a print of the globe on them floating over the crowd (Oh What a World, Gov Ball edition) until the wind carries them to the backstage area to the west.
Everyone’s favorite indie rock band, Manchester’s The 1975 started their set on mainstage with “Give Yourself a Try” after a lengthy, buzzing electronic intro. “I love this,” frontman Matty Healy tells us, “this cheering, this unabashed love for me, a modern rockstar. Doing this is hard because I don’t know how seriously you’re taking me. It’s not very cool to pretend I’m James Morrison.” Unabashed was really the keyword for their performance, but it was clear they’re still grateful for the support fans show them, even after all this growth since their start. They draw from as many eras as they’ve been around (almost), from “Robbers” to songs from their “verbosely titled” latest albums.
The setup for the headlining act of day two was full of wood frames and natural shapes, perfect for Florence Welch and her machine, oft attributed with being a goddess of nature. Her dancing doesn’t deviate from this, with whirling and hands thrown exaggeratedly to the sky. “You wouldn’t think I’m shy because of the stuff” – referring to the dancing – “I feel like there are a lot of kindred spirits in this crowd: people who are both shy and extra.” She spoke about Patti Smith being with us in spirit, supporting women and ridding the world of toxic masculinity, and about how we should all donate to the ACLU instead of using our money to buy her merch.
The first bassline of “Dog Days Are Over” was met with ecstatic cheers, and further back on the green, where people had the room to do so as people pushed forward to join the ever-growing and heaving crowd, attendees were whirling and dancing without abandon. Florence thanked the crowd for their never-ending support before “Cosmic Love” broke over us and over a sea of stars in the form of lighters and phone flashlights ascending from the crowd, one of the first songs they ever wrote as a band. The night closes on “Shake It Out” with an invitation for the crowd to join them as their choir.
The next morning, I awoke to a message from the team at Governors Ball warning us not to come to the grounds until news about the weather could be accurately delivered. By 11am, we had news that the grounds wouldn’t be open until 6pm, and most of the acts of the day had to be rescheduled or cancelled thanks to the dangerous weather rising. No Soccer Mommy or Charli XCX for me, unfortunately, but both had off-grounds shows to keep at least some of those looking forward to their sets satisfied.
Lily Allen kicked off the day for me with a glorious fuck you to Trump with the appropriately-titled “Fuck You,” middle fingers rising from what seemed like every member of the crowd. Bazzi’s “Myself” floated over to me (you’ll know it if you watch TikToks) at some point, and hip hop legend Nas entertained us from mainstage as the light faded from the grounds. At the end of his set, a representative from the festival mounted each stage with the message that we should all move quickly and quietly to the exits. By the time I was safe in a shuttle bus back into the city, the rain started to come down fast and heavy, and thus Governors Ball ended abruptly.