This week on Hollieats, we’re talking about my Empire State experience at Governors Ball, one of the East Coast’s most popular music festivals. Music festivals have grown from simple sets to being full-blown, three-day extravaganzas that are just as much about the food and experiences as the performers. 10 – or technically 11, if you’re counting last year, when the event was cancelled – years going strong, Gov Ball has mastered the art of festival food and experiences. From tacos to fusion to desserts galore, there was a selection to satisfy your craving. As for the latter, from beauty brands to alcohol brand areas, attendees could line up for a variety of photos ops and swag.
“Gov Ball definitely has the best food of all the music festivals I’ve been to,” Jordan Theroux, a seventh-semester allied health sciences major, said. She attended the festival all three days, as well as the festival in its latest iteration in 2019. “They have such a selection. My favorites were the fresh-squeezed juice stand where I got fresh-squeezed pineapple and watermelon juice [served] inside of pineapple. I liked the mozzarella sticks from Big Mozz, and Dank Nugs was pretty good.”
There were over 20 food vendors, clustered in groups of five around the perimeter of the circular set-up of the event, in addition to the drinks that brands were selling in their own areas. Some vendors have locations in New York and were serving an abbreviated version of their full menu, while some are festival staples around the nation. As expected of a music festival, the options were pretty pricey, averaging $15 per food or drink item, but certainly worth it for the experience.
Many attendees were walking around with hollowed-out pineapples and mini watermelons, which John’s Juice served freshly-squeezed juice in for $8 to $10. Another popular choice was edible cookie dough from DŌ, Cookie Dough Confections, which served one scoop for $6, two scoops for $20, a cookie sandwich for $12, a single cookie for $4 and three cookies for $11. Other interesting options I wanted to try but didn’t have the time to was the potato tornado from Twist and Smash’d, the nachos from Casa Bacardi and any of the wraps from Shady Grove Wraps ($14 to $15). The latter has flavors like chicken, bacon and ranch; chicken pesto; southwest chipotle chicken; rodeo barbecue and onion rings and steak and shrimp, as well some yummy-looking flavored fries. I also wanted to try the shrimp tempura or the hot Cheetos mac and cheese baos from The Bao Shoppe, but the line was so long.
“I went to the Casa Bacardi and got the frozen pina colada and the street corn nachos, Dank Nugz for the ‘Baller Nugs’ and parmesan truffle fries, John’s Juice for a drink in a pineapple and the Mac and Cheese truck for buffalo mac and cheese,” Rebecca Mailhot, a seventh-semester allied health sciences major, said.
Last time I visited Gov Ball, Takumi Taco caught my eye, so I indulged in my craving this year and tried the braised beef taco. The meat was stewed in Japanese style curry and served with cotija cheese and napa cabbage slaw in a crispy gyoza shell. Sometimes I’m wary of Asian fusion food, but I was happy to be proven wrong in this instance. The beef was cooked to the perfect tenderness, and I love Japanese curry; the one in the taco had a nice spice. The crispy shell was an interesting but delicious innovation, fried to an air puff without being oily.
We also tried the strawberry Captain Crunch ice cream from Milk and Craft, which was a nice refresher. A pint went for $10, which wasn’t bad considering the average price of desserts at the festival. The flavor was spot-on: sweet and creamy without being too heavy. To cap off, we tried beef bulgogi dumplings from Destination Dumplings, which had a delicious spiced and tender filling. However, I wish the dumplings were fried and not steamed, for a bit of textural difference.
And one – of legal age – cannot attend a music festival without trying at least one of the many drinks offered by the vendors, which included Tito’s Vodka, BABE Wine, Aperol Spritz, Bud Light, JuneShine Hard Kombucha, Stella Artois, Goose Island IPA and Blue Point Brewing Co. Although a nice can of a cold drink intrigued me, the concept of paying over $10 for a drink I can probably buy for less than $5 at my local liquor store did not. Plus, I wanted to try something unique I could only get at Gov Ball, a principle I apply to many of my dining exploits. The crisp, bubbly wine from BABE or the fun flavors like grapefruit paloma and tropical midnight painkiller from JuneShine would have to wait.
And thus began my search for a cocktail/mixed drink worthy of my purchase. A friend had informed me of a lemonade and vodka drink from Tito’s that certainly sounded refreshing, but not necessarily up my alley – I usually opt for rum, gin or tequila as my choice of liquor. With that in mind, I beelined for Casa Bacardí, which had a colorfully tropical-themed area with a bar and food tent. They did not disappoint, with a drinks menu full with enticing options: the frozen piña colada that Mailhot tried; cans of their ready to drink cocktails, which I will try at a later date; a half-and-half with spiced rum and peach iced tea; the classic rum and Coke; and the ultimate victor, the Gov Ball Punch.
The craft cocktail combined Bacardí coconut-flavored rum, passionfruit, lime and club soda. As much as I love tropical-inspired drinks, even I can admit they are sometimes too sweet, especially with the different juices – the sacrifices that must be made to mask the sting of alcohol! However, the Gov Ball Punch was perfectly refreshing and the unique drink I was looking for. A single drink was $14, while a double drink served in an iconic Bacardí-themed can went for $27. Even now, I’m contemplating if I should have went for the double drink for the cool souvenir, but I also knew I didn’t want to risk drinking too much alcohol while on the job, in the hot sun and during such a long day. So until next time, Casa Bacardí.
A fun bonus: I’ll also talk about the installations and points of interest by businesses that I visited at Governors Ball, which included OGX’s I Love My Hair Fest, Casa Bacardí, the Bud Light Seltzer area, Tito’s Party in the Shack, the BABE Bus Terminal and the Juneshine Garden.
The OGX tent caught my eye last time I attended Gov Ball since they style your hair for free, but was deterred by the long line. This year, I was determined to take advantage of the experience and signed up to save my spot in line. As I waited for a confirmation text, I explored the colorful set-up for BABE wine next door that was playing off of a bus stop motif. You filled out your “bus ticket” at the ticket booth and in return, had your choice of a colorful baseball hat, from pink to yellow to white. I went with the buttercup yellow with turquoise lettering. While we waited in line to board the coach bus, we had a chance of winning souvenirs like pop sockets, sunglasses and an electric fan.
When we boarded the bus, we were welcomed with a jovial “Welcome to the Babe Cave!” The interior of the bus was made for photo opps, complete with a plush bed in the back with a plethora of the cutest stuffed animals and a millennial pink rotary telephone. The middle had a self-timer camera with different filters and stickers.
Afterwards, I headed to my hair appointment with OGX, and had the hairstyle choices of a side braid, space buns, dutch braids or a bubble pony. As the hairstylist, Eve Gene, added some waves to my hair and got to work on a braid, she let me choose from hair accessories like different colors of hair glitter, charms and hair ties. Afterwards, we could get a Polaroid taken with a fun backdrop and a fan to show off our new hairstyle, and grabbed lavender, blue and pink bandanas from OGX.
I managed to snag a bunch of free swag this past weekend, which had me wondering: Why did I not get as much free stuff in 2019? The answer, my friends, is now I’m 21. I didn’t realize a perk of being legal is not only being able to buy exorbitantly-priced drinks, but being able to enter the area for alcohol brands like Tito’s, Bacardi, Babe and Bud Light, which all check your ID. I got a personalized dog tag from Tito’s Party in the Shack that said “DC x Gov Ball,” the aforementioned hat from Babe, a can koozie and floral scrunchies from hard kombucha vendor Juneshine. Another nice perk of these 21+ areas is that they were less crowded and offered a nice reprieve from the people that flooded the venue later in the evening.
“I loved all of the food and it was so hard to pick what I wanted, everything looked amazing,” Mailhot said. “I would definitely go for more than one day next year not only to see more artists, but also to try more food.”