For my first music festival, The Governors Ball was quite the experience.
Not only did I have 24 hours to find a photographer and secure housing, but I also was not familiar with most of the artists, despite there being popular headliners like Glass Animals and J. Cole. Despite the whiplash, I had an awesome time listening to a diverse number of genres, from aggressively autotuned 100 gecs to the fast-flowing lyrical chops of J. Cole.
The festival took place at Citi Field, a baseball stadium in Flushing Meadows–Corona Park. It was conveniently located by the 7 Train. Getting into the festival was not hard for Alexa and I, but other festival-goers expressed frustrations with the wristbands that were required to get in.
“They say the wristbands have an electronic chip, but mine didn’t scan. They had me go and wait 20 minutes for them to give me a brand new one and then I had to go back to the end of the security line. It was another 35 minutes and by the time I got here Duckwrth was finishing up,” said Joseph, a man relaxing on the grass next to me.
There were beautiful art installations everywhere; some were made out of shipping containers with spray-painted murals. A small crew called Balloon Chain held down a chain of balloons that stretched across the sky, while various pop-up stalls offered festival-goers new products, activities and entertainment. The Sunshine Shack sold sunscreen. Love is in the House was offering glamor shots and a mini hair salon. An all-female brass band called Brass Queens played big band arrangements of songs throughout the day.
However, the festival itself was not easy to navigate.The placement of the stages was peculiar, as the main Governors Ball stage didn’t have a cut through.
Almost monday was the first band that we saw. They were the perfect start to an overcast day. Starting out with popular songs like “parking lot view” and “cool enough,” frontman Dawson Daughtery danced around the stage dressed like a California cowboy with overalls on. “Cool enough” had band member Luke Fabry jamming out to a bassline that sounded like it came from an ‘80s synth. They cruised into “live forever” and asked the crowd to sing the opening riff. They then got the crowd up and moving, transitioning into more rock-oriented songs like “sun keeps on shining” and “sunburn.”
Most of the songs had a laid-back summer feel, which according to an interview with San Diego-based publication Pacific, is exactly what they wanted with their first EP.
Only having heard “Supalonely,” we decided to shlep over to the stage where Benee was performing. It was her first time at a festival in the U.S. and out of all the artists I saw, Benee, dressed as a blue jester, looked like she had the most fun on stage.
Her interactions with the crowd really sold the performance. During “Find an Island,” “Soaked,” and “Glitter,” she would wave to fans on all sides and scream out of nowhere. She regularly checked up on us, encouraging us to stay hydrated. Security guards even threw emergency drinking water packages into the crowd.
During “Supalonely,” she brought out featuring artist Gus Dapperton to sing his verse, something she had never done before. Behind her was a screen showing vaporwave visuals, with sharks and cats swimming around desktop wallpapers. With “Kool” and “Sheesh” at the end, fans had thrown her a baby dinosaur plush and she serenaded a fan by singing “Happy Birthday.”
Nothing could prepare me for the fact that Shaquille O’Neal was a DJ or that his stage name was Diesel.
He played a variety of dubstep and house remixes of popular songs like “Sicko Mode” and “Mo Bamba.” He beckoned for us to raise our middle fingers and had a fan sit on his shoulders as he played with the mixing console.
Despite being an avid metalhead, this was my first mosh pit experience; I don’t think I’ve ever had more fun at a concert than being thrown around and almost getting trampled by Shaquille O’Neal fans. It was violent, but if someone fell, they would get picked right back up. A dance circle opened up at one point.
Denzel Curry’s show began with a cinematic music video, depicting him as a renegade cowboy with a deep voice narrating his travels across the desert. It was like a Sergio Leone movie, but he finally walked out, coated in red light. As a day of many firsts, this was mine seeing a rapper.
After his entrance, he mourned the state of the world and the systemic racism present within the American judicial system. This acted as the transition into his first song, “Walkin.” He beckoned us to “raise our motherf—ing hands if we got some problems.” In between the alcohol showers and the mosh pits, he told us about his emotional sensitivity and how being human means going through these emotions. He followed this speech up with “Troubles,” a powerful piece about the aforementioned topics. Almost every song had the heaviest 808s that I’ve ever heard, vibrating the screens.
The love that the fans had for Denzel was clear, as the people around me kept up with every verse, no matter how fast or complex the lyrics.
After moshing with Diesel and Denzel Curry, I opted to turn away from the supposedly stimulating electronic music of Flume and went to Halsey’s performance. I have some friends who practically worshiped Halsey and would gush about her live performances. I was wary, but the minute she entered the stage, I was mesmerized.
She jumped out with the massively popular “Nightmare” with blasts of fire that were on-beat before careening into the mellower “Castle.” While effortlessly switching between high-energy punk songs like “Easier than Lying” and acoustic ballad “You Should Be Sad,” she talked about staring at the stage eight years ago and dreaming about singing on it. That was the day she signed her first record deal. Halsey played a healthy mix of songs from all of her albums and performed “So Good” for the first time live.
Lastly, the accompanying visuals were the best at the festival. It ranged from her naked covered in a starfish to laser beams shooting everywhere. I was not disappointed.
Before my most anticipated act, I got to catch up with a few 100 gecs fans. Chris, who was dressed as a banana, and Mike Boney, who donned the wizard costume that 100 gecs commonly wear in their music videos, gushed about them. They said that they came to the festival just to see 100 gecs.
“It took me a while to get into it. After repeated listens, it really just hits you,” Boney said.
When I asked him why he had a 3DS with him, he caught me up on the trend of fans bringing absurdly low quality cameras to their performances. He also said that people have brought microwaves and would attach potatoes to tripods.
Armed with just a computer, Dylan Brady and Laura Les skipped out of the curtains with “Hey Big Man.” They were extremely autotuned, but that is part of the ironic appeal. They never took themselves seriously, transitioning into songs with questions like “Do you like ketchup with your fries?” and “How many people here have watched Spongebob Squarepants?” They also played songs off their upcoming album “10000 gecs” like “Doritos and Fritos” and “Hollywood Baby.”
After these high energy songs, Laura slowed it down by pulling out an acoustic guitar and performing a stripped back version of “gecgecgec.” The background visuals were just as absurd, featuring spinning 3D environments with animals shooting each other. Everyone knew all the words to the songs and we didn’t stop moshing for the hour long set.
After J. Cole took a year-and-a-half break from music to play basketball, he came back with a vengeance to Governors Ball. He exclusively used live instrumentation for all of his songs, setting him apart from the other rappers I saw.
He opened with a fiery performance of “9 5 . s o u t h.” Later, he brought out J.I.D. and Kenny Mason for “Stick.”
“Don’t be like me. Safety first,” J.I.D. emphasized after breaking his hand during an earlier set.
J.Cole’s set was the only one that was negatively impacted by me not knowing any of the words. The crowd played along with all of his gestures and despite being extremely tight and fast-flowing, I walked away disappointed by my lack of awareness.
There were plenty of little interactions that made these days amazing. I got to sit down and interview almost monday and DE’WAYNE. A man in the 100 gecs mosh pit caught me before I hurt myself. On the way back to our train, I struck up a conversation with our Uber driver, who told us about his plan to start a business and support his family at home. Roddy Rich was arrested for gun possession right before his set. After all was said and done, I walked away from this festival with many new Spotify playlists and artists to listen to.