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Governors Ball 2013: Three Days Of Musical Magic... And Mud

Lilian Min |
June 13, 2013 | 12:22 a.m. PDT

Music Editor

Governors Ball, a three-day music festival on Randall's Island by the Queensboro Bridge, was supposed to be NYC's answer to West Coast festivals like Coachella, Outside Lands, and Sasquatch. But in the end, the festival it most closely resembled was the UK's Glastonbury.

The festival, called Gov Ball for short, has only been around for three years, but its lineup has already become pretty damn impressive: its headliners were, in day order, Kings of Leon, Guns N' Roses, and Kanye West.

That already would be amazing, but in the buildup to the festival, things got even more real: Kanye West announced that he'd be playing "Saturday Night Live" just a few weeks before the festival weekend, and then details of his new album—the gloriously named "Yeezus"—began to come out of the woodwork as well.

The excitement was real. The days were clocking down. And then it was time.

Except Mother Nature had different plans for the about 12,000 people who were set to storm the island for the promised music, food trucks, and other activities. Though the festival's info page said 

The festival is 100% happening, rain or shine. We are expecting rain on Friday so come prepared with umbrellas, rain coats, ponchos, proper footwear and extra dry clothes.

it was impossible for anyone to foresee just how insane everything got. Tropical Storm Andrea hit Randall's Island on Day One of the festivities, and though the rain stopped falling by Saturday morning, the stage was set for a very unique festival experience indeed.


Put yourself in this writer's mind for a second: you'd just flown into NYC from Los Angeles. Expecting typical New York summer weather, you'd packed lightly, and for heat and humidity. You'd brought one pair of sturdy shoes for walking the festival grounds, but you were prepared to lose the shoes should it get too hot. You knew it was going to rain during the day, so you brought a light rain jacket and a hat, *just in case.*

The rain had begun to fall when you arrived in the belly of the city. Then, it picked up. And then, everything went to shit; not literally, though it certainly looked that way when murky brown mud water began to rise up to your ankles.

Welcome to Day One.

This writer stupidly took the ferry from Manhattan to Randall's Island, adding a good hour to her commute to the festival. While A-Trak surprised everyone on board to debut a new Duck Sauce song, it was an unwelcome surprise because the speakers on the ferry were absolute crap (seriously, did no one check), but it did keep everybody's attention away from the increasingly pouring rain.

One of many footwear casualties stuck in the mud. (via aplastictree/Instagram)
One of many footwear casualties stuck in the mud. (via aplastictree/Instagram)
It was only after landing on the island at around 5 p.m. that the full extent of the extreme weather began to register in peoples' minds. Early arrivers had picked up free ponchos, while savvier festival goers were already wearing rain jackets and knee-high boots. But most people weren't expecting biting wind, sheet rain, and goopy, gooey mud that stretched from the festival check-in to the porch of each of the festival's four main stages.

Despite the weather, the performers on stage seemed to be having a decent time, or maybe they were so busy trying not to fry or drench all their equipment that they didn't have time to be frustrated.

Of Monsters and Men put on their flower child traveling band act to great applause. L.A. sons Local Natives reportedly turned in a stellar set, while electronica thrash rockers Crystal Castles had people jumping (or at least trying to) and splashing in shin-deep murk.

But by the end of CC's set, the rain was still not letting up. The ground underneath festival goers' feet was now suctioning off peoples' shoes while the water level continued to rise. Additionally, by virtue of the passing day, the temperature was beginning to drop. Even as Feist took the main stage, it was clear that it was physically dangerous to continue to be in that environment.

So, this writer peaced out. And about an hour later, the festival announced that they would be ending Friday's show early due to unsafe conditions, meaning that neither Pretty Lights or Kings of Leon would be playing.

And everybody crossed their fingers and hoped that tomorrow would be a better day.


To their credit, the promotional company behind Gov Ball made it so that Friday ticket holders could also go to the festival on Saturday due to their day's terrible weather conditions. But for those of us who went back to Randall's Island for round two, there was no relief.

While the grounds were no longer flooded, the water had seeped into the ground and turned the entire island into a dark brown blanket of goop, which made traveling from stage to stage a nightmare. Nevertheless, plenty of people braved the trek, either by forcibly wrenching their feet out of the ground with every step or by sacrificing/relinquishing their footwear to the all-devouring mud, taking careful steps through the glass-littered, silt-strewn earth.

But the music was great! Australian band The Rubens rocked their early afternoon set (and their denim ensembles), and afterward, Griz threw down some solid remixed beats, bringing a little brostep to the festival.

MS MR and Icona Pop played at the same time, creating a lot of angst among the flower-crowned set. For atmospheric pop and playful stage interaction, people turned to MS MR, who, in addition to tunes from their debut album "Secondhand Rapture," played a thrilling cover of LCD Soundsystem's "Dance Yrself Clean." For a rowdier and more ribald atmosphere, people turned to Icona Pop (best known for their kiss off tune "I Love It").

Japandroids played a rousing, sonically suffocating set, dedicating the anthemic "The House That Heaven Built" to The Replacements/Guns N' Roses bassist Tommy Stinson even as they made fun of the latter band. Dirty Projectors fought with sound issues in the beginning of their set, but eventually figured things out and charmed the crowd with their multi-layered harmonies on songs like "Gun Has No Trigger" and "Offspring Are Blank."

Australian electro band Cut Copy dazzled concert goers with their shimmering, utterly danceable tunes, while Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes kicked up their heels on one stage and Azealia Banks 1) actually showed up and 2) brought her A-game on another.

Then, due to Friday's early cancellation, Kings of Leon was rescheduled to play at 6:45 p.m. on Saturday, bringing their set in direct conflict with that of L.A. rapper Kendrick Lamar. KoL debuted songs off of their upcoming album, "Mechanical Bull," including new single "Super Soaker," which was due to drop in mid-July.

Lamar struggled to hold a slowly sinking (into mud, that is) audience's attention, playing the more aggressive, less moody tracks from his repertoire (included a repeated "Fucking Problem" verse). His in-your-face attitude against an already stretched thin crowd didn't mix well, and left this writer with a bad live impression of a masterful recording artist.

By 8 p.m., the crowd was thinning out considerably. Animal Collective set up their psychedelic Centipede show, but their feel-good vibes didn't translate well over the muddy fields. For those with more stamina, Guns N' Roses or Nas closed out the night, but this writer went home soon after AC began their set in order to rest up for round 3.


Thankfully, by Sunday, most of the festival grounds had dried out, but there were still some precariously suctiony areas of the grounds. However, because the weather was finally beginning to act like NYC summer weather (the temperature had breached 80F), everybody was out and about for the festival's final day.

Critical darling Haim reportedly showcased their brand of sisterly charm and retro musical zest to great aplomb

while Twin Shadow played a set that was as chill as the day was not. But for this writer, the real fun began on the main stage with Foals's 4:45 p.m. set.

The British rock band brought their dense, intricately layered rock instrumental sound to life, and had the crowd rocking out in the smothering heat. Singer Yannis Philippakis even dared to crowd surf, furiously playing the guitar while precariously leaning back into the audience's clamoring hands.

After an hour-long break, Grizzly Bear breezed onto the stage and proceeded to gently unleash their delicate harmonies on a crowd that was beginning to fill up with Kanye West fans. There were people in the crowd who kept grumbling about the wide-eyed, earnest indie rockers on stage, but that was their loss, for Grizzly Bear puts on by far one of the most amazing (and consistently so) live shows out there today. That said, maybe the band should stop touring for a while: Ed Droste has bags under his eyes that are so large, he could fit watermelons inside of them.

ALSO READ: Grizzly Bear Comes To Life At The Greek Theatre

As soon as their set was over, the crowd began to pack together. The density of the Kanye West-anticipating crowd rivaled that of the 405 during rush hour, and with each new development (the lowering and covering up of the GOV BALL NYC stage sign, the setup of a small platform in a narrow strip of fenced-off land within the crowd, brief flashes of video on various screens), the anticipation level went up another notch.

9:30 p.m., the assigned set time beginning, came and passed. But then twenty minutes later, amidst alternating chants of "YEEZUS" and "KANYE," Kanye West finally took the stage, and—

here, this writer breaks to say that yes, the word "awesome" is often misapplied, and should technically only be used to describe things that inspire true, jaw to the ground, awe, but that said

—it was AWESOME.

Yeezy opened his set with the thrillingly raw "Black Skinhead," and from his first wild scream onward, the previous days' troubles and frustrations faded away into a blistering romp (that went well beyond the festival's 11 p.m. curfew) through his iconic tunes. While he began his set on stage, he took to a platform within the crowd for much of his set. Surrounded by an army of lights (and yes, he did play "All of the Lights"), West took the audience on a journey through his diverse discography.

West played through several of the tunes off of upcoming album "Yeezus"; besides "Black Skinhead," he played his other already-debuted tune "New Slaves" and then "On Site," "I Am a God," and another new tune. All five new tracks featured a more aurally stripped down sound. That's not to say that West has suddenly become a true minimalist, but rather that instead of piling on musical elements, he's opted for quality over quantity, bringing in producers like Daft Punk to fine tune his new frayed-edges aesthetic.

He certainly hasn't gotten less arrogant, though he's become more open about his introspection (something that's on full display in this captivating NYT interview). On "I Am a God," he rapped, "I just talked to Jesus / He said 'What up, Yeezus?'"

Whether he was rapping "Cruel Summer" power singles like "Mercy" or pumping up the crowd with popular bangers like "Stronger" or throwing it back on classic Yeezy cuts like "All Falls Down," West never misstepped with his song choices (with one exception: when the speakers started blasting the Shirley Bassey intro to "Diamonds From Sierra Leone," only for West to launch into his verse from Rihanna's "Diamonds").

But on tunes like "Power," where he repeated the "Now this will be a beautiful death" outro hook over and over again, and "Heartless," where he truly sang his heart out, the insecurity behind his outward bravado came into full light.

In case you couldn't tell that Yeezy's getting more minimalistic, ta-da! (via Wikimedia)
In case you couldn't tell that Yeezy's getting more minimalistic, ta-da! (via Wikimedia)
About halfway through the set, West even addressed his public image, cheekily saying, "This is the part of the show where I start complaining about shit and justifying shit." But even then, he didn't hold back in his opinions, saying, "We ain't drop no single to radio. We ain't got no big NBA campaign or nothing like that—Shit, we ain't even got no cover... We just made some real music."

West ended the night with an encore performance of "Black Skinhead," and while it would've been cool to hear some more old school Yeezy tunes, he did so much more than just close out one crazy weekend music festival.

Love him or loathe him, West is a driving force in musical styles and artist behavior, and to watch him reveal yet another new layer to his psyche and process was an experience that even the ever-present mud couldn't bog down.

Reach Music Editor Lilian Min here; follow her on Twitter here and on Google+ here.



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