A celebration of the unity between popular artists, popular culture and the donning of flower crowns could be found this weekend at the fifth annual Governor’s Ball music festival on Randall’s Island. Commonly tossed around as the East Coast’s take on Coachella, the festival occurred over three days featuring headlining performers such as Drake, Deadmau5, and The Black Keys. Festivalgoers arrived by a combination of subway, water taxi, car services, bridge and subway in order to attend wearing outfits ranging from boho chic to minimalistic. However, what was the truly enticing element of the festival itself was not what the patrons of the music were wearing, but more so the performers themselves as well as their visual displays. From artist Bjork wearing a full butterfly costume to Deadmau5’s elaborate display that created an abrupt delay in performance, artists this year took a bold approaches to their methods of presentation.
The festival kicked off Friday morning at 12:15 a.m. welcoming festivalgoers and opening musicians to an island of nothing but positive energy and good vibes. The staff on the island was ready to embrace the day and the activities that were to come. Artists such as People Under the Stars, The Districts, and Priory began the festivities by gathering crowds to their respective stages, infecting the public with melodic fan favorites and new music. What’s special about opening bands is that they are completely up to the public to decide whether they are a hit or miss. Being that these few bands did not have as large of a fan base as say, rapper Drake had later on in the day, they definitely succeeded in giving all of their energy and dedication to the crowd. As the day proceeded, the festival grew from merely a couple 1,000 to over 100,000 patrons in total. Artists such as Florence + the Machine, St. Vincent and Drake drew forth a collaboration of anticipation and awe as their performances came near to the end of the evening.
On the second morning of the event, fans mustered up the strength from the minimal sleep received the night prior to catch the water taxi on E 34th Street to return back to their home away from home. Despite the commonly heard murmurs of “my back hurts” and sighs of “my feet have never hurt this badly in my lifetime” amongst patrons traveling together, spirits were high and the anticipation for the day’s lineup commenced. Notable acts such as Marina and the Diamonds, Rustie, Atmosphere, and Future Islands received midday slots on Saturday, creating diverse sounds to radiate throughout the fields of Randall’s Island. From indie pop to electronica to hip hop, the day was busy with people frolicking from show to show, dropping flower petals and empty water bottles along the grounds. The day completed with power artist Björk, experimental hip hop group Flume, and Deadmau5 taking stage, creating spectacles of their own.
As the final day ensued, the exhaustion of festivalgoers was surprisingly unhindered with the promise of a final hoo-rah before the conclusion of a stellar weekend. Sunday’s line up promised easy listening bands such as The Picturebooks and Streets of Laredo to set the background music to what patrons entered the grounds listening to. With the intent of creating what could be described as a “perfect playlist” of sound, the rest of the lineup featured artists such as Echosmith, Logic, Tame Impala, and even “Weird Al” Yankovic. The variety of acts provided fans with differing tastes in music to enjoy more than just the one genre that they typically find themselves replaying. What truly captured the hearts of fans were the closing performances of the evening being Flying Lotus, Lana Del Rey, and The Black Keys. Each took vastly different approaches to their presentations and performances, providing a satisfying end to three days of “doing great.”
So everything appeared to have gone according to plan, correct? WRONG. We all know nothing is perfect and everything will have its ups and downs, as well as the sheer fact that anyone of celebrity status has a reputation to uphold. Although not intended to initiate a “one upping” between artists, as the days preceded it was apparent that each artist that followed had a grander set, more lights and even bolder statement pieces worn. It seemed as if a lot of artists performing had placed more importance on their presentation versus performance value. It’s not a bad thing, having a huge set, expensive light displays for specific songs, or even costume changes on stage; however when playing a festival to the caliber that Governor’s Ball is placed at, planning a performance and not an over ambitious display was key.
The problem here is that we live under constant judgment and critique day to day. This problem is only increased for those who hold celebrity or high regarded positions in society. What was expected of each artist was perfection—and nothing short of it. In order to achieve this, some took the traditional method of focusing purely on the sound and dynamics of the acoustics playing an outdoor festival would create for he or she; lacking more on the creative presentational scale. Alternatively, some artists seemed to have gotten lost in the moment of creating the grandest spectacle of themselves and their stages, seeming to forget about the quality of their production.
Artist Lana Del Rey for example who performed on Sunday was backed by a gorgeous set of a skyline, moving images, and drastic mood lighting changes, all while wearing a peculiar dress inspired by baseball team, the New York Yankees. However, the demise of Rey’s performance was a common complaint that echoed throughout the crowd, quietly at first, only to be chanted after two songs of how poor the production quality and microphone was. If not directly in front of the stage, the music was incredibly hard to hear and follow, causing many to leave or to see the other band playing stages away.
Dubstep artist Deadmau5 faced a similar obstacle during his Saturday night performance at 9:30 p.m. when his stage was completely shut down for over 15 minutes due to the extensive light display. Electronic EDM shows require much planning, practicing and test runs in order to semi-guarantee no problems will be experienced during the run. Being that Governor’s Ball was strictly outdoors and had fast paced set changes between each performance, the ability for Deadmau5 to not run into a problem during his performance was a pipe dream. The artist who only a year ago swore off music festivals according to an interview conducted by stereogum.com may have met his demise after 15 minutes of “boo’s”.
Sticking with the theme of ostentatious displays during performances, artist Björk had taken stage Saturday evening donning a full butterfly costume, accompanied by a full orchestra dressed in white from head to toe. Fortunately for the artist, she experienced no significant complications in performance, however did choose to include elaborate artwork to be played during each song in her set list. The artwork, although very characteristic of Björk, seemed to be borderline distracting from the performance. Although honestly we have to admit, seeing her bounce around on stage as a butterfly was pretty cool.
So what does this all mean anyway for this decades performances?
Do we as a whole care more about the presentation over the performance itself at this point?
Are these artists doing this to give into what the people want or are they wearing metallic colors and statement pieces to one up the performer before them?
Letting bygones by bygones, we should take a step back and reevaluate what these displays could serve as to you as well as other fans: inspiration. What people crave more and more today is inspiration and something to inspire he or she. Seeing ones favorite artist giving their all on stage, whether focusing more on their vocal abilities or storyline of a set and lighting design is what makes going to concerts special and enjoyable for each and every person. Being able to look back on a memory of attending a concert or event and recalling fond details of what occurred during it, is what makes them so amazing. Governor’s Ball promoted three days of positive vibes, performances to inspire as well as evoke questions in fans alike. Whether you supported Drake’s choice of two highlighter colored sweatshirts or not, the festival was a complete success in creating a memorable experience for each attendee.
All photos were taken from billboard.com’s inclusion of photographer Taylor Hill/Film Magic for Governor’s Ball except the photo of Drake, which is credited to photographer Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic for Governor’s Ball.