Thanks to the COVID pandemic, every festival last year after the start of March was cancelled, and its continuing effects pushed summer fests into the fall this year. New York City’s own Governors Ball was one such, moving from its usual early June to the last weekend in September, 24th-26th, and even from its usual Randall’s Island spot (hasn’t been on named-for Governors Island since the first time, ten years ago – QRO inaugural year recap) to CitiField in Queens (or rather, the parking lot of the Mets’ home – its regular residents were playing away games, but Gary, Keith & Ron were still broadcasting from the Ralph Kiner Broadcast Booth inside CitiField).
But little about 2021 Governors Ball felt slapped together. The 7 train was running on time, and let out right at the festival (if the general public did have to walk a bit around the actual festival to get to/from the entrance). The four stages were two sets of alternating stages, arrayed in a circle, pointing outward, which kept the physical size of the festival relatively tight – no giant walks across vast distances to make it to another stage – but also avoided any serious sonic bleed. There was even a set of stairs over the backstage connection to the outside world, meaning a full circle for the crowds. There was security and staff everywhere (even those stairs), watching over the kids having their day(s) out.
And there were a lot of kids. Governors Ball has evolved/grown into its very mainstream, popular appeal status of today, and while that might upset the Big Apple hipsters (or not, as it gives them something to complain about), it has made it a go-to for teens of the five boroughs and tri-state area, very akin to Chicago’s similar Lollapalooza (QRO 2021 recap) in its ability to both attract those young folks to come and their parents to let them come. Indeed, Governors Ball ’21 skewed even younger, no legacy act in sight, but many lines of girls wearing tube tops and short-shorts snaking their way through the crowd.
Yes, tickets were expensive, and so was food and especially drinks, a 25 oz. Bud Light going for $14 (and same size Bud Light Hard Seltzer a dollar more), but they were sold, from the 50,000 fans a day to those old enough to drink carrying multiple big & big-price drinks into the crowds (and special mention to the free cans of Coke Zero given out at a few places, including the press tent – kept your correspondent from getting drunk, and instead just a caffeine high…). There were lots of sponsors, with GOVBALLNYC Stage presented by Verizon, Bacardí Stage, Honda Stage, GrubHub Stage, and said Bud Light Hard Seltzer Sessions (with the rise of hard seltzer, the usual Bud Light Stages have become Hard Seltzer Stages…), but what do you expect? This ain’t Woodstock, but a professional festival run professionally.
Governors Ball moved pretty seamlessly into Day Two. It was also the day the politicians came out, because who loves crowds more than a politician? New Queens Borough President Donovan Richards addressed the audience for Bleachers (though Jack Antonoff comes from the other side of Manhattan…), praising the borough’s music, diversity, and vaccination rate. And before headliner A$AP Rocky, it was the very new Governor Kathy Hochul that came out, not a Cuomo in sight.
(you know if it wasn’t for the protracted budget negotiations in Washington, Senator Chuck Schumer would have been there, like he was at Central Park’s The Homecoming – QRO review – and perhaps the boos still-Mayor Bill DeBlasio got at that, an event he set up, kept him from coming to Flushing…)
Early on was Breland at the Bacardí Stage, who might also be from nearby Jersey, but played a style he called “cross-country,” because, “Country music should be for everyone!” Yes, made one think of Lil Nas X, but also of Kid Rock. He was certainly engaging & active this early in the day, including a really catchy yet-to-be-released piece written with Thomas Rhett, “Praise the Lord”, about going to church on Sunday morning after drinking Saturday night. He also “Throw It Back” with whiskey & Elvis, but “Don’t Touch My Truck”.
MUNA brought her big, sultry electro-pop to the Honda Stage, the crowd singing and dancing along to pieces such as “Number One Fan” and new release “Silk Chiffon”, the latter of which had guest appearance by recent tour mate & Governors Ball Saturday mate Phoebe Bridgers. Meanwhile, Charlotte Lawrence was playing for the first time in three years on the GOVBALLNYC Stage, “Pretty nerve-wracking…” Asking to know everyone’s name, she had everyone shout theirs at the same time. Her parents were there, and she played a song that they’d introduced her two – Phoenix’s “Lisztomania”, for the geriatric millennials in the audience (or at least for your correspondent, who knew it way better than the way younger crowd…).
The crowd at the Bacardí Stage grew for A R I Z O N A and their big, shining electro-pop, with pleasers such as “Find Someone” and “Problems”. And over on the GrubHub Stage, the Brothers Macklovitch – a.k.a. Dave-1 of Chromeo & A-Trak – were spinning tunes like The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Heads Will Roll”, making it a club banger (not the only time heads rolled Governors Ball ’21).
While Jack Antonoff will probably always be best known for his production work with ladies like Taylor Swift, St. Vincent, and Lorde (he’s getting a lot of the blame from those who don’t like Lorde’s new record Solar Power – QRO review), his Bleachers have become a big act on their own (no one remembers that he was in fun., because no one remembers fun.). He started on piano with the sad “91” at the GOVBALLNYC Stage, but from then went into crowd-pleasers off his new album Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night (QRO review) such as “Let’s Get Married” and “How Dare You Want More”. The Jersey native’s Springsteen-love was in full evidence, with not just two drummers, but also two saxophonists (“The louder you scream, the harder he blow!”). At one point, he implored people to get on each other’s shoulders, because, “This is a fucking festival!” And he put on his glasses, and his bass, for closer “Stop Making This Hurt”.
But the ladies love King Princess, from her pro-pussy cheers to “Best Friend” at the Bacardí Stage. She proclaimed that Governors Ball is her favorite festival to play, because, “I came here every year in high school – blackout drunk…” And she did “Holy” live for the first time ever, remarking she wasn’t sure why she’d never done it before.
It was a Mega Thee crowd for Megan Thee Stallion on the GOVBALLNYC Stage. A running theme of the 2021 festival season has been Megan not being booked as headliner, yet drawing a headliner-size crowd, like a few months ago at Lollapalooza (QRO recap). However, at Governors Ball she was twenty minutes late, which, not being headliner, had knock-on effects. But she did bring her all, “Hands up!”, “Where my hot girls at?!?”, “Where my hot boys at?!?” And, yes, those girls & boys (and even Governors Ball staff) sang along for “WAP”.
That lateness seemingly bumped Phoebe Bridgers’ following Bacardí Stage set twenty minutes late; announced after being ten minutes late, few people left her own massive crowd of very excited girls, who were singing along to every song. Indeed, one needed earplugs not for the amplifiers, but for the girl screaming next to you. It was definitely a big shift from the exuberant Stallion to all of Bridgers’ sad songs, but Governors Ball was there for it, and so was Bridgers. She paused while phones lit up for someone in need of help in the crowd, and introduced her band, including “me 2” lookalike on bass Emily Retsas. Of course, it ended with “I Know The End”, and of course, it was cathartic & excellent.
Columbia’s J Balvin has become the go-to ‘first Latino headliner’ for festivals from Lollapalooza to Coachella, and now Governors Ball at the Honda Stage. The ‘Principe del Reggaetón’ didn’t just wave the Latin flag, but shouted out to other minorities & called for everyone to respect each other. Even if you only knew his Spanish language lyrics from your bodega, it was a big show – fireworks very much included.
The delay that hit Megan Thee Stallion & Phoebe Bridgers continued to A$AP Rocky’s headlining GOVBALLNYC Stage set, disappointing the amassed crowd – who were also hoping to see his girlfriend Rihanna, who apparently was in attendance. Like Balvin, the rapper has crossover appeal, and not just Trump trying to get him out of Swedish prison and Hochul addressing the crowd before him, yet he still brought out his charged material, including wrapping himself in his own American flag.
-photos courtesy of Governors Ball