An Alternative Review: Governor's Ball ’14

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Interior of VIP tent by main stage. Credit: Helen Jiang
Interior of VIP tent by main stage. Credit: Helen Jiang

As a third time volunteer, Governor’s Ball Music Festival is what I look forward to–a good vibes extravaganza to mark the beginning of summer. Having frequented this festival in the past, I know that the rich art scene is not always covered in full. This recap serves to highlight the vibrant visual arts and gastronomical delights from this year’s festival for your reading pleasure.


Off the bat, the installations placed throughout the grounds attracted festivalgoers’ attention with their bright colors, evocative NYC motifs, and pop culture references. Notable pieces include a red carnation in the shape of the city’s moniker, the Big Apple, and an entire VIP tent by Australian graffiti artist, vexta. Her idiosyncratic style blends bright, geometric shapes into her monochromatic figures that are usually skeletal, feathered, or furry to juxtapose menace and grace.

Alternative mediums such as spray paint and paper-based collages seemed to be preferred over traditional paint that had previously been popular at GovBall. The Mural Project by EVERYONE ONLY facilitated that transition by bringing the street art that peppers New York City to Randall’s Island. Hopefully, similar projects will become mainstays at other major NY events, which would not only help increase appreciation for this kind of expression, but also provide street artists with exciting platforms to exhibit their talents. A colorful and abstract depiction of Notorious B.I.G. and a psychedelic robotic panel by John Paul O’Grodnick were popular picks by festivalgoers for photographs.


The food at Governor’s Ball was impressive in selection, with numerous restaurants and food trucks lining the grounds of the festival to make sure no reveler went hungry. Lines for Pommes Frites, Momofuku Milk Bar, Asia Dog, and Brooklyn Soda Works snaked through the grass. Honorable mentions go to That Nugget Spot and King of Pops for exceptional food and service. That Nugget Spot, on 3rd Ave & 14th St, had ingenious recipes, such as the Cheez Louise, which incorporated Cheez-Its with some very hip ranch.

Emphasis on "O.G. Ranch." Credit: Helen Jiang
Emphasis on “O.G. Ranch.” Credit: Helen Jiang

Brooklyn Soda Works and King of Pops had some awesome people working their stands. After spotting ginger beer on Brooklyn Soda Works’ menu board during my volunteer shift, I swore that I would get a cup before the day was over. Yet it seemed that it wasn’t meant to be, with connection problems plaguing their social media platforms and the PayPal promotions. The friendly staff at Brooklyn Soda Works and their PayPal assistant worked to fix the problem in a way that made me forget my tech troubles. King of Pops’ gourmet flavors included pomegranate margarita, peach (amazing), chocolate with sea salt, and blackberry ginger lemonade–all for $3! Their stands’ rainbow umbrellas rose above the crowd to pinpoint locations of thirst-quenching, real fruit-filled, just-everything-you-ever-wanted popsicles that were the perfect companion to summer jams for audience members who chose to sit in the shade. Upbeat, pop and alt rock tunes by Classixx, Foster the People, Tanlines, and Vampire Weekend brought together the auditory and gustatory sensations for sets where people sang along between popsicle licks. Food trucks commanded a large following where their flair and specialization shone through. From Lebanese TOUM to Jack’s Sliders and Sushi, it was no question that NYC’s diverse palette was catered to with top-notch grub.


Governor’s Ball strove to keep attendees entertained and occupied around the clock, whether that entailed the multi-stage setup, endless food options, or art installations throughout the festival grounds. Two photo booths provided single shot or four-pictures .gif sets that yielded amusing poses. The Silent Disco was sponsored by Sennheiser, where wireless headphones made the magic happen. People got their groove on as they shook their stuff, swung their arms around, and unintentionally sang aloud with reckless abandon. Life-sized lawn games such as Connect Four or Jenga allowed strangers to meet and play together. There was also an entire booth devoted to free glitter, which was unexpected but enjoyable nonetheless. And a special shoutout goes to the face painting booth where I volunteered on Day 2. Outlining my facial features in silver turned me into one of the iconic ‘Disclosure faces.’


Ah, the music. This is Governor’s Ball Music Festival after all and what a ball it was–the lineup was incredible, with a number of artists playing their first live show in a long time such as headliners Outkast and The Strokes.

Day 1: After two years of chasing Phoenix, an extraordinary French band around the nation, I finally experienced their prolific repertoire in person. Opening with “Entertainment” from their most recent album, Bankrupt!, they launched into fan favorites that covered Alphabetical and Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, too. Revelers belted out “Lasso,” “Lisztomania,” “Girlfriend,” “SOS in Bel Air,” “Rome,” and “Trying to be Cool” in quick succession. It got so crazy there were upwards of a half dozen people simultaneously crowdsurfing in just the stage left section! Out of all the sets I attended, Phoenix had the most frequent crowd engagement, with band members stopping to talk or joke around after every few songs. The set concluded with a spectacular Jesus-on-water-esque crowdwalk by lead singer, Thomas Mars, singing his way back to the stage supported by only audience members’ hands. It was exhilarating. It was phenomenal. It was everything I ever wanted in the two years I swore to myself it was time to finally see Phoenix! Honorable mention goes to drummer, Thomas Hedlund, for his impressive, non-stop playing during the 85 minute set.

Credit: Helen Jiang
Heaven on Earth, pretty much. Credit: Helen Jiang

Day 2: This jam-packed lineup yielded the most dance-heavy day of the festival. PAPA began the day with smooth and sweet Spanish vocals that beckoned to the arriving crowds. Classixx, Fitz and the Tantrums, and The Naked and Famous attracted large crowds with their electronic and pop-rock tunes. Classixx even managed to immobilize a few dozen festivalgoers who were making their way across RFK Bridge, which parallels their stage, to stop and watch their set as they churned out funky tunes like “Holding On” and “I’ll Get You.” Disclosure and Chance the Rapper played during the hottest part of the day and still had huge turnouts. Chance the Rapper had the entire Gotham tent swaying their arms and dancing in unison with very few cell phones in the air, which is not an easy feat for any performer nowadays, especially for a rapper on the rise. Disclosure expertly mixed one hit after another with fluid transitions that helped form the biggest US crowd they have played for to date. Aluna Francis, of AlunaGeorge, made a guest appearance for her feature on their hit, “White Noise,” which doubled as a preview for her set the next day. The Strokes played with the setting sun and the Manhattan skyline on either side of the main stage. Each song was greeted with cheers and clapping from audience members who surged to watch one of their first live performances following a three year hiatus from touring. Many people opted to sit on the grass to eat dinner and people-watch as favorites played. The Strokes closed their show with “You Only Live Once” and “Last Nite” with Jack White before he began his set.

Day 3: Although playing an early set, BANKS’ minimalistic décor allowed her haunting vocals to dominate the stage. I saw her open for The Weeknd in October and she absolutely blew me away with her heartfelt lyrics and hypnotic beats. She continues to impress me through collaborations with producers Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, SOHN, and Shlohmo. Her newest releases, “Drowning” and “Goddess,” continue her teasing build up to her September 9th release of her debut album, Goddess.

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On the Honda stage, J. Cole came on with two backup singers, drummer, guitarist, keyboardist, that amplified the instrumental elements of his music. He had the most dedicated audience of all the artists I saw. Supporters who knew the words to songs that spanned the five years he’s been on the scene surrounded me. Cole thanked the crowd multiple times and talked to his audience often. He cleverly worked intros or hints about upcoming songs when he talked, mentioning how when he drinks a lot, he doesn’t know how he does it but ends up trying to bring a girl home, which allowed him to segue into the original version of “In the Morning” from Cole World: The Sideline Story. He concluded with “Crooked Smile”, leaving the ladies and fellas in the crowd on a high. James Blake played a deafening, heart-rattling, yet calm set at the same stage an hour later. His three-man group rarely used pre-recorded samples, instead, they relied on drums, guitar, keyboard, and recording equipment they brought to make their show truly “live.” Although some hoped Chance would make a surprise appearance to drop his verses on Blake’s “Life Round Here,” he didn’t come. It was probably for the best because he maintained a steady progression from his remix of Drake’s “Come Thru” sans Drake, to “CMYK”, to a cover of Bill Withers’ ballad on lost love, “Hope She’ll Be Happier.” The week-old reunion of two thirds of Swedish House Mafia, Axwell^Ingrosso, debuted six more songs off their upcoming album at the festival’s finale of all finales surrounded by sparklers, fire, a blinding light show, and fireworks.

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axwell x ingrosso

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If people still had energy after Axwell^Ingrosso’s jaw-dropping performance and live production that sampled the crowds’ cheers, they did Governor’s Ball Music Festival wrong. To the kids that trooped back to the subway and ferry stops with sore feet and a pounding heartbeat–#youredoinggreat. To everyone reading this, I know you’re thinking the same thing as me: until next year, GovBall!

— Helen Jiang

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