Despite premature end, Governors Ball talent and fervor weather the storm

By Natalie Zak, Daily Arts Writer
Photos by Zach Moore/Daily
Interactive by Daily Web Developers

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times — it was a music festival scheduled for three days that only stretched to two. There was music and laughter, giddiness and excitement, but also deep, unadulterated betrayal as the three-day Governors Ball festival stopped abruptly in its tracks after the second evening came to a close.

But for the first 48 hours, festival goers were in bliss. Perfect 80 degree weather blessed Randall’s Island on the first day and most of the second, until the rain came crashing down at 6, and refused to cease until the entire premises was flooded. But, the spirit of Governors Ball refused to die in the puddle of mud that swelled up around the feet of attendees and drenched the entire island. The spirit lived on in the music junkees who ran through the rain towards the stage, towards whatever musical agent would make the torrential downpour more bearable and would bring a little warmth to their shivering spine.

The Strokes, The Killers and Kanye West were all set to headline. The Strokes and The Killers performed. I know safety was of paramount concern for the Governors Ball organizers when deciding to cancel the third day of the festival, and I know the 90 percent chance for thunderstorms could only breed disaster, but there was always hope. And, sitting here, inside, typing away, I’m overcome with nostalgia for the exhilaration and adrenaline rush of the first two days while trying to escape despair for the death of day three. This paradox exists on a momentous scale only because the first two days were highlighted by extraordinary bands and singers. Governors Ball 2016 was taken from us prematurely, and this will weigh heavy on my heart for quite a bit, but so will the ecstatic memories of the first two days, days marked by performances never paid testament to before.

Day 1

Years & Years

“He’s like a cooler Troye Sivan,” the girl standing next to me said upon laying eyes on the lead singer of Years & Years, Olly Alexander. An alt pop band out of London, Years & Years brought a frenzy of energy to the stage as they burst into their hit single “King” and Alexander danced, kicked and spun across Big Apple Stage. With a three-piece ensemble, little of the stage was covered, but as the band channeled their alt pop sound and Alexander spun around stage in a rainbow jumpsuit, I couldn’t take my eyes away. Slower anthems like “Eyes Shut” and a finale of “Desire” only did more to solidify their entrance and eventual dominance of the electropop scene, calling on the swiftly degenerating Walk The Moon to take a step back and make room for their young faces.

Action Bronson

What can be said about Vice food correspondent Action Bronson. Is he outrageous? Yes. Is he enraged? Definitely. By what, I’m still unsure, but I do know that watching him strut around Honda Stage as if he owned it, spitting verses and bringing out chef Mario Batali and other treasured guests was one of the most entertaining, breathtaking spectacles I’ve ever seen. He ran with hits like “Actin’ Crazy” and “Terry” while paying testament to his roots as a chef by hoisting an aluminum tray of food I can only assume was a three course meal he cooked himself. There was a watermelon given by a devout fan and a FaceTime call to his daughter. There was a question and an answer:
“What do you wanna hear?” Bronson asked.
“Baby blue, baby blue, baby blue,” hundreds of fans sang.
“What do you want me to do about it?” he spat in reply. “What do you want me to do about it?” he spat in reply.

Big Grams

Big Boi and Phantogram, Phantogram and Big Boi. In 2010, Big Boi posted a link to Phantogram’s single “Mouthful of Diamonds” on his website, and from there a collaboration involving Phantogram duo Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter was born. The music is groovy and smooth, with hip-hop stylings and electro pop influences respectively, but the majority of their performance sadly lacked this groove. A mix of the audience’s unfamiliarity with their music and a lack of charisma on the duo’s part made their stage presence less enticing than their debut album, not to mention an unsettling verse rapped by Carter during “Goldmine Junkie.” But as the set wound down, they finished with a mash-up of Phantogram’s “Mouthful of Diamonds” and Outkast’s “Ms. Jackson,” a performance that didn’t need charisma or familiarity, only every audience member yelling “I didn’t mean to make your daughter cry.”

Father John Misty

Josh Tillman, goddamn Josh Tillman. This glorious man gave one of the most empowered, emphatic performances I have ever witnessed. His songs drip with vitriol and his stage presence drips with sex appeal as he unapologetically condemns his love life, his audience, himself and America song after song. He dances, jumps and runs off stage, even lying down at one point during “True Affection,” relaying the lyrics to the audience from that vantage point. At times like these, it seemed more like an exorcism than a catharsis, but then he would preach some godless verse and I’d be reassured that no greater power was involved other than the higher power that is the music industry itself. Three times some sweeping emotion caused his microphone stand to break, but Tillman never resigned to the roadie sent out to replace it; instead he simply pushed on. He moved with the beguile of a dancer, his body betraying feigned bashfulness and amusement through lyrics laced in satire. If Tillman was an actor, “Bored in the U.S.A.” was his Milton and “Holy Shit” was his Hamlet. If he was a god, the audience would be constructing shrines in his honor to the tune of “Chateau Lobby #4.”


He’s the cool uncle that never stopped being cool. He’s the 45-year-old man who wears sunglasses and smokes Camel cigarettes in the shade, but no one says anything to him because he just can. He shows up on some religious holiday in a leather jacket and a motorcycle while your dad rolls his eyes because he secretly, no, openly resents the bachelor-pad lifestyle of his brother. This entire aesthetic is accepted by the hundreds of festival attendees who swarmed to the main stage for his incredibly packed set list, including hits like “Go It Alone,” “Mixed Bizness,” and “Sexx Laws” as well as a tribute to the recently deceased David Bowie with a cover of “China Girl” and Prince. Leading up to his rendition of “Raspberry Beret” he spilled his heart to the audience through his black tinted sunglasses and leather jacket about his relationship with Prince — a fleeting, but affecting one. Prince presented Beck with his Grammy for Best Album for Morning Phase, and in return, Beck seized his chance to hug Prince, an idol of his, without any indication of whether this was an O.K. move on Prince’s end. Not until watching the footage of the award ceremony afterwards was he reassured by the smile that stretched across Prince’s face, and thus delivered to the audience this day not one, but two tributes to this treasured idol.

Jamie xx

It’s hard to imagine In Colour playing outside of the solitariness of one’s headphones. Other than “There’s Going to Be (Good Times),” the breakout hit of the record and one of the finest Young Thug features out there, the music is something contained within one’s earbuds, enclosed in that narrow mental space. That was the case for me, at least, until I had to push my way through the swarms gathered under the Bacardi House Stage tent to see the breakout member of indie pop band The xx spin his records under flashing lights and witness an “All Under One Roof Raving” take place. He played popular tracks like “Loud Places” that brought shivers down the spine when accompanied by his remix of Florence + The Machine’s “You’ve Got The Love.” A remix of The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me” was thrown in there too, along with a denouncement by the twenty-something in front of me who commented “Wasn’t this a hit in like 1986?” It was 1982, sir, and if Jamie xx can spin it, I don’t see what the year has to do with anything.

The Strokes

The crowd in front of the GOVBALL Main Stage stretched for miles. I’ve seen people before, even large amounts of them, but never so many together in close confines all progressively getting more and more impatient as the minutes dragged on. At 9:00, fifteen minutes before The Strokes were scheduled to go on, concert-goers were waiting in anticipation; at 9:15, their scheduled playing time, the island buzzed with energy; at 9:30, any movement behind the thick screen of smoke was greeted by shrieks and applause; at 9:45, there were riots narrowly avoided by Julian Casablancas and the rest of the band’s entrance. From there, the night took off into a frenzy of music as my middle school angst and unrequited attempts at edginess were relieved. Every other person in the crowd shouted in sync to the shrieks of guitar and somber words of Casablancas as they played hits like “The Modern Age,” “Last Nite” and “Someday” as well as songs from their four track feature released that day, such as “Threat of Joy” and “Drag Queen.” But somberness was far from the theme of the night for either The Strokes or audience members, and from this came the increasingly digressing ramblings of Casablancas and a beautiful rendition of The Clash’s “Clampdown,” a song they have not performed live in over ten years. With a conclusion of “You Only Live Once” as the encore, the crowd exploded in energy as it surged towards the stage wanting to savor the sounds of their adolescence and fleeting feelings of their youth.

Day 2


The energetic equivalent of the previous day’s Years & Years, Misterwives presented the piercing vocals of the female frontman Mandy Lee and her endless encouragement and positivity that prefaced every song. It’s nice to hear, every once in awhile, that I can accomplish my dreams, even if those dreams are only vaguely defined in the back of my mind. Regardless, the alt-pop band went through the rounds of their hits and singles in a hometown performance, as well as presenting new material in their hour-long set on Saturday in between shouts of encouragement and thanks as Lee ran around stage belting high notes. The energy in the air was never more electric than when they performed “Reflections” and “Our Own House” and, despite unfamiliarity with the songs, never was it lacking as she led the audience through lyrics and refrains as a strive towards inclusivity. Misterwives’ brand of alt-pop is the guilty pleasure kind, the kind that makes you want to dance, but crippling insecurity directs you towards the sadder, hipper music instead. It’s the kind that makes you want to run, but self-doubt and unathleticism prevents that from happening.

Lord Huron

For the three years I’ve listened to Lord Huron, I’ve recommended them to friends and family and even included their discography on my “Should I Read or Should I Cry?” playlist alongside Bob Dylan’s. For three years I have alternatively referred to them with the pronouns “he” or “them” interchangeably, for, despite my devotion to their music, I never truly knew if Lord Huron was an individual or a band. Forget the internet. That wouldn’t solve my problem. Only running toward the main stage on Saturday, toward their scheduled performance, would end the years of self-doubt. And it turned out to be a four-piece, all-male band, with a name inspired by the great lake itself who didn’t fail to impress. Their music is melodic and pure, leaning towards the folk genre but not in the same vein as The Lumineers. If there was a way a midwestern field or a gust of wind could be captured in music, it would be captured by Lord Huron in slow-building songs like their hits “Time to Run” and “Ends of the Earth,” but also in more fast-paced songs like “Hurricane (Johnnie’s Theme).


The rain came pouring down in the middle of Haim; not a single person moved. The three sisters that make up Haim — Este, Danielle and Alana — are the definition of rock ‘n’ roll, draped in an incontestable femininity that appeals to the entire gender spectrum. They’re more hip, stylish and talented than any sibling trio could ever hope to be, and they bring a whole new image to family bands. With a setlist including hits such as “Falling” and “The Wire” each sister is the apple of the audience’s eye This was dramatically confirmed when the torrential rain came pouring down and attendees still shouted along while Este, in a display of solidarity, dumped her cup of water on top of her head. The set closed out in a three-part percussion solo performed by all three sisters, one of the most impressive displays of band collaboration and unity I have ever witnessed. Every part of the island was soaked, not a single person or place was dry, but all attention was directed at the sisters of Haim, giving the performance of their lives in perfect solidarity with their drenched and ecstatic audience.
Photo by Alan Osinoff/Daily

The Killers

If The Strokes was the penultimate performance that reinforced the angst and adolescence of festival attendees, The Killers was the tipping point. Opening with “Mr. Brightside,” a strategic move on their part, The Killers electrified an audience who had not yet recovered from the worst of the downpour that ceased only minutes before. It was a set of greatest hits, and this is where “the best of times” comes into play. The Killers belong together for these songs alone. “Spaceman,” “All These Things I’ve Done,” “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine — these songs echo through the hearts of every fan in the audience, and no experience triumphs over screaming the words that have marked your life with hundreds of other adoring fans. Brandon Flowers may have produced a second solo album in the years since “Battle Born” was released, Dave Keuning may have retained his curly fro for contractual reasons and Ronnie Vanucci Jr. may have founded a side-project under the name of Big Talk, but, nevertheless, when together in the same place, these men are meant to play these hits because they are the rock songs that define a generation. It might have been the rain that chilled me to the bone, but it just as easily could have been Flowers’ piano interlude for “Human” that transitioned into “Bling (Confessions of a King)”. During this set, it wasn’t the threat of thunderstorms that caused electricity to crackle in the air, it was these men, their flawless tribute to Interpol and Presley and their flawless testament to their fans that brought the lightning down in the sign of a glittering, monstrous “K.”

Day Three

Didn’t happen. For safety reasons, it was canceled, and although there are those that contest those safety reasons, it was canceled nonetheless. Of the artists scheduled for Day 3, a few followed the signature move of performing pop-up shows, including Two Door Cinema Club, Vic Mensa, and, in a way, Kanye West. After a surprise appearance at Summer Jam in Jersey City earlier that day, West announced a second show that would be happening at 2 a.m. somewhere in Manhattan. This announcement inevitably gained traction on the internet, thousands showed up to Webster Hall and subsequent rioting occurred when the show was canceled hours later. Were tickets ever actually sold? Was Webster Hall ever actually booked? Is the god-like image of Kanye worth rioting over? These are all questions to be answered someday, somehow, but, at the moment, all I can hope is to someday have the opportunity to see Kanye, Vince Staples, Chet Faker and Courtney Barnett, even if it means enduring a second torrential downpour to do it.