Local Current Blog

Governors Ball 2016: The mud, the rain, and the rock

New York has a gritty music history – underground punk shows in the Lower East Side, rap battles burgeoning in the Bronx, rock legends starting as childhood friends from Queens. New York is a scene of grit and grime, but undeniably, it’s rock and roll at its core – which I have been dying to be a part of this for as long as I can remember. Governors Ball may be a massive music festival with an international audience, but there was some classic New York grit in the way that the crowd this past weekend braved the mud and the rain to enjoy a lineup of artists that most definitely rocked.

Friday

Julian Casablancas of the Strokes performs at Governors Ball (BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)

As the Strokes played “Reptilia” into “Hard to Explain” into “Juicebox,” a wave of joy washed over me — their music having a natural pull on me like the way that the moon pulls the tides. It was pure bliss; I never imagined that I would get the chance to see the Strokes, and it was everything that I could have ever hoped for.

When the Strokes first emerged, they were supposed to save rock and roll, and I think they still are. Their set was made up of Is This It classics — rarities like “Red Light” and a cover of the Clash’s “Clampdown,” and a crowd-driven encore of “You Only Live Once.” There was a collective rush of dopamine as the “Reptilia” sounded out. On top of it all, frontman Julian Casablancas touted his natural coolness, driving home the band’s rock essence. Though I was surrounded by thousands of fans, the band’s legendary attitude and stage presence made it feel as if they were simply playing one of their original dive bar shows.

Earlier in the day I was also impressed by the ever-dramatic, always-entertaining Father John Misty. With grand gestures of flamboyant dance moves, emotional drops to the floor, and wild dives off the stage, he preached like a true pastor. His set included favorites like “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings,” “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins),” and rousing performances of “Bored in the USA” and “The Ideal Husband.” While his free use of the stage and equipment seemed to annoy the security guards, his performance certainly delivered and I found myself even more taken with the I Love You, Honeybear singer.

Father John Misty performs at Governors Ball (BRYAN R. SMITH/AFP/Getty Images)

Saturday

I vividly remember watching the Killers’ music video for “When You Were Young” nearly every morning of 2006 on VH1 when I was ten years old. I remember feeling a strange connection to it, and now at 20, I found that seeing the Killers live was exactly what I needed. Their music was always a best friend in my teenhood, and as I heard them perform “Read My Mind,” “Runaways,” and “All These Things That I’ve Done,” I could not help but burst into the strangest fit of tears and laughter, as the band’s lyrics conveyed everything that I needed to hear at this point in my life.

Before their most euphoric performance, though, of course we all had to wait in the pouring rain. It was muddy and everyone was drenched, but we all waited for the sake of music, and strangely enough, as soon as Brandon Flowers sang, “Coming out of my cage and I’ve been doing just fine,” the storm ceased to exist. Throughout their performance, Flowers evinced a sincere humbleness, as if disbelieving that his little band from Sam’s Town could ever headline a festival. The Killers did, though, and their hits, classic sound, and powerful stage presence proved that bands like them are meant to play shows like these.

Besides the Killers, I was yet again astounded by the fervor and talent of Catfish and the Bottlemen, who played the main stage early in the day — and who I believe are on the path to headliner status. While I have seen Catfish play in tiny venues, their Gov Ball performance proved their stadium-size savvy as they delivered a set with equal amounts of power and intimacy. As front man Van McCann drew out the final verse of their debut album opener “Homesick,” the rasp of his voice against the backdrop of near silence illustrated just how captivating and moving the band are.

Sunday

Due to a severe weather forecast, the festival made a decision, with the Mayor’s Office and the Parks Department, to cancel the third day. I, of course, was super disappointed since the Sunday lineup was packed. The weather wasn’t as bad as predicted, though. There were light showers throughout the day, which was to be expected, but really only a brief spout instead of a large storm. For the safety of the attendees, artists, and staff, though, it was probably a good call.

Throughout the day a number of artists like Two Door Cinema Club and Courtney Barnett took to social media to share that they were trying to reschedule their sets in venues around the city. Much to my excitement, Two Door Cinema Club booked the Music Hall of Williamsburg in my neighborhood — but then, much to my disappointment, the line to get in was nearly three blocks long and there was no chance of me getting in. I had no chance of getting into the Courtney Barnett show either, as it was 21+ and I am a mere youth.

Simultaneously, speculations were circulating that Kanye West — who was set to headline the final day of the festival — was planning a secret show that evening. A 2 a.m. show was finally announced for Webster Hall — which has a capacity of 1,500, so you can only imagine the insanity that took place as about 4,000 people filled the slim Village blocks in the middle of the night. With the crush of the crowd the rescheduled performance was re-canceled, and all fans got was a glimpse of Kanye driving by in a car.

None of us, then, got the Sunday we were hoping for. What I did get to experience at Governors Ball though, was absolute bliss. Under my $5 festival poncho in the pouring rain, I couldn’t have felt cooler.

Sadie Bell, of Wayzata, is a Journalism + Design student at The New School in New York City.

  • Rob

    We slid in the mud and it felt like love.