FESTIVAL REVIEW: Highlights of Governor’s Ball 2016

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Mother Nature rained heavily down on this year’s Governor’s Ball, which took place on Randall’s Mud Pit Island.  It was a test, and us New Yorkers proved that we sure have some spunk, staying true to the festival’s slogan:  “You’re doing great!”

I earned personal emblems of a successful music festival: purple bruises made to look like sunsets on my skin, irreparably damaged white Air Force Ones, and an inevitable cold from being wet for the duration of Saturday.  The last one, I deserved. That morning, the weatherman and I were adamant that I wouldn’t need a jacket.

Then, there was Sunday’s disappointing full-day cancellation that left legions of fans angry because they traveled x amount of miles to see Kanye or Death Cab for Cutie. When I got the news, I remained motionless on the couch, silently crying the tears I’d have shed at Death Cab’s closing set.

And the biggest curse of a festival, as always, is not being able to be in two places at once.  I was sad to have missed Big Grams or another fun show from Matt and Kim because I parked myself at the main stage all of Friday. And even on Sunday while I was camping out for a last-minute Two Door Cinema Club ticket, I was also committed to missing two surely phenomenal performances by Courtney Barnett and Prophets of Rage, both just a walk away.

But I digress. Let’s end this one with some highs, shall we?

The Strokes covered “Clampdown” for the first time since 2004
To be fair, I could peg the whole set as my favorite part of the festival. When I was 11, I used to blast this Clash cover on my iPod, fantasizing that I might one day hear it live. That, and “Red Light,” which they performed for the first time since 2010. Everyone and their mothers know that The Strokes are my favorite band, but even I can objectively say that lately, they haven’t been at their best. However, on the heels of a new EP whose songs fit seamlessly into their set, New York’s finest garage rockers showed that they’ve been revived with a new positive energy.  The best feeling was watching the expressions as all five of them performed with unrivaled mastery, looking truly happy to be together.

Getting intimate with Two Door Cinema Club
Though it’s been a minute since their last album (almost four years, but who’s counting), 15-year-old me would’ve never forgiven present-day me for skipping Two Door Cinema Club’s make-up show at Music Hall of Williamsburg.  Adrenaline distracted me from the cold air and the rain drenching me through my flimsy windbreaker during the four hours I waited out (tip: phone a friend who’d be willing to bring you a lox bagel while you wait. You’ll need it). It proved to be worth it; there surely is no better venue to see a favorite band than one where from every angle, you feel like you’re in the front row.  Plus, even through moshing with grown men and crowd surfing during the encore, my glasses survived the night.

Beck being Beck
A live Beck experience was yet another realized fantasy from my fleeting youth, ignoring the fact that his breakout hit “Loser” is a couple of years older than me, and “Where It’s At” is less than a year younger; in any case, they all fit seamlessly into one animated set.  And during “Hell Yes” I couldn’t help but laugh, overhearing the guy next to me ask, “Is he rapping?” And it’s only been two years since “Blue Moon” reduced me to tears, and only a little more than a month since Prince’s tragic passing. Beck recalled accepting his Album of the Year award and a hug from The Artist himself, which he described as one of the “strangest, most amazing moments.” His cover of “Raspberry Beret” was easily the best of myriad Prince tributes this weekend.

Beck at Governor’s Ball 2016. Photo by Ysabella Monton for AudioFemme.

Este Haim getting wet with the crowd
Midway through Haim’s set, rain came down yet again. Gratefully, the Gov Ball NYC stage was on cement rather than grass, so mud was the least of our concerns, but that didn’t stop some people in the crowd from seeking shelter in lieu of enjoying the music. Este, the oldest of the Haim sisters, stepped out in between songs to pour a full bottle of water on herself in solidarity before continuing a stellar set that culminated in another fantastic tribute of Prince’s “I Would Die 4 U” and a wild drum finale.

Easy afternoon with Catfish & the Bottlemen
Being the perpetually late person that I am, I had to sprint not only across the bridge, but to the complete opposite end of the island to make sure I didn’t miss a minute of Catfish & the Bottlemen on the main stage.  They drew a much larger crowd, with more than enough energy to wildly dance along, than one would expect for a 3 pm set. Their set encapsulated exactly what it would’ve felt like to see Blur at a hole-in-the-wall venue in the early ’90s.

A rainy rave with Miike Snow
Just after receiving a notification from the official Gov Ball app that the worst was behind us, rain came down yet again for Miike Snow, weeding out the weak and prompting we, the thick-skinned, to go all out.  Everything I owned was drenched.  The cash in my wallet is still damp as we speak.  With feel-good music, a brilliant lights show before us, and nothing to lose, we embraced the feeling of wet skin on wet skin as limbs flailed in the muddy flood. Missed connection: the guy in the tropical print shirt who came back into the crowd with a slice of pizza and let everyone within three feet have a bite.

The best moves from Christine and the Queens
I caught Christine and the Queens completely by accident as I made my lap around the island on Friday and saw that someone happened to be getting set up on stage.  I’d never heard of her before, but “WOW” wouldn’t even begin to cover my reaction when Christine (real name Heloise Letissier) and her Queens (four male backup dancers) took the stage in trousers and tees, performing synchronized dance routines and tossing flowers into the crowd.  Now that’s what a festival performance should be.

Christine and the Queens, via governorsballmusicfestival.com

Nostalgia with The Killers
Wrapped in a wet blanket as my only protection from the cold, I was about to head home midway through M83 as I could feel a sore throat coming on. But, as I made my way out, I could faintly hear The Killers from across the park, and I knew I had to catch a little bit, even if I wasn’t going to immerse myself in the crowd.  I was more than happy to dance in the middle of the field with several hundred strangers, singing along to “Jenny Was a Friend of Mine” off of 2004’s Hot Fuss and admiring the fireworks behind the stage to round it all up.

The Killers Gov Ball
Fireworks and “When You Were Young” by The Killers.  Photo by Ysabella Monton for AudioFemme.