Governors Ball is unlike any music festival in the United States. This isn’t Coachella. There’s no Ferris wheel and no shuttle bus to sweep you up from Hollywood or Palm Springs and drop you off in a scenic vista. It’s also not like Tennessee’s Bonaroo. This isn’t about camping or communing with nature, and it’s not even about escaping the hustle and bustle of the city to spend a few days surrounded by music.
Governors Ball is what happens when you set a music festival in the middle of New York City – specifically the parking lot of Citi Field in the borough of Queens. The 7 train drops you right into the action and there, surrounded by three stages, and on top of warm summer pavement you’ll find the city’s signature music festival.
Depending on who you are, and what you’re interested in experiencing, the above may sound like a dream or nightmare. Governors Ball embodies the blue-collar resilience and chaos of the city in which it was founded in 2011. This isn’t a festival built on niceties and polish (though, to be fair, the are still the usual sponsors and Instagram-worthy backdrops ): it’s about getting straight to the point. And when it comes to Governors Ball 2022, the point is the music.
Though Tame Impala, Stevie Nicks, and Vampire Weekend topped the bill of the festival’s canceled 2020 offering, the event took a youthful turn last year. In 2021, A $ Ap Rocky, Post Malone and Billie Eilish headlined, pulling in a younger crowd and selling out tickets for those interested in finally leaving their homes and rubbing elbows with fellow music lovers.
This year the draw for new generations of music lovers remained, and with an absence of rock acts like The Strokes and Jack White, who took prominent billing in previous festival, the grounds of the Met’s home stadium are swarming with adolescent fans ready to capture their Weekend on their iPhone and hear songs they first witnessed on viral TikTok videos.
On Friday, duo Aly & Aj Take the stage amid a nostalgic crowd who know them from their ’00s Disney heydey (when Aly Michalka starred in mouse-approved TV shows) but are eager to hear their new indie-rock pop songs. Paris Texas also play opening day, amping up the crowd with their one of a kind brand of alternative rap-rock. Former bandmates and friends Samia and Blu DeTiger bring their songwriting prowess to day one, with the two New York-born-and-bred artists both telling NME backstage that they once dreamed of playing the festival back when they came as fans.
Fresh from the release of latest album ‘Come Home the Kids Miss You’, Jack Harlow plays right before sunset to a tight crowd. Harlow’s set, amid pyro and shoulder-to-shoulder onlookers, stands out on the festival’s first day, not just for the energy he brings to the stage but for the audience he draws. They seem to know every word of his tracks.
But, much like the streets of New York City, a little chaos at Governors Ball isn’t completely avoidable. Migos were previously announced to play Friday, but were replaced by Lil Wayne just days before the festival kicked off. Just hours before his set, the festival announced Wayne’s personal jet had difficulties, so Harlem native A $ AP Ferg shows up at the 11th hour. Though the rapper says he was “at home chilling” when Governors Ball called him to perform, he somehow puts on one of the most energetic and dynamic sets of the festival.
Kid Cudi closes out the first night, beaming from ear-to-ear towards an audience hanging on his every utterance. “I’m the master of ceremonies,” he tells the music lovers beneath him. “I’ve come to show you a good time.” By the end of his set, it’s clear he’s a man of his word.
Saturday’s list of performers easily mirrors the eccentric scenes and sounds that make up the city, with Benee easing fans into the day with playful live versions of ‘Glitter’ and ‘Supalonely’. Denzel Curry and Ashnikko are also crowd-pleasers, while Tove Lo performs new tracks from her yet-to-announced record live, singing newbies ‘No One Dies From Love’ and ‘True Romance’ for the first time to fans who still somehow sing along despite the latter not yet having been officially released.
As the sun sets on the second day of Governors Ball, surprises, good and bad, start to roll out. First, Diesel – a former basketball player Shaquille O’Neal – delivers a DJ set so enthralling it seems like the entire festival stops to go and watch. At one point, he even brings a fan on stage to sit on his shoulders as he mixes an array of hits. On the other end of the spectrum, Roddy Ricch‘s Saturday set is canceled due to his being detained on the way to the festival. Ricch fans make the run to Flume instead; The producer kicks off Saturday night with an illuminating light and sonic show for the huge crowd.
Still, Halsey headlines night two with a formidable song selection. Not only do they perform ‘So Good’ for the first time live, they also give the crowd an energetic and heart-felt cover of newly Strange Things-boosted Kate Bush‘s’ Running Up That Hill’, adding that they “truly” wish they wrote the track.
As is Governors Ball’s tradition, Sunday comes with threats of thunderstorms and possible cancellation. But, to quote New Yorkers when the train stops or any inconvenience threatens a good time, the festival quickly takes on a “fuck it – we ball” attitude. Fans show up in rain boots, ponchos and hold umbrellas, preparing themselves for whatever the day brings.
Indie-rock darling Soccer Mommy takes the stage and gives the audience a sneak peek of their soon-to-be-released album ‘Sometimes, Forever’, and by the time the set ends, the clouds have rolled away. Soon Becky G. gives a poptastic performance on one of the festival’s smaller stages, with choreography and cementing elements her as an artist worthy of a higher spot on the bill.
Meanwhile Glass Animals bring their fun lyrics and vibrant indie-pop to Sunday afternoon, as vocalist Dave Bayley stops between songs to read signs and laugh along with fans in the crowd. Playboy Carti also gives a versatile performance with an ominous black triangle, pyro and flashing lights backing him as fans rrap along to every word.
There’s optimistic energy throughout the festival weekend. Young music fans are here with their friends, shoulder-to-shoulder, taking in every moment. Through last-minute line-up changes, threats of bad weather and even trains shutting down on the way to the fest, Governors Ball-goers are resilient. They aren’t worried about the frills. They came here for the music.
Fittingly, then, the festival ends with J.Cole headlining and giving the New York crowd a stripped-back performance that relies only on his lyricism. No gimmicks, no stage theatrics – just straight to the point.