It is hard not to feel just a little romantic about a music festival in New York City. Seeing the spotlights shine in the sky with the skyline in sight as concertgoers stream about the festival grounds on Randall's Island or across the RFK Bridge is truly something to behold.

When Founders Entertainment launched the Governors Ball Music Festival (Gov Ball) in 2011, they were largely banking on the appeal of their host city, which lacked a success festival until their arrival. By growing from a low key one-day event to a massive three-day bonanza now regarded as one of the United States' best music festivals, these independent promoters have managed to ratchet up their image and expectations substantially with each successive year. But each new year presents a host of interesting challenges as well.

I happened to first attend Gov Ball in 2013 with two friends. This was, of course, the year in which Tropical Storm Andrea wrecked havoc on the first day of the festival. Most of the day's performers took to the stage in thick rain and heavy winds, though the headliners for the day were cancelled or rescheduled. The mud was thick, claiming the shoes of many concertgoers. It rained a little during certain days in the intervening years, but that day in 2013 has remained somewhat infamous in the short history of Gov Ball.

Still, Gov Ball has come a long way in the past several years and the 2016 incarnation of this festival entered with the highest expectations to date, as all three days were sold out well in advance. But as my experience over the course of the festival would show, Gov Ball has currently reached a curious status that might seem dubious to many onlookers. To summarize it best, Gov Ball has become the Coachella of the East Coast. While the soon-to-launch competitor on Randall's Island, Panorama, hopes to become the Coachella of the East (as it is, in fact, run by the organizers of Coachella), Gov Ball has undeniably reached a level of cultural significance that makes it a unique and fascinating experience, for both good and bad reasons.


Friday, June 3: Day One

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© Harsh Patel / The 405

When I arrived at Randall's Island early on Friday morning, I was amazed by the line that had amassed around my particular gate on the west side of the festival. A line of young people, many of whom were just out of high school per their own admission, stretched hundreds of feet from the gates. A number of festivalgoers even had parents along with them, a marked and notable change from my prior experience in 2013.

This exceedingly youthful presence has its pluses as young people can bring a fun, vibrant energy to a show. But it can also bring its fair share of dangers as it is inevitably not hard for anyone to get their hands on alcohol or any array of other substances. Kids just out of high school romanticizing the idea of a music festival can easily choose to abuse these types of things and anyone with eyes could see it happening all over the festival. The media tent at the festival was next to the site where medics would cart emergencies and it never took long into a given day to see several kids receiving treatment. Heading out onto the grounds of the actual festival revealed more of the same.

This is obviously not the fault of the promoters of Gov Ball, but is instead more of a byproduct of music festival culture. Still, it seemed that with a denser crowd since my last visit, these types of dangerous and frightening occurrences were even more frequent. Again, this is just personal observation and in no way derived from an officially statistics, but it still felt notable to me.

As I just alluded to, I also almost immediately noticed what seemed to be an increased number of people to the festival grounds since my last trip. Founders insists that capacity has remained steady, but certain people last year were already noticing an issue with overcrowding and that problem does not seem to have been resolved.

From the outset of the day, the grounds felt cramped to an almost dangerous extent. By the end of the day, when The Strokes took to the main stage for an adequate headlining set (more on that shortly), it was almost impossible to navigate the thick maze of concertgoers that filled the grounds. I'm not claustrophobic, but it was hard not to feel uncomfortable when packed in like a sardine just so I could stand just close enough to a stage that I could see okay if I squinted hard enough.

But with the whopping crowds Gov Ball has been able to pull the past few years has come some increased amenities as well, at least in turns of sound and visual display. Festivals are kind of chaotic environments so the sound is always kind of a hard bet. Jumbotrons adorned all the stages and frequently broadcast video of the show so people in the back could see, as well as a variety of other visuals provided by the artists.

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© Harsh Patel / The 405

The more noticeable improvement, however, was with the sound. During their 2013 set at Gov Ball, Animal Collective actually left the stage early because they felt their sound wasn't right. It was just one in a whole host of audio issues that plagued that year's festival. This was probably why I noticed the impressive improvements to these systems almost immediately. However, the upgraded sound systems did cause a few issues (see: beginning of Saturday), exemplifying the give and take that comes from growth with a festival of this type...

The first band of my day, Transviolet, wooed the crowd with their charming brand of electropop that sounded crystal clear booming through the speakers of the Honda Stage. The last band of my day, The Strokes, had a system that actually seemed too strong. The further I got away from their stage, the better things sounded. I will confess to already being on my way out by the time they played 'You Only Live Once,' but I felt like I could hear the song better from the RFK Bridge than I could from the crowd. Go figure.

Where Gov Ball and Founders Entertainment continue to outdo most of its competitors is in crafting concise and exciting lineups that are full of big names as well as exciting up-and-comers. This year's festival really belonged the latter. Many of the festival's star names -- The Strokes, Beck, Kanye West -- had already performed at the festival in past years and while I was as excited for Kanye as anybody (again, more on that soon), the headliners lacked some originality. Perhaps the appeal of a rare outing from The Strokes and new Kanye material was enough for Founders, but new headliners are exciting, too.

The undercards, however, were nothing short of exceptional. The aforementioned Transviolet kicked the festivities off with composure before three of the weekend's best artists took to their respective stages in quick succession. The Austin-based blues rock duo of Black Pistol Fire brought their signature cock-rock to the Bacardi House Stage for one of the hardest rocking shows of the weekend. Guitarist and vocalist Kevin McKeown wasn't afraid to explore the boundaries of the stage, diving into the crowd for awe-inspiring guitar solos, while drummer Eric Owen pounded away at his kit with aplomb.

Shortly thereafter, in a massive (and welcomed) shift in mood at the Honda Stage near the back of the festival grounds, Australian singer-songwriter Meg Mac took Gov Ball to church with the most soulful performance of the weekend. Flanked by two backup vocalists, which included her little sister, the young singer, who just completed recording her first album, thrilled the crowd with her soaring performance and intoxicatingly beautiful songs. Pitted against the wind and the nearby noise of the RFK Bridge, Meg still managed to command the stage with verve as she cruised through her excellent song catalogue.

For Meg, Gov Ball was just her second festival appearance in the U.S. and the crowd's enthusiastic reception was a flattering surprise. "It went way better than I was expecting," she said with a laugh and a blush. "I wasn't expecting anyone to be watching."

The flattery went beyond attendance as many of the fans at Meg's show were belting out her songs in unison. "I was really surprised by that," she grinned. "I thought maybe they'd know 'Roll Up Your Sleeves,' but there were other songs that I was singing that I was like, 'Oh!"

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© Harsh Patel / The 405

This was the Australian's third New York performance, with one solo performance and a supporting date with D'Angelo to her name. Still, Meg said that the festival would have a special place for her. "Festivals are always really different and support shows are always different from my own shows, even if they all are a little similar," she explained. "But I like festivals because it seems like everyone in the crowd is happy and in a good mood."

Meg's other American festival experience came earlier this year at the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Ala. According to Meg, her day at Gov Ball could be seen as a step up based on weather alone. "[Hangout] had really bad weather," she said. "It almost got cancelled and my set got moved about four hours. It was a really long day. But here, it was really quick."

Not terribly long after Meg, over at the event's main stage, the much-heralded Christine And The Queens delivered the weekend's most compelling pop performance and arguably became the highlight of the whole festival. Hailing from France, the group injected the weekend with an international flair beyond standard British indie pop fare. Meanwhile, lead singer and astounding master of theatrics Héloïse Letissier almost immediately set herself apart from any of peers for the weekend. From the moment she bounded out onto to the stage through all her of immensely entertaining crowd banter, she took the crown as Gov Ball's most invigorating performer. Her performance and team of dancers challenged societal conceptions of gender and what a person "should be." Letissier compared people to flowers, saying each one should be allowed to bloom in their own way. It was progressive and entrancing. I enjoyed much of the music for the weekend, but no other artist commanded as much attention as Letissier.

This is really saying something because Friday's lineup specifically also held the long-heralded Father John Misty. His onstage saunter brought a girl several feet to my left to tears and his charms were certainly in full effect as he cruised and crooned through an assortment of his fabulous tunes. His knack for melodrama and over-the-top showmanship truly is something to behold in person. Some have claimed his appearances should be limited so as to not spoil the appeal, but it was still pretty hard to resist loving every moment ofh is set. Still, his immense talents were no match for Letissier.

In fact, no one for the rest of the night would prove to be a match for Christine And The Queens. Matt And Kim performed an energetic, but boring set that coupled their less-than-thrilling music (which lacked a certain oomph despite the improved sound systems, perhaps as a result of the weird acoustics at the Honda Stage) with weird videos of memes that your mom has probably shared on Facebook. The performance had obviously staged moments of banter and lacked originality, as they resorted to the same crowd tactics they've been using for years. Overall, it was boring, weak music coupled with a stale show (all of which are descriptors that could extrapolated to Matt And Kim's career as a whole).

Meanwhile, at the main stage, Beck delivered a low key but pleasant performance that included tributes to both Bowie and Prince. His set, however, did not include his exciting new single, 'Wow,' or any other new material. It was hard not to feel a tinge of disappoint about that, even if the rest of his show was above average on the whole.

Then came The Strokes. It was, much like Beck, an above-average performance. The group had been elevated from early evening status during their last Gov Ball performance in 2014 to headliners despite having only just released a new EP, Future Present Past, so it was an interesting choice to say the least. But, banking on the power of nostalgia, The Strokes turned to their array of celebrated hits to please the crowd.

Over the course of 20 songs, the band worked through eight from their masterful 2001 debut, Is This It, while the rest of the set was derived from 2003's Room On Fire, 2006's First Impressions Of Earth and their new EP. Avoiding their later works -- namely 2011's Angles and their largely disowned 2013 release Comedown Machine -- the band was able to keep the crowd enthused with occasionally thrilling performances of their biggest tunes. Vocalist Julian Casablancas can still nail the role of a disaffected New York youth in spite of now being 37 years old. Meanwhile, not having played many shows together over the past several years doesn't seem to have really affected the chemistry between guitarist Nick Valensi, rhythm guitarist Albert Hammond, Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture and drummer Fabrizio Moretti. Their set was tight and well done, sticking fairly closely to the sounds of their records.

Overall, it was a solid, if not overwhelming set that provided the perfect soundtrack for walking out of a satisfying first night back at New York's premier music festival. It was an imperfect first day experience, but the next day held much promise.


Saturday, June 4: Day Two

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© Harsh Patel / The 405

The proceedings for Saturday got even more cramped from the get-go thanks to the addition of folks who may have missed the early part of Friday because of work or school obligations. The long line of Friday was even more monumental ahead of the gates opening on Saturday. A group of teenagers from Illinois that were standing in front of me were speaking loudly (perhaps purposefully) about how "lit" the day was going to be and how they planned to get their hands on bracelets that disingenuously would indicate they were of age to drink. I saw them about five minutes after making it in the doors and they had already accomplished their goal. It seemed like Saturday would be even more interesting than the previous day. I was right.

Friday had a solid day's lineup and some true standouts, but Saturday was more consistently exciting. Holly Miranda started off the day a bit weakly, but when her set ran late and the improved sound systems caused her music to bleed across the field, the shoegazers from NOTHING were forced to look on with annoyed smirks. When they finally took to the stage, frontman Domenic Palermo (wearing a fabulously macabre t-shirt from the New York hardcore band Neglect) apologized for their late start, saying they couldn't start on time because of "that awful band across the way. Sorry."

It was a refreshing infusion of a punk attitude into a festival full of young teenyboppers who needed a serious kick in the ass. With their sludgy, crunching sound, NOTHING certainly had the heaviest set of the weekend and one of the most original as well. There were truly no other bands quite like them playing over the weekend. It was also great to finally hear choice cuts from their amazing recent LP, Tired Of Tomorrow, all of which translated great to the live setting.

Elsewhere in the early afternoon, The Knocks delivered one of the more star-studded performances thanks to a litany of guest stars that came down to perform. Bringing out Carly Rae Jepsen to sing on 'Love Me Like That' and Wyclef Jean to energetically roam the stage (and the rafters) sing 'Kiss The Sky' was a stellar move from a group that could have otherwise just been a bland electronic dance act. Fans responded accordingly, as their set was one of the more raucous that I attended.

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© Harsh Patel / The 405

The mid-afternoon brought a rapid-fire stream of top-tier talent. Thundercat grooved under the tent at the Bacardi House Stage, where he was followed by a powerful performance from Laura Jane Grace and Against Me! At the same time, De La Soul was holding court over one of the most fun loving crowds of the weekend. Mac Miller performed slightly earlier to a crowd largely comprised of obnoxious, misogynistic bros who seemed to reveling in being cramped in closely with female concertgoers. Miller has come a long way toward improving his live show, though it still may rely too heavily upon cheap gimmicks ("Put your hands in the air!" on almost every song). But even when Miller was at his best, it was hard to enjoy it fully with the behavior of much of his crowd.

But, before long, disaster struck. The rain began around 7 p.m. and the harder stuff did not let up for about an hour. Miike Snow took to the stage in the rain, which somehow felt appropriate given their initial melancholic approach to electropop. While I didn't care for their latest record, iii, and was disappointed that only one song was featured from their second album, the underappreciated Happy To You, it was still a treat to hear seven cuts off of their self-titled debut. Furthermore, the pipes of vocalist Andrew Wyatt were among the weekend's strongest and the work of Christian Karlsson and Pontus Winnberg to craft the songs for the stage was phenomenal.

The night closed with two thrilling headliners for those who stuck out the rain. M83, who had the unfavorable stage selection nearest to the RFK Bridge, rocked largely on their new album, Junk, which translates far better to the stage than it did to record. Meanwhile, The Killers, like The Strokes, banked largely on nostalgia. The difference, however, was that their arena-ready anthemic pop rock seemed much better suited for the moment than The Strokes. They came out to 'Mr. Brightside' and refused to slow from there, unabashedly coursing through all their biggest hits. The crowd was enormous and knew every word to every song, making the show all that more impressive. Brendon Flowers controlled the stage with a theatricality that he seems to have mastered thanks to his recent solo tours and The Killers certainly made a believer out of this skeptic.

Their music was certainly enough to keep an enormous crowd around despite the rain, so one could only imagine what the next day would hold in spite of the impending threat of large storms.


Sunday, June 5: Day Three

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Mac Miller. © HoJun Yu / The 405

As many of you reading this likely already know, the final day of the festival did not come to pass. The impending threat of dangerous weather, with fears amplified even further by the injuries suffered at Rock am Ring on Saturday, ultimately caused Founders to call the last day.

Given the lineup of the final day, this was a tough pill to swallow. At the Big Apple Stage alone, fans had the following artists to look forward (starting from earliest to latest): Whitney, FIDLAR, Eagles Of Death Metal, Courtney Barnett and Chet Faker. Meanwhile, after some decent rap representation in the form of Action Bronson, Mac Miller and De La Soul, Sunday promised to bring Vince Staples, Joey Bada$$ and Vic Mensa. Meanwhile, Prophets Of Rage had announced a surprise appearance in what would have been their East Coast debut. Then, at the main stage, fans could expect Cold Ward Kids, Chvrches, Two Door Cinema Club and, of course, Kanye West would be playing selections from The Life Of Pablo for the very first time.

The reaction of artists was mostly one of sadness. Some had traveled great lengths to New York just for these shows. The artists may have gotten paid while fans, who could get partial refunds for the last day, were deprived of what they paid for, but you can't help but feel as though everyone was overwhelmingly disappointed by this outcome.

Some of the artists decided to take matters into their own hands, with Courtney Barnett, Galantis, Two Door Cinema Club and Vic Mensa setting up their own shows around New York. Much to the chagrin of the people behind Gov Ball, this trend actually led to perhaps the weekend's most dramatic and memorable moment.

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© Harsh Patel / The 405

It appeared, for a time, that Kanye West might perform a surprise pop-up show. It seemed the demand for his performance was enough to spur West to pursue his own personal show. He and many of his compatriots took to Twitter to announce a late night show at Webster Hall. This attempt, in turn, shut down a significant chunk of New York as fans scrambled to reach the venue.

Pictures from the scene appropriately portray it as something of a madhouse. Fans packed the streets and chanted West's name in the hope that the show would come to pass. People were packed wall-to-wall and even clambered on top of cars to escape the herd. For reasons that are not entirely known as of this writing, the performance never came to pass, despite the efforts of West. He even made an appearance near the scene, peeking his head out of the roof of his car to survey the scene. But as police arrived to break up the mass of people in the streets -- which some claim was done with tear gas and pepper spray, though NYPD denies the charge -- the night came to an anticlimactic end.

Still, the wild twists and turns of the day that formed as a result of the Gov Ball cancellation turned out to be far more compelling that just about any other story line from the festival itself. The performances of the weekend were solid, but it seems like every festival hopes to have a good storyline to go with the music. It just so happens that the best storyline of the weekend happened as a result of Gov Ball, but not within it.

All in all, Gov Ball 2016 was probably an above-average festival with some significant questions that need to be asked looking down the line. Obviously, the weather cannot be controlled and I sincerely feel for Founders, as the weather inadvertently drew much of the attention to a side effect of the festival rather than the festival itself. This is even more frustrating because Gov Ball really did have a solid lineup, with solid performances and some truly exceptional moments. The might of NOTHING and the thunder of Black Pistol Fire were true standouts, while Christine And The Queens were absolutely unforgettable.

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© Harsh Patel / The 405

But issues of space seem to be looming larger and larger with each passing year. Randall's Island is not enormous and I understand that. But when one wants to consider the safety and comfort of everyone involved, it might be best to evaluate whether the current system allows for that at Gov Ball.

This was a solid festival experience that likely won't be forgotten -- for better or for worse -- by any of its attendees anytime soon. It will be interesting to see how Founders chooses to adapt in the coming years, as Gov Ball seeks to maintain its place among the festival elite. Having now gone far beyond being "just about the music" and now being an experience that people want to brag about being a part of, the parallels to Coachella are inevitable and understandable, for both positive and negative reasons.

This year was a bit of a wash for Founders and their team, but the group will be poised to make some very interesting and vital decisions in the coming years. How they choose to adapt their festival to combat the looming threat of Panorama and adjust to adverse festival conditions will be the best indicator of Gov Ball's longevity and vitality to the music community.


Assorted Gallery

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Action Bronson (2)

Action Bronson. © HoJun Yu / The 405

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Action Bronson. © HoJun Yu / The 405

Black Pistol Fire

Black Pistol Fire. © HoJun Yu / The 405

Bloc Party

Bloc Party. © HoJun Yu / The 405

Bully

Bully. © HoJun Yu / The 405

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De La Soul (2)

De La Soul. © HoJun Yu / The 405

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De La Soul. © HoJun Yu / The 405

Eliot Sumner

Eliot Sumner. © HoJun Yu / The 405

Father John Misty

Father John Misty. © HoJun Yu / The 405

Haim (2)

Haim. © HoJun Yu / The 405

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Haim. © HoJun Yu / The 405

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Haim. © HoJun Yu / The 405

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Haim. © HoJun Yu / The 405

Holly Miranda

Holly Miranda. © HoJun Yu / The 405

Mac Miller

Mac Miller. © HoJun Yu / The 405

Meg Mac

Meg Mac. © HoJun Yu / The 405

Nothing (2)

Nothing. © HoJun Yu / The 405

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Nothing. © HoJun Yu / The 405

The Strokes

The Strokes. © HoJun Yu / The 405