“There was a solid crowd of people, which we didn't expect because of the weather, and we just did our thing,” said a rain-drenched Kari Spieler of Swear and Shake. “Hearing people cheer each time was like, 'Oh, cool! Things are going well out there.'” Swear and Shake kicked off the three-day long Governors Ball Music Festival on Friday, June 7.
Earthworms and golf balls rose from the deepening puddles on the Randall's Island driving range where half of the day's stages were set up. Local Natives played a mix of their discography – 2010's “Gorilla Manor” and 2013's “Hummingbird” – with pristine sound in spite of the muddy gusts splattering the front of the stage.
Feist took the main stage, waving what looked like a white flag in the face of the storm. “For all the brave ones, take your ponchos and send them up to the sky! You are crazy people, so we will play music for you!” After tossing aside her poncho, Feist blew into a conch shell, called upon Neptune, and raged through “A Commotion,” ending the song in sparks as her equipment shorted in the storm.
The DJ and synth equipment stayed dry under the Skyy Vodka tent, where Erykah Badu and the Cannabinoids slinked through a couple decades of lush neo soul before the island was evacuated, with the exception of some exit music by the spooky crooning of Victoria Legrand as Beach House pulsed through the rain.
The sun shone the next two days, brightening both the muddy island and concertgoers' spirits. Friday headliners Kings of Leon were rescheduled to play Saturday, and fans and bands alike were delighted. “We're gonna stay around and see Kings of Leon,” mused Sam Margin, singer for Australian act The Rubens, who put on a stunning show Saturday afternoon. Governors Ball was the band's first American festival.
“We're playing Bonnaroo next weekend, which is gonna be amazing.” The Aussie rockers recorded their debut album in New York and plan to do some sightseeing in Tennessee. When asked if they'll take a whiskey tasting tour, Margin replied, “I taste whiskey daily, but we'll taste some Tennessee whiskey.”
The festival's own concessions included a full bar and food options for vegan, vegetarian, and omnivorous gourmets alike, including soy curried chicken, Japanese teriyaki dough balls, and some serious empanadas, all from local NYC vendors.
Hometown hero Nas played plenty of favorites spanning his nearly 20 year career, including a raucous “New York State of Mind,” giving borough-by-borough shout-outs.
Guns N' Roses wowed with “Night Train,” “Welcome to the Jungle,” and nearly 10 minutes of “Knockin' on Heaven's Door,” closing Saturday's festivities with “Paradise City,” pyrotechnics, confetti, and fireworks.
“Don't get too excited,” warned Bloc Party singer Kele Okereke, offering an infectious sound along with his advice to the Sunday crowd. “Pace yourselves!” But the third and final day's lineup kept the people energized. Cold War Kids opened with a surge of keys and crashing drums while Nathan Willet leaned into the audience, clapping along as they sang the chorus to 2013's “Miracle Mile.” Willet shook the mic like a maraca as Matt Maust moved about the stage, crouching and hanging over the edge while leaning into his bass during the high-energy set that included the shoulder-shaking “Audience” and the catchy-as-hell “Hang Me Up to Dry.”
Gary Clark Jr. tore through Hendrix-style feedback for “When My Train Pulls In,” off his latest album, “Blak and Blu.” Clark hit the kind of roundabout riffs that turn a ribcage into a tornado, from a steady jam to a quick southern kick into the blues with pick scratching à la Tom Morello.
“Hello, New York!” shouted Grizzly Bear frontman Ed Droste. “It's been entirely too long!” The Brooklyn indie heroes dove into synthy renditions rich with reverb and spooky harmonies. The Lumineers stole New Yorker's hearts, too, when they were joined onstage by the Success Academy Bronx Children's Choir to sing the chorus of “Ho Hey.”
Final act of the weekend Kanye West played an array of hits – “Mercy,” “Jesus Walks,” “Stronger” – from a catwalk in the crowd with the dramatic backdrop of airplane runway lights onstage. During “Clique,” Yeezy went into a candid rant:
“This is usually the part of the show where I start complaining about s—t. Justifying s—t. But you know how it is. I'm just happy to be making music, happy to be able to perform that s—t for y'all.” Ye even graced the crowd with new material from “Yeezus,” including “I Am a God,” “New Slaves,” and shocking closer “Black Skinhead.”
As the festival-goers shuffled toward the gates, a few lingered at a piano, trying to remember the verses to Arcade Fire's “Wake Up,” and getting the chorus of “ahhhhs” dazzlingly spot-on.