Michael L. McGlathery:
I have a hard time shaking the surreal feeling that takes hold as soon as one enters a music festival. To have been staring at an event’s extensive lineup—dissecting conflicts, salivating over long-time favorites, and making new discoveries—and to finally find oneself inside the extensive reality of the actual festival—the music coming from real speakers on real stages played by real, physical humans, a crowd of fellow fans grooving around you—is invariably surreal.
Not all of the strangeness that’s hard to absorb at these events is pleasant. Here are some of the things I experienced in the first few hours of Governors Ball’s 2016 iteration:
- - I calculated, with my friends, the festival’s alcohol option that provided the most bang-for-buck. It was a $13 tallboy can of Miller Lite.
- - I saw at least three festival-goers, clearly underage, arguing with their friends about whether or not they needed to calm down, drink some water, and take it easy. And all of them before 4 pm!
- - I got a sunburn. (Okay, this one’s my fault.)
- - I ate a pizza from a food truck that had pretty much run out of ingredients, which meant a crust saturated in tomato sauce topped with about a teaspoon of cheese.
In other words, today’s music festivals can be a great place to explore the crossroads between utopia and dystopia. If you’re in a cynical mood, it can be hard not to notice how extensively events like these are steeped in our society’s vices: narcissism, class privilege, hedonism, consumerism, ignorance. Weekend passes to Governors Ball start around $300. People aren’t just preoccupied posting their experiences at these festivals on social media; when they take a video of a show, they often don’t even focus on the performer and prefer to take selfie videos. It’s hard to tell whether some people are actually enjoying the music or just the opportunity to get irresponsibly wasted. I’m not saying those people are immoral or unworthy of such an experience (I’m one of those people too!). I’m just saying they’re not quite at their best.
For all that, though, these festivals don’t get completely mired in their sometimes-obnoxious negatives. Even the show with all the drunk teenagers—that was Action Bronson—was infectiously fun, and that was because of those teenagers, in part. Bronson’s special brand of irreverent, sometimes-whiny hip-hop fed off of their angsty energy. And as cringe-worthy as it can be to see, a festival with a tent dedicated to taking care of the uncontrollably drunk and making sure they’re okay isn’t the worst place in the world for teenagers to experiment with binge drinking.
The hedonism that pervades the crowds at these festivals is a part of their essence and a part of their appeal and their magic, like it or not. A delightfully carefree performance from Big Grams was punctuated by bubbly affirmations from Sarah Barthel, who was, in her own words, “So high.” The Strokes, who sounded as tight, perfect, and iconic as could be hoped for, have always depended on the flashpoint between hedonism and a deep malaise for their appeal. Action Bronson smoked a joint as he hoarsely spat lyrics into the mic, later admitting that he smoked “too soon.” Father John Misty provided a (perhaps ironically) earnest counterpoint, lost in the lush landscape of his brilliant compositions throughout his show. The liveliest point of Beck’s performance came with the fun-loving slacker anthem “Loser”: Even the picnicking 30-somethings in the crowd got up and jumped around for that track.
You can love music festivals or hate them; you can be cynical about their intentions (this particular festival was just acquired by the gargantuan corporation LiveNation); you can accuse them of losing their soul. There’ll never be another Woodstock. But while there’s still a Governors Ball, you can still search for that enduring spirit in the cracks.
Mila Gauvin II:
Although I arrive before the gates open, confusion as to where and how to get my wristband, the sole key to getting inside, delays my entry into the festival. Hundreds of people in their teens and early twenties have already lined up, waiting impatiently to be let in; they form a vibrant mosaic of both eclectic styles and eccentric colors. When I finally get my wristband, I rush inside after them, and I am immediately accosted by the essence and energy that is Gov Ball. The four big stages, the food stands, the bathroom lines, people’s bare skin—the festival has only just begun but it is already in full swing.
I make my way to all of the stages to make sense of the confusion that was once the empty fields of Randall’s Island. While the app is helpful in helping me keep track of who is performing when and where, as well as where everything is, I feel like I am being swallowed whole by the immensity of the festival until I go to one of the first performances of the day: The London Souls. Although the crowd isn’t as pumped for the performance as the band itself is, I understand why I am here: to enjoy and bask in the wide array of different artists I am about to see.
Each performance I attend is marked by the push and pull of people trying to get by (most attempting to get push forward, closer to the stage); by the songs added to my playlists as I discover new favorites from different artists; by the ringing in my ears once the music gives way to my fellow festival-goers’ speech as everyone disperses from the stages. My phone’s storage is bursting with the pictures and videos I have taken, most of them blurry and unintelligible, but I keep them anyways to immortalize the memory of my being here.
Enjoying one of the many perks of my status as a journalist, I revel in the opportunity to interview Meg Mac. Although she isn’t too well-known yet in the U.S., her undeniable talent will soon push her to the fame she has already gained in her native Australia. Her music, fashion style, and quiet demeanor endear her to me almost immediately, but I am too shy to ask for a picture with her. Oh well, maybe next time.
Though he is not due to perform for another two days, traces of Kanye permeate the festival, hinting at his long-awaited first pre-Pablo performance. From Christine and the Queens’s haunting mashup/cover of Yeezy’s “Heartless” to the poster of Kanye’s head a fan holds up during Duke Dumont’s set to people already planning their Sunday around his performance, the headliner everyone is waiting to see has already infiltrated Randall’s Island.
My feet sore and my stomach grumbling—I’ve barely sat down the entire day, and the food here is too overpriced for me to bother paying for more than one meal—I enjoy The Strokes’s encore performance, despite the fact that it clashes with the clamor of the last-minute fireworks. Leaving the festival turns out to be the worst part of the evening, and not just because it means I am leaving all the fun behind. The thousands of people unsuccessfully rushing to leave before the rush have unintentionally become the rush, and there I am in the middle of it all. Although it takes me almost an hour to get off the smaller island and onto the main one, I can’t help but look forward for the next day, however long it may be.
—Staff writer Michael L. McGlathery can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Mila Gauvin II can be reached at email@example.com.
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