As one of the first major U.S. music festivals to kick off the summer months, New York City’s Governors Ball has a lot to live up to. Recently moved from Randalls Island to the parking lot of Citi Field, the venue is easily accessible by train and can hold the hundreds of thousands of festivalgoers attending. The event continued its recent theme of attracting newer music fans by accompanying the big headliners with popular young artists such as Benee and Clairo. The festival also included many artists native to the city, including Blu DeTiger, Julia Wolf, and Del Water Gap.
I only had the chance to attend the final day, but Friday and Saturday seemed to go smoothly despite a few complications. There was a late series of lineup changes with A$AP Ferg replacing Lil Wayne due to flight disruptions, after Lil Wayne himself had previously replaced Migos in Friday’s lineup. Roddy Ricch’s performance was also canceled at the last minute on Saturday. However, the surprise buzz came from relative newcomer Coi Leray on Friday and a performance by Shaq (going by the name of DJ Diesel) on Saturday.
Although rain and thunderstorms threatened to dampen the mood on Sunday, it was a perfect weekend in New York, with clear skies and temperatures around the mid-70s. This was refreshing as the festival has had a history of being rained out, bringing about delays and cancellations most recently in 2019.
I entered the festival just after 1:00 PM. The first acts had already performed their sets, so there was some downtime in between. I took some time to explore the venue. At the entrance, I was met with an array of artwork, including a 20-foot tall foam sculpture of the Statue of Liberty and a “Death to Plastic” environmental piece.
My music experience started at 1:30 PM with Del Water Gap, the solo project of indie pop songwriter S. Holden Jaffe. The band had a romantic nostalgia for the 00s, with Jaffe longingly singing on the chorus, “don’t you know me?” on the song “Better Than I Know Myself”. The singer dressed in all black, combining a suit jacket with black shorts for the warm weather. Although he sang of falling in and out of relationships, Jaffe ended the set with “Ode to Conversation Stuck in Your Throat”, a track about a hopeful, budding romance. At the finale, he hopped off the stage and stood along the fencing to say thanks to the crowd.
Speaking of 90s and 00s nostalgia, next up was Soccer Mommy. She opened with “Circle the Drain”, a summery pop song on the surface that conceals lyrics about spiraling into a feeling of depression. She then followed up with her new music, telling the audience her album Sometimes, Forever would be coming out in a couple weeks. The band started this section with “Shotgun”, a song about losing oneself in a relationship and cherishing the small, seemingly insignificant details along the way. Here, the bass was driving and intense while the soaring lead guitar melody shone during the instrumental bridge.
“Unholy Affliction” was a turn to a more experimental direction as Soccer Mommy embraced more dark and distorted electronics, causing some of the audience to noticeably be taken aback by the sudden departure from her usual indie rock sound. The band concluded with crowd-favorite “Your Dog” with Allison’s defiant singing closing out the performance on a high.
My most anticipated act of the day was the hyperpop band 100 gecs, who had a reputation for chaotic performances and wild crowd engagement. Although it was an open area, the atmosphere in the front was electric with everyone jumping to the beat of each song.
The duo performed many tracks off of the debut album, 1000 gecs, as well as their two new singles “mememe” and “Doritos & Fritos”. As a short breather in the middle of their set, Laura Les and Dylan Brady performed “gecgecgec” on acoustic guitar but quickly got back to their over-energized style with “Money Machine” and “800db Cloud”.
While 100 gecs were certainly the most frantic, Japanese Breakfast had the tightest set of the day. It was a welcome switch that acted as a palate cleanser for everything that happened on that same stage just 30 minutes before. Frontwoman Michelle Zauner performed her songs with a beaming smile, first starting off with “Paprika” and “Be Sweet” from her most recent album, Jubilee. She introduced “Savage Good Boy” by sharing her experience of schadenfreude when a billionaire she had just met didn’t get what he wanted.
Zauner also got more personal with “The Body Is A Blade” and showed a moving collection of family pictures, ending on an image of her mother on the cover art of her debut solo album Psychopomp. The band also performed my favorite, “Posing in Bondage”, an art pop ballad about loneliness and the longing desire for connection. Hearing it live, I felt a wave of tranquility wash over me before its euphoric ending. The band finished their performance with the groovy “Slide Tackle” followed by classics “Everybody Wants to Love You” and “Diving Woman”. The latter concluded with an instrumental jam and wild saxophone solo. Zauner shared a sweet moment with her bandmate and husband Peter Bradley, touching heads as they played the last few chords together.
After Japanese Breakfast, we headed over to the GovBall NYC stage to see the latter half of Glass Animals. We walked in as the band was performing “The Other Side of Paradise,” an indietronica anthem that played well with the crowd. Lead vocalist Dave Bayley was a true showman, leaping around the stage and completely animated with expressive facial and body movements. His quirky dancing kept the energy up through the entire performance and got the crowd jumping to the beat of every song.
We then walked to Kaytranada early to get a spot in the front. His house set had the crowd dancing to his hits “Intimidated” and “10%.” The strobing lights added to the party atmosphere, while Kaytranada swayed to the beat. He also surprised everyone with a remix of The Weeknd’s “Out of Time.”
J. Cole, the headline act of Sunday, was the last act we saw. We arrived for the latter half of his performance. He rapped a setlist that spanned his entire career, including songs off his most recent 2021 LP The Off-Season. He brought out J.I.D. and Kenny Mason for “Stick,” a song that got his fans in the front moshing. J. Cole ended the night with “No Role Modelz,” getting the entire crowd to sing along one last time.