Thoughts from Day One of Governor’s Ball

Flying stag to a music festival because the lineup is so stacked that you had no choice but to buy a 3-day pass without first confirming a group of friends to tag along with. That was my mentality leading up to this year’s Governor’s Ball (or Gov Ball, as regulars call it). When asked who was playing leading up to the festival, I regularly struggled to list 3 of the artists in this “stacked” lineup. Perhaps the diversity and sheer number of quality artists performing created a space in my consciousness where each particular artist performing could hide from my excitement. As a result, my answer to the question was usually “Drake, Drake, and Drake.”

Walking over the Randall Bridge at 12:00pm Friday, I will admit I was feeling uncomfortable being alone. After an initial few conversations, first with an Iranian couple who now live in New York (most excited to see Florence and the Machine, The Black Keys) and some Uniqlo employees (most excited to see “Supreme Overlord Drake”), I was getting comfortable with the vibe. By the time Rae Sremmurd’s Slim Jim fucked up his leg in a big way, I understood how conversations at Gov Ball worked:

Me (to a stranger): “Hey, what bands are you seeing?”

Stranger lists bands

Me: “Nice! Did you see the Rae Sremmon or however you pronounce their name’s set? The dude messed up his leg bad.”

Stranger: “No, thats crazy though!”

At this point the conversation either takes off or dies. Either way its very easy to approach people at this festival.

The festival seemed primarily packed with kids in high school and their early 20’s. At 26 I felt like the village elder, watching from a distance as the children regularly partook in marijuana. Similarly, I felt distance from most people’s urge to capture each performance from shitty vantage points instead of just watching the band. The festival camera crew quickly caught on to this selfish impulse of the crowd and regularly put the jumbotron cameras on the audience during each set. Moral: music pairs well with vanity.

The highlights from Day 1 were definitely Charlie XCX and St. Vincent, two strong songwriters who perform with bands. Charlie XCX took the stage at 3pm on Friday, at the peak of the afternoon. The crowd was a distinct subset of the festival audience, primarily consisting of homosexuals and high schoolers. I’ll admit that the only Charlie XCX song I consciously listened to before the festival was a Lindstrom remix on his Soundcloud page that all but removed her voice from the mix. As a result, there was a large gap of unknowing that had to be bridged for me to enjoy this performance. Charlie XCX took the stage and quickly drew me in. Her dance moves were simple but seductive and her voice was spot on. Paired with her pop star personality and delicious songwriting, she quickly bridged the gap of unknowing and gave me faith that pop music isn’t totally fucked. St. Vincent was equally captivating, though in a distinct fashion. Where Charlie XCX was a sweet dessert that you couldn’t help but enjoy at least some of, St. Vincent was a Foie Gras, a tasty french dish that can be off-putting to some sensibilities. Surprisingly St. Vincent’s set featured more choreography than Charlie XCX (surprising only because Charlie XCX is a pop star). Two dancers backed up the moves of Annie Clark as she seizured her way through songs primarily from her last two albums. St. Vincent’s music is echoes disenchantment with aspects of our current society, and her robotic, spastic stage presence personifies this. Annie Clark becomes a robotic musician that is only able to express itself at very defined moments when appropriate to the greater structure on the stage. Many corollaries could be found in our society as a whole, where expression is regularly looked on upon with a suspicious, condescending public eye. By the time Annie was on a stretcher being carted off by her dancers, I felt disenchanted. Her performance was brilliant, combining the theatrics of Jesus Christ Superstar and the haunting self-parody of Kurt Cobain coming out in a wheelchair. But I felt bad. Like I was half human or stuck in the insecurity and confinement pervasive in our society. I guess good art is supposed to challenge one’s tastes. Or maybe I should heed Noel Gallagher’s advice to “never but your life in the hands of a rock n roll band.”

After St. Vincent, I wasn’t really in the mood for Drake. I was tired and had a shitty vantage point from which to see the brilliance unfold, so after a few underwhelming songs out I walked over the bridge and headed home.