We ran an experiment last weekend at Governors Ball—we sent two writers to record, document, and analyze the massive 3-day festival. Now, you have a chance to enter two unique perspectives and follow their long, strange journey through a music festival in real time.
Governors Ball 2014
Jason Schellhardt and Nicolas White (now known as JS and NW, respectively) covered the grounds of Randall’s Island searching for stories and interesting happenings. Join the thousands who attended Gov Ball 2014 by experiencing the real-time thoughts of JS and NW as their paths weave around the grounds.
Close your eyes for a moment and take a deep breath. When you open them, you’ll be somewhere else.
JS: “No shoes, no service”
12:19 p.m. / GovBall NYC Stage
Entering the festival ground for the first time. This is my first Governors Ball and it already seems better organized than other festivals I’ve been to. Stopping to grab a beer on my way to Haerts, it becomes immediately clear that no one has trained the beer vendors on using the tablet-based credit card system… looks like I’m paying an ATM fee today.
Eventually make it to the main stage to find a small crowd watching the first set of the festival. Oh look, that chick has already lost her shoes. Nothing says “white girl wasted” like rocking barefeet 15 minutes into a three-day festival.
NW: “Traffic on the RFK”
1:30 p.m. / Harlem
125th street in Harlem bustled with people–some wandering in the general direction of a bridge, others going about their day and looking puzzled by the crowd. I fell into the former group, which I made clear by weaving in between the sluggish passerby.
The RFK bridge condensed this crowd into a narrow path of slow-moving cattle. Contrary to the speed of the line, however, the destination wasn’t slaughter. The East River glimmered in the sun, as ferries floated by with hordes of festival-goers, making me forget what lies beneath.
Finally, a path presented itself, exchanging concrete and crushed tin cans for a welcome canopy of trees. In the distance, an entrance stood, away from the stifling subway heat and the melted pavement.
“Welcome to Gov Ball!” a staffer said. He put out his hand for a high-five and I politely obliged. The bass from Run The Jewels’ performance rumbled menacingly to my left, as I waited while a man was patted down before me.
“I got pot in here! I got pot in here!” he said in a British accent, holding up a glasses case. The security guard laughed – “Get outta’ here!” – and sent him on his way.
2:30 p.m. / Gotham Tent
Run the Jewels just crushed their set at the Honda stage. RATKING is on next in the Gotham Tent and I’d rather watch them than Kurt Vile. For a minute it feels like New York hip-hop is really back. Suddenly, a group of frat bros emerge wearing balloon flower hats. One of them has a homemade t-shirt that reads “So Fresh and So Clean.” The letter “o” replaced by Mercedes Benz logos. Nevermind.
NW: “Another World”
2:36 p.m. / Big Apple Stage
I stood in the middle of a sun soaked field, completely unidentifiable from the world I’d just left. By that time, the sprawling grounds crawled with people meandering in every direction. Guys wore sunglasses and loose t-shirts. Girls walked by endlessly, each with intricate tattoos across shining skin, crowns of purple and white flowers, or tight-fitting denim shorts.
I took a long, deep swig of beer and followed the sound of guitars. As Kurt Vile and the Violators eased through their set, I marveled at the glorious haze that drifted over this place. Vile swung his long brown hair in front of his face as he strummed an acoustic guitar and sang tight lipped into a microphone. I felt transported to another time.
JS: “Electric Lady”
3:15 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
Watching Janelle Monae tear shit up on the main stage. All the youths are watching
98 Degrees the 1975 on the Honda Stage. Suckers.
3:08pm – 3:31pm / Gov Ball Stage – Honda Stage
A large crowd gathered to see the energized and heavily choreographed performance of Janelle Monae. The pop star and her band wore all white with accents of black, dancing rhythmically to the music as confetti popped somewhere deep in the crowd.
I noticed a spot on a hill that I’d sat on in years past; it perfectly overlooked the main stage, but was now obscured behind a row of ritzy cabanas that were nearly empty, aside from the a group with their backs to the show. I suppose even this place wasn’t immune to the temptations of capitalism.
Across the fest, The 1975 played on the Honda Stage as I sipped a Miller Light. The lead singer’s unbuttoned shirt jostled beside him, while girls cooed. A cigarette rested lazily between two fingers, even as he sang. I looked down at my phone for moment: 3:31pm. June 6th, 2014.
JS: “Jurassic Snark”
4:15 p.m. / Gotham Tent
Back in the Gotham Tent for Washed Out. This is the first of many unexpectedly packed sets inside the tent. Watching from the far right corner, I notice a guy holding up a cut-out of a seductively posed Jeff Goldblum. Next to him another guy holds up an inflatable T-Rex. Congrats guys, you managed to make it to someone’s GovBall recap.
JS: “Existential Dilemma”
5:57 p.m. / Gotham Tent
Jesus, I’m spending a lot of time at the Gotham Tent. La Roux is on. My friends wanted to see her so I tag along. There is a massive dead spot in my schedule between here and TV On the Radio at 8 p.m. Beginning to feel really old, like my festival-going days are nearly over. Even worse, I can’t afford to get myself drunk here.
JS: “Downward Facing Douche”
6:36 p.m. / Big Apple Stage
Left La Roux for Neko Case. These guys are surprisingly good. The crowd here skews toward the older side of the audience. To my right, some girl in acid washed cut-offs starts doing yoga, completely in earnest. Because you know, the high-waisted acid-washed booty shorts weren’t drawing enough attention.
7:15 p.m. / The hill by the main stage
I wandered with my friend, Evan, through the countless picnic blankets and bodies strewn across the grass, half asleep and bathed in sunlight. We walked sideways up a hill near the large wooden “Gov Ball NYC” sign.
Beneath the entwined tree branches, he removed his sunglasses and looked around, red marks still indented on his nose.
“You think it’s OK if I smoke up here?” Evan said.
We looked around—to our right a girl squatted down between the large festival sign and a fence. She held her hand up – “don’t look!” – as I realized she was peeing. To our left, a man stood up from his seat on a tree stump. He let out a final billow of smoke before ashing a joint. After looking around, he threw on a STAFF shirt over his wife-beater.
“Yeah, I think it’s OK.” I said.
The whole crowd came out for Phoenix on the main stage, as thousands moved across the field below with no grass in sight. Dusk arrived slowly. I admired the fluid nature of the massive crowd from above. Like water, everyone moved in waves as a single, living entity. I felt the energy reverberate and wash over me, as if the entire crowd became one.
JS: “Bulldogs and Gators, Oh My!”
7:50 p.m. / Big Apple Stage
Decided to camp out for a spot at TV On the Radio. During the wait, a group of what appears to be UGA fans begin shouting “Fuck the Gators” at a kid wearing a Florida hat. Kind of surprised this group has sought out TVOTR.
The band emerges and starts its set with “Young Liars.” They follow with a ton of early material and three brand new songs. This is exactly what I had been waiting all day for. Sound got spotty in a few places, but this might be my favorite performance of the weekend.
NW: “Grimes Goes Pop”
8:40 p.m. / Gotham Tent
The tent glows with colors and strobes at nightfall. I approach the buzzed chatter between songs and lean against a pole, peering over at the stage from the side. Behind pink fog and unsettling mime dancers, Grimes nods her head above a synthesizer.
She looked beautiful, otherworldly even, like a waif concocting ghostly melodies. I relented, falling into her trance. Grimes played through a bunch of new material, one song of which was written for Rihanna and rejected; it sounded poppy, naturally, but still retained her signature sound.
Within feet of one another, a lesbian couple looked delighted groping each other, a gay couple sang every word face-to-face, and a straight couple did some slow-grinding. Most notably, no one noticed. Everyone simply danced, lost in the music.
JS: “Hush That Fuss”
9:41 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
OUTKAST! The opening notes of “Bombs Over Baghdad” come the PA, Andre and Big Boi emerge from this cube shaped thing on stage, and I am immediately transported back to high school, when Stankonia and Speakerboxxx/The Love Below soundtracked my formative years.
This performance is lightyears better than the videos I’ve seen from Coachella. Maybe you just had to be there?
NW: “Hey Ya!”
9:51 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
The whole field is now filled to watch the rousing performance of Outkast. Though they’ve caught some flak for past performances, they sound impressive. Bass rattles my chest, even from 150 yards away, and the sound of Big Boi’s rapid-fire flow creates a sticky nostalgia felt by all.
A girl turns to me and asks “Are you having fun?” in an Irish brogue.
I nod. “How about you?”
“It’s been fine. It’s very tame compared to back home,” she said.
Suddenly, “Hey Ya!” begins and everyone starts wildly dancing on cue. The Irish girl and her friends shimmy and laugh, taking pictures of one another in suggestive dancing poses.
As soon as the song fades out, their expressions return to neutral and they start walking home.
JS: “Explosive Start To Saturday”
12:47 p.m. / Big Apple Stage
I’ve seen Diarrhea Planet a handful of times at smaller clubs. Interested to see how they handle a festival setting. Turns out they handle it pretty damn well. During the big finale of “Ghost With A Boner,” one of the four guitarists is crowd surfing mid-solo while another scales the side of the stage for a solo 20 feet in the air. This is an awesome band with an awful name.
Throughout the set, I find myself watching what might be the raddest concert security guy I have ever encountered. He’s jumping up on the barrier and starting group claps, laughing when people drop crowd surfers and flinging water into the crowd. This guy should be on stage.
2:03 p.m. / Honda Stage
Wander over to the fringe of the crowd for RJD2 and set up a blanket. I fall asleep for a little while and wake up to a topless chick playing with some kind of floating stick thing. Starting to reconsider my feelings toward this whole EDM culture.
JS: “Heavy Metal Gotham Tent”
2:46 p.m. / Gotham Tent – Big Apple Stage
Walked over to the tent to see Deafheaven out of morbid curiosity. Sorry Pitchfork/Brooklyn Vegan, I just don’t get it. Left to check out Tanlines who may have been the most aptly named band of the weekend with the worse sound (I’m told they had technical difficulties, so I’ll reserve my judgement for now).
NW: “Tanlines Rebound”
2:55pm / Big Apple Stage
The searing sun of Saturday was unavoidable. It beat down on the back of my neck, but I didn’t mind yet. Tanlines’ set started off the day right, with grooving songs perfect for the atmosphere—swathes of bass, twinkling guitar lines, and bongo hits. It fit neatly next to Cut Copy in terms of vibe, and the crowd responded nicely.
Unfortunately, this performance also marked the beginning of a number of sound issues that plagued the smaller stages, particularly the Big Apple, which only had a few stacks on stage, as opposed to the hanging vertical speakers on the others.
After struggling through a few tracks, they brought out an industrial fan to cool down the equipment in the heat, and finally made it through one more song. The crowd that stuck around applauded triumphantly in a great moment.
3:30pm / The field
I realized Saturday brought a more vibrant energy while wandering through the main field; the lingering stress of the work week dripped away. I wiped my brow and took it all in.
I jogged through the open grass in a state of euphoria. I had left some friends to go get a drink, but at that point, I’d forgotten where I was going at all. Time smeared together into one, a vivid painting brushed with watercolors.
The crowd passed by, hair down and letting it all hang loose (literally). Girls enjoyed the festival unhinged, exchanging bras for tight tops, sun dresses, and rompers. Their male counterparts drifted by serenely.
“Was this what it was like in the ‘60s?” I wondered. Had those ideals started bubbling again in the minds of millennials? I wanted this feeling to last forever. I hoped it was real.
In the distance, I saw a white flag waving with a peace sign emblazoned in green.
NW: “A Shot in the Arm”
3:45pm – 5:45pm / Gotham Tent and Honda Stage
The tent filled with chants of “we want Chance.” An oversized crowd gathered, spilling out of the Gotham tent in every direction.
Chance the Rapper arrived and jumped right into a song from Acid Rap, as the crowd sang along. His band added jazzy riffs. “Damn. This is gonna’ be a good show,” he said in between songs.
Nearby, a group blew smoke into a bored looking 20-somethings face; he coughed and looked back, ready to scold, but quickly decided to partake instead and asked for a hit. His eyes glazed over, a glossy red, basking in it all.
At Disclosure, the British phenoms worked the crowd gradually. The scalding sun sat just behind the stage and roasted my neck into a crispy purple at the beginning, yet began a descent around mid-set. The crowd’s mood steadily improved, as the show turned into an all-out dance party, culminating fittingly with “Latch.”
Chance and Disclosure added a jolt of energy to the crowd heading into Saturday night.
JS: “When A Fire Starts To Burn…”
4:45 p.m. / Honda Stage
Why the fuck is Disclosure on the Honda Stage? This crowd is massive. There cannot be more than 25 people at the main stage for Broken Bells. This is kind of dumb. Disclosure is really good, but I’m so far away it’s hard to really get into it. Wish I would have seen these guys at T5.
JS: “Mild Stroke”
7:09 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
As a non-native New Yorker, I totally underestimated the amount of love NYC has for the Strokes. This is probably the second largest crowd of the weekend. They sound really good, but Julian Casablancas is about as fun to watch as C-SPAN.
NW: “The Strokes Shred”
7:45 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
The Strokes made the case that they should have been headlining with a monster set of old favorites. The weather was perfect for this return to glory for New York City’s most defining band of the past decade.
There was a distinct electricity to this set that no other act could really top thus far; it felt like we witnessed something special. That thought was only confirmed when they returned for a surprise encore of “New York City Cops” for the stragglers that stuck around. (I’m from New York. We like The Strokes).
NW: “Spoon Fed”
8:30 p.m. / Big Apple Stage
I massage my swollen ankles as Spoon dishes out some classics. Britt Daniel is always impressive live, and he rocked out on the small stage. The crowd chilled-out for this one, enjoying rockers from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, heady stuff like “The Ghost of You Lingers,” and a new one called “Rainy Taxi.” Good vibes all around.
JS: “Riot Rhythms”
9:08 p.m. / Gotham Tent
For whatever reason, I always seem to miss Sleigh Bells when they come to town. I decided to take this opportunity to finally see the band (mostly Alexis Krauss) live. They are way better than I expected. Okay, time to go camp for Jack White.
NW: “White Dazzles”
10:20 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
Half-way through Jack White’s set, and he’s already one of the best headliners I’ve ever seen. White just looks like he’s on another level; a true rock star.
The jam-outs, false endings, and guitar solos are mind-blowing, and every song is reworked and extended for a festival setting. His band is incredibly tight. And he’s totally having sex with that violinist after the show.
JS: “Best In Show”
10:42 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
Jack White is in the middle of what will be the best set of the weekend. This guy is a fucking rock star.
NW: “Beams of Light”
11:00 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
I look behind me: the field moves, a crowd extends as far as I can see. Balloons trail outward in the wind.
As I look up, my eyes meet the flood lights, which all point in the same direction, extending outwards before disappearing into the ether.
I wonder if somewhere, in the expanse of space, this moment is still the present. If you were looking upon the world from the right distance, would this light find you? Could you hear the sound waves expanding onward into nothingness?
JS: “A Walk To Forget”
11:28 p.m. / Randall’s Island
Trying to make our way across the bridge to get a cab and go home. Police are funneling the massive crowd into one narrow walkway. A tired black guy in front me jokingly says, “I feel like I’ve been picking cotton all day.” The white dude next to him says, “I feel you, bro.” I doubt it.
JS: “Blistering In the Sun”
1:40 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
Fuck it is hot out here. Watching a surprisingly good set from BLEACHERS. The crowd appears to be full of GIRLS fans looking for Lena Dunham. I’m pretty sure I can feel my skin boiling.
JS: “Speak Up?”
2:24 p.m. / Gotham Tent
True story: Banks was near the top of my must-sees for the weekend. Thinking about leaving three songs into the set because the sound is so bad. Her vocals are way too low. Seriously, it sounds like a Shy Ronny concert in here.
JS: “Golf Wang, Part I”
3:15 p.m. / Honda Stage
The crowd for Earl Sweatshirt is much smaller than I had anticipated. Are that many people into Frank Turner? There will probably be some kind of stampede between Earl’s set here and Tyler the Creator on the Big Apple Stage immediately after. I should move.
3:35 p.m. / West Entrance
I limp into the festival grounds, burnt and tired. Between the subway rides, long walks, and lines, I’m pretty sure this has all been one long, strange dream.
“Ya’ll get ready! I’m playing the stage right across the field in 5 minutes. Let’s keep this going,” I hear a familiar voice shout during Earl Sweatshirt’s set.
As I walk behind the stage, I see Tyler, The Creator jump into a golf cart.
“Is that…?” a cute blonde girl says behind me. We get out our phones and try to snap a picture, but he rides off too quickly, giving us the middle finger and smiling.
JS: “Golf Wang, Part II”
4:03 p.m. / Big Apple Stage
Survived the herd moving between sets. Tyler is one of the most strangely charismatic personalities in music right now. I can’t not like him. He’s spending a lot of time talking/cursing between songs, but I kind of don’t mind. Earl, Jasper Dolphin and Taco are in tow for Tyler’s set.
NW: “What Did He Say?”
5:15 p.m. / Honda Stage
J. Cole finishes playing “Work Out,” then starts talking into the mic. “What did he say?” a friend turns to me and asks. The sound cuts out, then returns, then cuts out again. Cole continues playing, but we can’t hear him. About time for a $6 taco and a refreshing $8 beer.
5:26 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
Head and the Heart = Best nap music ever.
JS: “Babraham Lincoln”
6:22 p.m. / Big Apple Stage
Watching the Kills. Alison Mosshart is a total babe. Still kind of bummed we didn’t see her with Jack White last night. Old couple in front of me is smoking a joint and busting some pretty funky moves. I want to be them when I’m 65.
JS: “Missed Opportunity”
6:39 p.m. / Honda Stage
Waiting for James Blake. The Honda Stage is on the western edge of the festival grounds. Would’ve been a really good choice for the sunset time slots. Maybe next year?
NW: “James Blake is quiet, then LOUD, then quiet…”
7:00 p.m. / Honda Stage
On the jumbotron, a girl begins dozing off in the front row; the crowd jeers and laughs. James Blake is in the middle of a mellow set, which at times was eerily (and beautifully) quiet considering thousands looked on.
In between his slow, angelic hums, Blake busted out some grimey house beats that had everyone pulsing and alive… but then he played another slow one and everyone got silent.
It was a strange experience, especially at a festival, but the set was oddly gripping. At one point he asked everyone to “be quiet,” because he was making a loop and didn’t want the crowd noise in it. A drunk guy screamed out “woooooo!” before he finished, naturally.
JS: “Gag Me”
7:51 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
The guy from Foster the People is going on a long-winded rant about technology destroying our sense of community. Blah, blah, blah. Can you shut up so I can Instagram a video of that song you wrote about a school shooter?
JS: “WTF Is This?”
8:18 p.m. / Gotham Tent
Watching a Cirque Du Soleil show in the tent! I’m later informed that this is actually Empire Of The Sun.
9:05 p.m. / The hill by the main stage
Evan and I sat on a stump as Vampire Weekend prepared backstage. We looked out over the river of people, recounting the weekend we’d had. For a few moments, we both grew lost in thought.
“It sucks we have to go back to real life tomorrow,” said Evan.
“I know. I feel like it’s all been one big dream. I wish it didn’t have to end so suddenly.” I said. I thought about how light traveled like the other night. A thought suddenly hit me. “Do you ever think about how time and space are the same thing?” I asked.
“What do you mean?” he said.
“Well, they’re both one. When you move through space, you move through time. You know?” I said.
“Yeah.” he nodded. “Or how we’re moving so fast but don’t even notice.”
“How fast?” I said.
“Like a trillion miles per hour. A number you can’t imagine. Everything just keeps expanding,” said Evan.
“Damn,” I said. “What happens when everything stops. Does it go in reverse? Does it happen again?”
“Shit, man. I don’t know,” he concluded.
I kept on thinking: would this weekend and everything about it be suspended somewhere in space forever? Like a painting, or an old Polaroid. Would the entirety of this moment exist in an image floating somewhere off in space?
If someone were to ever look at it, they’d see peace. They’d see all of us coexisting as one. They’d see love. If only for just then.
JS: The End
9:44 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
I really like Vampire Weekend a lot, but I’m not sure I buy them as a headliner at a festival this large. Their last album was amazing and they are playing to a hometown crowd, but it still felt a little lackluster in comparison to Oukast and Jack White. My feet are dead. Time to go home.
NW: “Vampire, The End”
9:46 p.m. / GovBallNYC Stage
A solid set from Vampire Weekend, though one with few surprises. This band is dependably tight with amazing studio material, but I’m not sure how they hold up as a headliner. They don’t quite have that same aura that White displayed last night. Hell, maybe it’s because I’m on the verge of collapsing from exhaustion. What do I know? It’s time to take it all in once more before I head home.
NW: “The Morning After”
6:45 a.m. / New York City
I wake up from a dream to the sound of rain on a fire escape. My ears still ring with feedback as I check my clock. It’s almost time to go to work.
I think of the dream I had and wonder why it felt so real.
Water spirals down the shower drain as I return to reality. I check my phone and see a story about the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock in 2019, then read on as a writer trashes the idea, saying it wasn’t possible in today’s cultural climate.
“Is peace, love, and music possible outside of 3 days on a weekend in 1969?” I think. Everything I just experienced happened in a vacuum—an island in the middle of one of the most accepting cities in the world. It had no effect on humanity.
And then I consider the power of an idea; whether it occurs in a waking state or somewhere deep in the subconscious, it never fades. An idea spreads, everlasting, like a ray of light floating off into infinity.
Article and photos by Nicolas White & Jason Schellhardt