Jordan Wolowitz, co-founder of Founders Entertainment, had been following the meteorology reports on an hourly basis Friday afternoon before making the call to end Governors Ball on an early, muddy note. "Our main stage was built to withhold winds up to 40 miles per hour, and even though it was significantly less than that at [7 p.m.], we had seen reports that by 11 the winds could hit 40. That was our curfew, and it was so cold and rainy we didn't want fans wait to see the headliners only to have 40 miles-per-hour winds going."
Luckily, Kings of Leon's manager Andy Mendelsohn with Vector Management and agent Scott Clayton of CAA remained on-site with the three principals of Founders until early in the morning Saturday to work out a schedule that could accommodate a rescheduled set for the band, who was due to fly to the U.K. to start their tour in support of upcoming album Mechanical Bull. Friday night's other scheduled headliner, Pretty Lights, had a gig in Baltimore and wasn't able to stick around.
Such was one of the many highlights of Governors Ball, which in only its third year has quickly become a beacon of hope for the seemingly doomed Northeast music festival marketplace. With rare headlining sets from Kanye West (playing his first U.S. festival since Coachella in 2011), Kings (their first New York City set since 2010) and Guns N Roses (Axl's first U.S. festival since 2010), the lineup was the result of a measured gamble from festival producers Founders Entertainment.
Founders is a three-person company up of operations director Tom Russell (former Superfly operations director), booker Jordan Wolowitz (a veteran of Atlantic Records and ICM), and sponsorship director Yani Reisman (founder of Atlanta's Civil Muse Productions) formed as 27-year-olds in early 2011, just months before Governors Ball began as a one-day event on Roosevelt Island.
"We kind of analyzed the landscape of festival culture in the Northeast and realized this was the year we should go for it," Wolowitz says, taking a breather in a VIP trailer just before Kings of Leon's makeup set kicked off at 6:45. "There was no Bamboozle coming back, this other festival Catalpa didn't come back, so we thought that if we didn't go for it this year, someone else might. We kind of pushed all the chips in. We wanted to get the best lineup possible and we went for it."
Governors Ball had been quietly building a reputation as a solid if indie-skewing festival in its first two years. Neon Indian, Girl Talk, Empire of the Sun and Mac Miller were among the names who played the inaugural one-day fest in 2011, while Fiona Apple, Kid Cudi, Beck and Passion Pit highlighted last year's two-day event. "We wanted people to follow and grow with us, to start small and build, rather than throw something massive."
Still, taking the leap from 27,000 people and 24 acts in two days in 2012 to a sell-out of 120,000 people and 66 acts in three days was no small feat. That's why booking effectively began last July when Wolowitz reached out to Kanye West's camp, and more big names started to come on the back of Kanye's loose confirmation. The fact that many of the top acts, including Kings of Leon, would appear at the very beginning of album cycles and debuting new material was an added bonus.
Still, the dramatic increase in buzz and ticket sales should help Governors Ball see a decent profit this year not to mention a little help from sponsors. Honda, Miller Lite and Ben & Jerry's returned to the festival this year with extensive activations, while Skyy made an even bigger splash with its first-year presence sponsoring everything from its own branded stage to a VIP bar to an official kickoff party held on a boat Thursday night that featured DJ sets from James Murphy, Ladies Night and Vampire Weekend's Baio.
Having previously dipped its toes into festival sponsorship by throwing events around last year's Coachella, Skyy identified Governors Ball as the next place to reach its 21-to-29-year-old tastemaker demo early on even before the big names were confirmed. "You can imagine our surprise and delight to see the likes of Kanye West up there," Dave Karraker, Skyy's director of public relations and events told Billboard before Gov Ball kicked off.
"Festivals have historically been beer territory this younger consumer is more and more going for cocktails, and they've made a huge resurgence lately in the pop culture pantheon," he added. "We saw that Governors Ball was taking it to the big leagues this year and really establishing festivals for the Northeast. It's super-premium and not that difficult to get to, which made it very appealing."
Also spotted at the festival: Freddie Gibbs, manager Archibald "Archie" Bonkers, and his camp hung out in the Freeloaders Lounge after his Sunday afternoon set. Gibbs and his camp are in NYC (from LA) for his Governors Ball debut and on a promotional run for his upcoming album, ESGN (Evil Seeds Grow Naturally), out July 9. The guys hung around to catch Kanye West's headlining gig via an invite from engineer Mike Dean.
Pop producer Benny Blanco was also seen enjoying the VIP Freeloaders Lounge backstage on Sunday night after checking out Portugal. The Man earlier in the afternoon. As always, the "Die Young" and "Diamonds" co-producer said that he's been busy working on a ton of new material.