BBMAs 2018

Governors Ball Has 'Best Year Yet,' Says Producer, Looking Ahead to New Country Fest

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A general view of the fans and the crowd during 2015 Governors Ball Music Festival at Randall's Island on June 6, 2015 in New York City.  

The Governors Ball Music Festival in New York City wrapped June 7 with its "best year yet," according to Jordan Wolowitz, partner in GovBall producer Founders Entertainment.

GovBall ran June 5-7 on the city's Randall's Island with a sellout attendance of about 150,000 aggregate. Among the 60-plus acts performing on the festival's four stages were Drake, My Morning Jacket, Florence + the Machine, Noel Gallagher, Lana Del Rey, the Black Keys, Ryan Adams, The Decemberists, Bjork, and Chromeo.

Wolowitz was still basking in the afterglow of GovBall's 2015 run when he took a break from "closing everything up," to speak with Billboard. "This was our biggest [year] in terms of ticket sales, in terms of the overall experience," he says. "We're all super happy, just a little tired."

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The festival again enjoyed a reprieve from the heavy rains that pummeled the 2013 GovBall, with this year's event only having to deal with rain the week of the build and again on the morning of opening day last Friday. "Other than that, the weather was incredible for New York City in June," Wolowitz says, "and the grounds held up great."

In general, Wolowitz says crowds for certain artists fell in line with what organizers anticipated. "Nothing took me by surprise because, as the booker of the festival, I kind of know who's out there doing what," he says, adding that, even so, he was impressed by the crowds at the Gotham Tent, the festival's lone indoor performance area.

"During the day, I walked by and saw some performances by artists like Odesza, Ratatat, Kiesza and Rustie, and even Weird Al [Yankovic], that just had these massive crowds flowing out of the tent," he says. "The energy in there was incredible."

Attendance held steady for performances even through the final day of the festival, with Wolowitz citing Tame Impala's 4:45 Sunday afternoon set as an example. "They played to a massive crowd on the main stage," he says, "and the new songs they played sounded incredible, it was just a great set. But everyone was great, from Drake to Florence to Jacket to the Black Keys to War On Drugs, I could go on and on. It was just an awesome weekend."

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Wolowitz went on to say that the crowd demo this year was in line with previous GovBalls. "The mean age of our festival ticket buyer is 24," he says, "which I think skews slightly younger than some other festivals, but compared to a some of our contemporaries, it's not terribly young. The average attendee being in their mid- to early-20s is kind of standard, so I wouldn't say our crowd is abnormally young, by any means."

In regard to security and crowd control, Wolowitz says that there were no unusual issues or numbers of incidents this year. "We had no reports of anything terrible happening," he says. "Our medical staff is, we think, one of the best in the business, and any time there was even a minor incident, they addressed things accordingly. We overstaff safety, security, [and] medical [personnel] to make sure that people are as well taken care of as they can be. I attend a lot of festivals all over the world and, all things considered, our audience is very respectful of one another and very well-behaved."

Overall, Wolowitz found the crowd response to this year's talent validating. "On the programming end, I think it's still OK to take a few risks," he says. "I know a few people were curious why we booked acts like Sturgill Simpson or the legacy artists like Noel Gallagher or Weird Al, but those three in particular delivered amazing sets to huge crowds. Booking as unique, as different, as diverse as possible a lineup is a good way to go."

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Indeed, GovBall booking neo-traditionalist country artist Sturgill Simpson (who also played the Coachella festival in Indio, Calif.) in particular puzzled some fans and music execs, but Wolowitz is pleased with how Simpson came off.  "We're booking a contemporary festival, so at the end of the day the only criteria an artist needs to meet is being talented, playing a hell of a show, and that's what Sturgill did," he says. "I think a lot people at the festival were seeing him for the first time. He played on the main stage on Sunday and stepped out to a huge crowd, and he killed it."

Soon the Founders Entertainment staff will resume preparations for FarmBorough, New York's first country music festival set for June 26-28 featuring headliners Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley. Produced in partnership with Live Nation Country Music president Brian O'Connell, FarmBorough is "shaping up great," Wolowitz says. "Our team on the Founders end will probably nap for a day or two to kind of recharge and recalibrate and then circle back up with Brian and his team and get going. This will be the first major country festival in New York and we're really excited. We really feel like this can be as big as Governors Ball in a year or two. As long as the weather is as awesome as it was during GovBall it will be one hell of a first year."

Of GovBall, Wolowitz says, "each year it gets better. We're a young company with a young team behind us, we are very proud of all the work the whole staff did at the festival, and very proud to have delivered our home town of New York it's first successful contemporary festival."