“The festival is 100% happening, rain or shine,” reads an informational note on the official website for the 2013 Governors Ball Music Festival, which kicked off on Friday (June 7) on Randall’s Island in New York. Indeed, some parts of Day 1 of Governors Ball did happen. But when they did, they were usually caked in watery mud, caused by the torrential rain that sullied Friday afternoon and evening and forced headliners Kings of Leon to scrap their set.
Governors Ball 2013 Video
By 4:00 pm on Friday, the rain was slicking the grass and turning the copper dirt on the Randall’s Island grounds into patches of brown pools that could often be avoided with a few sideways steps. By 7:00 pm, with the rain somehow picking up, the entire grassless area between stages and food vendors was liquid sludge, and festival goers were forced to navigate through 10 inches (!) of the gunk to go anywhere. Everyone in attendance had mud on their pants or legs, and stray shoes floated ominously down glaciers of viscous brown. Looking for any kind of relief from the storm they could get, hundreds of people crowded inside the public bathroom area and dried off under the tent protecting the porta potties. Most food vendors had no lines, and one that did had people waiting in line for food… on floating planks.
A little after 7:00 pm, Canadian singer-songwriter Feist took the open-air main stage and graciously thanked the soaked hundreds who had stayed to see her perform. After one song, however, she and her band were ushered off, and an announcement citing weather-related technical difficulties was made. Feist’s one song was to be the last played on the main stage on Friday. Desperate attempts to prepare for Kings of Leon — mostly, crew members brushing rain water off the stage with giant black brooms — were in vain. An announcement at 9:15 confirmed that Kings of Leon’s 9:30 set time was not going to be met. A rep for the festival announced that “high winds and unsafe stage conditions” were the reasons for the cancellation. Kings of Leon were set to announce a new album, “Mechanical Bull,” during their headlining set.
However, there were several bands who got to serenade the muddy Governors Ball masses before the four stages were shut down:
— “This next song should make you dance and keep you warm, and if it doesn’t you should probably just go home. You’re better off there anyway.” Such was the sage safety advice of Of Monsters & Men, who played to a packed crowd at the main stage despite the increased mid-afternoon winds and rain. That didn’t stop the crowd from stomping their feet (and plenty of mud) to favorites like “King & Lionheart,” “Slow and Steady,” “Dirty Paws” and platinum-selling single “Mountain Sound.” By the time they got to the durable hit “Little Talks,” it was futile to resist the band’s charms despite the heavy elements, as fans kicked up their galoshes-clad heels and danced. The Icelandic folk-poppers are about to wrap up their last scheduled U.S. dates of 2013 (appropriately, they’ll finish next weekend at Bonnaroo), with two more months of shows in Europe before some well-deserved time off.
— Young the Giant lead singer Sameer Gadhia clearly didn’t read Friday’s weather forecast closely enough. Dressed in a short sleeve sky blue shirt, Gadhia seemed unprepared for the rain and whipping winds that walloped the band and their poncho-draped audience. But the band braved the elements nonetheless. “Thanks for sticking around,” Gadhia said graciously before launching into the set, which mainly revolved around songs from the group’s lone self-titled 2011 debut album, including impassioned versions of “Cough Syrup” and “My Body.” But the Giant did sprinkle in some fresh cuts as well. “We haven’t really been on the road,” Gadhia told the crowd, alluding to the work they’ve been putting into their forthcoming sophomore album. “We’ve been in the studio. Here’s a new one,” he said before launching into a spiteful jam called “What You Get” (which Gadhia said may not make the final album cut). The band snuck in one more newbie, “Anagram,” after festival officials urged them to wrap up due to the increasingly ugly weather.
— The rain and mud-soaked crowd was elated as Toronto’s Crystal Castles’ producer Ethan Kath took the stage (along with a drummer), with Alice Glass slowly emerging from the corner of the smoke-filled stage only moments later during the frantic synth buildup of “Plague.” Glass was the focal point throughout the show; the fuchsia-haired banshee spent the set darting around on stage like a cat, pouncing atop the drummer’s bass drum to provide crashing cymbal hits during “Crimewave.” At points, Glass crawled upon the shoulders of the audience, her foot firmly in the hands of the stagehand who struggled to keep her closer to the stage against the will of the crowd, who could have any point dropped her in the 5 inches of mud on the ground where they stood. Never ones for stage banter of any kind, the band concluded their set with the hand-waving one-two punch of “Sad Eyes” and “Not in Love” before silently skulking offstage without as much as a wave to the crowd
— Erykah Badu had the good fortune of performing under Governors Ball’s lone tent, meaning her set was largely unaffected by the evening’s downpour. Through the fog, Erykah floated on to the stage like a mystical force, with a blue fedora capping her stoic face. “Peace and love,” she greeted demurely before launching into her captivating set. Though she’s known more so as an R&B act, Badu’s show was injected with hip-hop intensity, featuring shout outs to B-boys and girls on “Love of My Life (An Ode to Hip-Hop),” beat samples from the likes of Kanye West (“Good Morning”) and a solo on her drum pad. But more than anything, Badu proved herself a mesmerizing songstress as she coolly performed fun renditions of classics like “On & On” and “I Want You.”
— Early birds were rewarded with a trio of dance acts to keep them warm despite the chilly rain and mud. St. Lucia, The Knocks and Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs were among the acts who played sets during Governors Ball’s first four hours. St. Lucia kept the mainstage moving with Balearic bangers like “The Old House Is Gone,” “Closer Than This” and “September,” and later joined Neon Gold Records buddies The Knocks to sing their latest single “Modern Hearts” on the Skyy Vodka Tent stage. Later, also on the Skyy stage, British DJ/ dance artist Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs played a riveting set that kept fans moving in the mud to favorites like “Your Love,” “Tapes & Money” and “You Need Me On My Own.” He also started just minutes after the similarly named Dinosaur Jr., the result of a booking that no doubt ended in high-fives.
Governors Ball will continue as scheduled on Saturday, with Guns N’ Roses slotted as the headliner. Kanye West is scheduled to close out the festival on Sunday.
Reporting by Jason Lipshutz, Andrew Hampp, William Gruger and Brad Wete