Sometimes getting there is half the fun.
If you’ve ever gotten stuck in a traffic jam in California’s Coachella Valley, on the roads of Manchester, Tenn., en route to Bonnaroo or on highways surrounding scores of other music gatherings, you’ll appreciate that festivals in New York City are different.
The Governors Ball Music Festival taking place on New York’s Randall’s Island June 2-4 allows fans to use public buses from the 125th Street subway stop and MetroNorth railroad station in Manhattan, private shuttle buses from Brooklyn and even ferries right to the festival site.
These are all great choices — if you like waiting on lines for buses, shuttles or ferries.
Or you can walk to the island. This is a great Gov Ball life hack, which will also work for the Panorama Music Festival that returns to Randall’s Island July 27-29.
Walkways climb high atop the RFK Triboro Bridge connecting Randall’s Island to Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx. An at-grade walkway, the Randall’s Island Connector, opened in 2015 between the island and the Bronx. But for many festival-goers, the best path to Gov Ball is the hike across the East River on the 103rd Street Footbridge connecting Manhattan to Randall’s Island.
From midtown Manhattan, the No. 6 subway line stops at 103rd Street and Lexington Avenue. You’ll emerge from the subway station in the vibrant neighborhood of East Harlem, also known as Spanish Harlem, a source of inspiration for songwriters and artists from Jerry Leiber, Phil Spector and Mike Stoller to Bob Dylan, native Marc Anthony and the indie group Beirut.
Stop in to El Aguila, the Mexican restaurant across from the subway stop, for a bottle of water. Then head east toward the river, through the courtyard passageway of the public housing complex between 3rd and 2nd Avenue, and past P.S. 38, the elementary school named for Roberto Clemente, the late, great Puerto Rican baseball right fielder who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates.
You have the option of stopping at White Castle hamburger outlet at 103rd and 2nd Avenue — but Gov Ball awaits with an array of food and drink options.
A slight detour down 102nd Street takes you to the ramp of the pedestrian bridge over the East River, little more than a half-mile from the subway stop. The noise of traffic on the FDR Drive fades as you cross the waterway. Where the bridge touches down on Randall’s Island, look for a handwritten sidewalk sign boasting of all the other activities offered in this unique New York park: yoga, an urban farm exploration and the World Science Festival Great Fish Count.
“The Randall’s Island Park Alliance (RIPA), which oversees and governs the island, is celebrating 25 amazing years of progress in transforming [the park] into an innovative and exciting destination for sports, recreation, environmental and cultural events,” notes the Gov Ball website.
It’s worth remembering that Gov Ball and Panorama are far from the first music festivals that have taken place on the island. Rock the Bells in July 2007 brought a reunion of Rage Against the Machine and Wu-Tang Clan. Among those who went to Rock the Bells that summer were representatives of Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid organization, checking out the site before staging Farm Aid on Randall’s Island in September 2007.
Once you cross the East River, you’ve got another 20-minute, enjoyable walk to the Gov Ball gate. Thanks to the efforts of the Randall’s Island Park Alliance, you’ll pass the beautiful Water’s Edge Garden on the banks of the East River.
Your path turns left, then right, and takes you onto a boardwalk crossing the Little Hell Gate Salt Marsh. Circle around the fenced-off backstage area of the Gov Ball NYC Stage, continue past Icahn Stadium on the right and the main gate of the festival is straight ahead.
And when the last note has sounded at the end of the night and you join the tens of thousands all heading home at the same time?
Take advice from the Gov Ball mobile app, which notes the 103rd Street walkway back to Manhattan “is more scenic and usually less crowded, especially leaving the festival.”