It sure was a hot one last weekend at Citi Field in Queens, NY for the 11th iteration of The Governors Ball. The 3-day music festival featured over 70 acts on 4 stages, as well as over 40 local food and beverage vendors. Fans were not at a loss of things to do as there were an infinite amount of art installations for Instagram pics; and themed activations from brands including a Dunkin Donuts mini-store (where fest-goers were treated to free samples), Bacardi’s Casa Bacardi which featured plenty of rum-tivities, and OGX’s Pink House which featured a product and styling bar for fest-goers who didn’t have time to make their hair Gov Ball worthy before arriving.
Day 1 began with rapper Coi Leray and her dance crew on the Bacardi Stage, an early set that was full of dedicated fans who screamed “Coi, we love you!” every chance they got. Featured in 2021’s XXL Magazine’s Freshman Class, Coi is a burgeoning artist who we were lucky to catch at this intimate level before she becomes a festival headliner.
Created to minimize sound-bleed, the Gov Ball grounds are set up like a horseshoe, with the main Gov Ball stage and Bud Light Seltzer Sessions on one side, while the small GoPuff and Bacardi stages are on the other side. Making my 7-minute journey to the Gov Ball stage opposite Coi’s performance, I was able to catch the last few songs of Blu DeTiger’s set on the GoPuff stage. An NYC native, Blu gave Courtney Love vibes with her blonde hair and blue guitar as she closed her set with “Mad Love” and “Vintage.”
UK artist beabadoobee is known for her Y2K style and unique take on alternative rock. Currently opening for Halsey’s North American tour, beabadoobe mentioned to the crowd that she hadn’t slept “a wink” before playing an acoustic version of her TikTok famous track “death bed (coffee for your head.)”
The next artist on my agenda was singer/rapper Channel Tres from Compton, CA. A fun juxtaposition to beabadoobee, Channel Tres was dressed for the beach with white threads and an open shirt while surrounded by backup dancers in bucket hats. His dance/electronic take on rap was exactly what I and the crowd needed in the early afternoon to wake ourselves back up.
Next door on the Bacardi stage was fellow singer/rapper JPEGMafia. Moshing was in full swing by the time I arrived, as JPEGMafia had already played his hits “1539 N. Calvert” and “BALD!”
I decided to check out the Bud Light Seltzer Sessions stage on the other side of the festival (another fun 7-minute walk for me while avoiding food lines and fans running about) to see local artist Julia Wolf. Hailing from Queens, I had seen Julia open for FLETCHER this past Spring at Chicago’s House of Blues and was excited to see her again. She has an “I’m too cool for this vibe” that somehow makes you like her more, and fans from across the U.S. (I met someone from Missouri in the crowd) flocked to see her on this small stage as she performed “Hoops,” “Nikes,” and “High Waist Jeans.”
Following the trend of rappers, I once again made my way to the GoPuff stage I had just seen Channel Tres on to now see British rapper Skepta. His accent made me smile as he stopped his set to make sure fans had enough “Wa-tuh” to drink. Skepta’s set was full of energy and more moshing from the crowd as he performed his track “Skepta Interlude” from his 2017 collaboration with Drake, as well as “Papi Chulo” and “Show Out.”
After a dinner break of dumplings and Matcha Lemonade to beat the heat, I caught electronic duo The Knocks on the Bacardi stage. Not ones to hide behind their DJ setup, The Knocks took turns leaving the turntable to hype up the crowd with their tracks “Fireworks” and “Bodies” before playing “Slow Song,” a recently released collaboration with electro-pop artist Dragonette who made a surprise appearance for the performance.
Some last-minute chaos occurred as the next performer on my list was Lil Wayne, who “due to flight disruptions” had to cancel his set. Gov Ball came in clutch with A$AP Ferg as a replacement who told fans he was just “chilling at home” before getting the call to perform a few hours earlier. Fans dressed in Lil Wayne merch took the change in stride as they sang along to A$AP Ferg’s hits “New Level,” “Jet Lag,” and “Coach Cartier.”
Next on my busy schedule was Detroit singer-songwriter Quinn XCII who was dressed for the occasion in his signature dad hat. By this time I was starting to get tired again and, thankfully, Quinn XCII woke me back up with his electronic-pop tracks “Stacy” and “Always Been You” before bringing out friend and collaborator Chelsea Cutler to close his set with their tracks “Flare Guns” and “Stay Next To Me.”
My second-to-last set of the evening to catch was electronic duo Louis The Child. I had 15 minutes before I had to make my way to the main stage and slowly pushed my way into the dancing crowd. Raised high on the stage as expected from an EDM set, the duo was perched behind a neon version of their logo crown. Louis The Child knew their fans well as they played tracks “Better Not” and “Blasé.”
I’ve waited 13 years to see Kid Cudi in the flesh ever since his debut album Man on the Moon: The End of Day gained a chokehold over myself and my fellow middle-schoolers. His 15-song setlist encompassed his whole discography from tracks “Tequila Shots” and “Marijuana” to “Mr. Rager” and new single “Do What I Want.” My wish was granted as Kid Cudi played both of my favorite tracks “Up Up & Away” and “Pursuit of Happiness.”
Despite the excessive heat made even worse from the blacktop of the festival grounds, I survived Day 1 of The Governors Ball and was ready to catch some Zs before the next two days of festivities.
Day 2 started with significantly better weather than Day 1, although I still treated myself to an ice cream (or two).
My first artist of the day was Millington, a ska/pop-punk band from upstate NY. They blew me away with their “brass emo” as the band had a whole brass section with saxophones and trombones. My advice is don’t sleep on Millington, as they are the ideal combination of ska and pop-punk.
After a wonderful wake-up call from Millington’s trombones, I went to the GoPuff stage next door to catch Toronto’s four-piece Valley. All dressed in a Y2K aesthetic, Valley had the biggest crowd for a morning set I had seen thus far. Fans were singing along as the band played the tracks “Can We Make It (Jim Carrey),” “CHAMPAGNE,” and “Like 1999.”
Getting my steps in on the way to the main stage, I could hear the sound of indie-pop as the Californian band almost monday came into view. The band was all California sunshine with their sun-kissed hair and danceable tracks, as the lead singer crooned about sunburns while dressed in denim overalls.
After grabbing some donuts for brunch, I made my trek back to the Bacardi stage to see English singer-songwriter Tom Odell. Odell was a last-minute addition to the Gov Ball lineup, and while I appreciate the variety of genres on the lineup, Tom’s songs were slow and not the best choice for a crowd that averaged age 17. He acknowledged the slowness of his songs and laughingly apologized for the “misery of his music” before playing a cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games.”
New Zealand artist BENEE was dressed in clown-core and brought a ton of joy to my morning, as she never stopped smiling or waving to fans in the crowd as she sang her viral tracks “Supalonely” and “Glitter” before playing my new-favorite track, “Find an Island,” which has been stuck in my head for a week (and I’m not annoyed yet).
California 5-piece music collective Peach Tree Rascals never stopped moving on the stage, rotating in what seemed to be a figure-eight. They mentioned how they had met in high school and only made music for fun, not expecting their single “Mariposa” to blow up the way it did on Tik-Tok – launching them to an afternoon slot at the festival.
Alternative artist Gus Dapperton showed up looking dapper in a shirt and tie, with an odd-looking mustache on his face. His crowd is the biggest I’ve seen all day as he has become a rising star on the alt-charts with his tracks “Prune, You Talk Funny” and “Post Humorous,” which he both played to much fanfare.
On the main stage, Swedish artist Tove Lo blew me out of the water. She has been on my list of artists to see for a few years, and I was excited to see her for the first time on such a large stage. Dressed with long braids, a strappy bra, and leather assless chaps – fans were fixated on Tove Lo as she danced around the stage to the recently released track “No One Dies From Love” and the unreleased “True Romance.”
It was finally time to see the artist I had been most excited about – DJ Diesel (aka Shaquille O’Neal). Yes, that Shaq of basketball fame. I mostly wanted to see Diesel for the nostalgia and the fact that I could say I saw Shaq in person. Diesel’s set was the best DJ set I had seen thus far that weekend as he knew what songs to play to hype up the crowd while stopping every few songs to bring fans on-stage with him. I got such joy out of seeing a man of normal height look so tiny next to Shaq.
Still Woozy had started by the time I forced myself to leave Diesel and head to the main Gov Ball stage on the other side of the festival grounds. When I arrived, he was running around and jumping while simultaneously shaking his hips. Still Woozy is not only talented but also a joy to watch, as he played tracks “Cooks,” “Habit,” and “Lucy.”
Having seen Chelsea Cutler during her surprise appearance for Quinn XCII’s set on Day 1, I was excited to see more of her on the GoPuff stage for her own set. The Connecticut singer was dressed in a New York Jet’s jersey and singing her heart out a few songs in when I arrived. She was the first artist of the day (minus Tom Odell) to play a keyboard, and would joyously dance around as she switched between singing to playing her keyboard for her songs “nj,” and “When I Close My Eyes.”
Next, it was time to avoid the circle-pits at the Bacardi stage for rapper Denzel Curry, but I was too tired to avoid them all and got swept into one during “Ain’t No Way” as I tried to pass through on my way to the food tents.
I thought I would be late to Roddy Richh’s main-stage set after my meal break but showed up to an empty stage and fans itching to see him after claiming their spots all day. I began chatting with a few people around me when the dreaded “no longer performing” sign was projected onto the stage – earning shouts of anger from the crowd and mass confusion. It turns out that Roddy and two friends were arrested while entering the stadium (all charges have since been dropped).
While Roddy’s fans debated on what to do next, I went ahead with my plan of staking out a good spot for Ashnikko. The first time I saw her in a small venue in Chicago I didn’t know what to expect and was pleasantly surprised and walked away from her show a new fan. It’s been 6 months since that first Ashnikko show and I have been dying to see her since. While her music is a bit offbeat, it is extremely catchy, and she is a born performer who neither I nor the fans around me can take our eyes off. Screams of joy (including from me) erupt along with the many pyrotechnics Ashnikko has during her tracks “Tantrum” and “Manners.”
Day 2 was coming to a close as I anxiously awaited Halsey on the main stage. Halsey is another artist that has been on my list to see since her blue hair era (so basically when she started). She came out swinging with a projection screen that filled the entire stage and played her music videos in line with her songs. Halsey’s set was full of radio hits like “Castle” and “You Should Be Sad” along with a live debut of her track “So Good,” as well as a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God).” The night closed with “I am Not a Woman, I’m a God” along with a massive fireworks display.
It was Day 3 and I woke up to rain, which I was not at all prepared for. Thankfully, by the time I took the train to Citi Field, the rain had let up and all that was left were puddles and gloomy skies.
Texan Alternative Singer/Rapper DE’WAYNE was first on my list to kick off Day 3. From start to finish, his set was one of the most energetic I would see the entire day. Fans were already camped out for Playboi Carti (who would take the stage nine hours later) and love DE’WAYNE’s rocker energy. Pretty soon the crowd started a mosh pit and began crowd-surfing. What was surprising was how the security guards were actually smiling as they helped those crowd surfers over the barricades – that’s just how contagious DE’WAYNE’s energy was. After playing his tracks “National Anthem” and “Stains;” somehow the energy intensified and the barricades actually began to shake as the crowd danced along to his songs “Adios” and “Super 8.” Later in the day, I was able to grab some portraits of DE’WAYNE and briefly chat about his set. He told me that “the energy was insane” and it was “an unexpected welcome” for his first time at Gov Ball.
After DE’WAYNE’s set ended, I moved on over to the Bacardi stage next door to see New Jersey native Jax. I arrived as she was performing a mashup of Britney Spears’s “Toxic,” Duke & Jones and Louis Theroux’s “Jiggle Jiggle,” and Cardi B’s “WAP” on a piano, which somehow all worked together. She then performed a song about Victoria’s Secret creatively called “Victoria’s Secret” before beginning a cover of “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus before bringing out the lead singer of Wheatus, Brendan B. Brown, who Jax had DM’d before her performance.
After it sank in that I had just heard “Teenage Dirtbag” performed live by the man himself, I stopped for a morning snack before traveling to the main stage to see Birmingham, AL four-piece The Brummies. The Brummies were decked out in matching pale-purple jumpsuits and feather boas.
The day’s trend of rappers with mosh-pits continued at the same stage DE’WAYNE had performed at earlier, with the Playboi Carti crowd having grown exponentially in size and still 8 hours left until his performance. I arrived for the last half of Ken Car$on’s inexplicably short set as he ended halfway into his scheduled time.
I moved on over to the Bacardi stage for Del Water Gap who was dressed to the nines in a YSL suit and black sunglasses. His fans did not hold back but instead rushed the stage as he began his performance with “Better Than I Know Myself.” Leaning into the bad-boy aesthetic, Del Water Gap lit a cigarette and crooned his tracks “Hurting Kind” and “Sorry I Am.”
Trekking back to the main stage I next saw Duckwrth – an R&B singer/rapper, artist, and fashion designer who may have been wearing one of his own street-style creations. He had a backup singer who was highly talented herself, and he led the large crowd in a slide during one of his last songs “No Chill.”
Only three hours into Day 3 and I was dead-tired but I persevered and trekked back to the smaller stages to see indie sad girl Soccer Mommy perform her chill track “Feel It All The Time;” before migrating over to COIN on the GoPuff stage next door. COIN’s performance took place at the aforementioned “Playboi Carti” stage and the crowd was an interesting mix of people who looked like they would rather be elsewhere (most likely waiting for Playboi Carti) and diehard COIN fans who almost knocked my camera off of my hand when lead singer Chase Lawrence ran through the crowd to greet fans. Nonetheless, I had a great time dancing in place to an Outkast “Hey Ya!” cover and COIN’s most popular track “Talk Too Much.”
A semi-welcome respite from the chaos of COIN came from 100 gecs, a hyperpop duo who came on stage dressed as wizards with banana-looking hats as they played “Stupid Horse” and “Doritos & Fritos” which reminded me of if YouTube’s Charlie the Unicorn had been a musical artist.
After my breather from the Playboi Carti/COIN crowd, I once again braved my way toward the front to see Latin dance-pop artist Becky G. Her blonde backup singer was on stage making sure everything was set up correctly and fans(?) kept screaming “we love you, Becky!” as they debated if Becky had dyed her hair blonde. This debate was quite entertaining and went on for a while among the people surrounding me before the true Becky G took the stage with her shiny black hair and backup dancers. I did not understand a word of her music and I didn’t care, because her music is so catchy, and she has the stage presence (and set-up) of an artist who should be higher on the bill. One of her last songs was one I did know, a track from 2014 that has recently had a resurgence due to Tik-Tok – her English-lyric song “Shower.”
My Gov Ball weekend was slowly coming to an end as I treated myself to one last dinner from local pizza place Roberta’s which I ate while watching alternative-pop band Japanese Breakfast play “The Body Is a Blade” and “Slide Tackle” while every once in a while hitting her signature gong.
Once Japanese Breakfasts’ set ended I could hear the sweet pop sounds of Glass Animals emoting from the main stage. I made my final trek to the other side of the festival grounds to see lead singer Dave Bayley balancing on a diving board attached to their ’80s-inspired pool setup, perfect for performing their hit “Heat Waves.”
I met up with some friends to say goodbyes and split a dessert as we watched Canadian DJ KAYTRANADA. KAYTRANADA had been hyped up all weekend by these same friends (or at least by their friends to them and then passed on to me), and all 3 of us, myself included, were disappointed with the lack of danceable tunes.
These same friends are diehard Playboi Carti fans – so I braved the crowd I had tried to avoid all day just for them. His set opened with a bunch of smoke, and it took me and the people around me a while to realize that Playboi Carti was sitting on top of a giant black triangle almost as tall as the stage. His entire set was full of ominous flashing lighting and lots of pyrotechnics, shrouding him most of the time, and his figure was only visible when the smoke would clear before being pumped out again.
Hoping to catch the last of fellow headliner J. Cole’s set at the main stage, I made plans to meet my friends at the Dunkin Donuts booth and headed over to the Gov Ball stage. Halfway there I look up from my phone and see (I kid you not) a wall of people headed toward me. Thankfully, there was a table I could take refuge at while the swarm of people moved around the table. I looked at the lineup on my phone and realized J. Cole did not have a set end time which is why the fans who had just been at his stage were now headed to the last ten minutes of Playboi Carti’s.
After waiting out those ten minutes for the flood of people to stop, I finally found my friends and headed back to Brooklyn on the packed 7 train. All in all Gov Ball was a blast and is a great festival that incorporates NYC into its food and music. It truly is a festival “built by New Yorkers, for New Yorkers” but was still welcoming enough for a Midwest girl like me. Until next time, Gov Ball!