The fifth annual Governors Ball was a triumphant riposte to the long-held belief that you can’t hold a successful summer festival in New York City. Sure it was technically late spring, but huge acts like Drake, the Black Keys, Deadmau5, Florence and the Machine and Björk emerged and fans ferried into Randall's Island for a weekend of music, sun and lawn games. Here are the 25 best things we experienced.
Weekend festival closers tend to lose out on audience members who have to attend jobs on Monday morning. But a strange thing happened when the Black Keys hit Governors Ball Sunday night: the crowd kept growing and growing. Young girls ran to the main stage for "Howlin' for You," abandoning Lana Del Rey's low-volume set, and "Dead and Gone," with its insistent quarter notes, got people jumping – possible even Leonardo DiCaprio, Heidi Klum and Liv Tyler, who were rumored to be backstage.
At the very end of "Know Yourself," an unfamiliar woe climbed up the right side of the stage and somehow ended up next to Drake. The Toronto rapper shot a glance in the interloper's direction and — voice casual, shoulders relaxed — said, "You about to get served, boy." Immediately, security guards and OVO members swarmed in. The rest of the set played out almost exactly like his time at Coachella, starting with "Legend" and ending with "Started From the Bottom." But more than the lyrics, more than the news that a Weeknd collaboration was coming, more than any other banter, "You about to get served, boy" was the best thing Drake said all night. He truly is making memes happen, even when he's not trying to.
The entire day it was clear the bulk of Saturday's crowd was there to see Deadmau5 in all his helmeted glory, the electronic musician having seemingly drawn merch-clad superfans from Germany to Jamaica and elsewhere. But due to a few tragic blackouts at the beginning of the set, Deadmau5's performance started its first 15 minutes in sputtering silence with attendees beginning to leave in droves. Eventually, the Dillon Francis remix of "Some Chords" began to clearly and steadily boom from the blindingly strobe-lit stage. Soon, any reluctant festivalgoers lingering on the sidelines made their way into the crowd to freak out to all of Deadmau5's greatest hits and remixes, from "Maths" to "Ghosts 'n' Stuff."
Fresh off the release of her newest album, the emotional breakup record How Big How Blue How Beautiful – and recovering from a broken foot – Florence Welch was all grace and gratitude during her late-afternoon performance. After thanking fans for their support and telling the crowd they were "so beautiful," Welch spied a fan far off in the distance holding a sign that read, "Hug?" "You can have a hug, but I don’t know how to get to you," she said. The crowd carried the girl to the stage where Florence met and, yes, hugged her, along with letting her embrace every member in the band. "You don't need a question mark after 'hug' with me," Welch told the crowd.
With fans seemingly singing along to every word of the band's set, it was clear that not even Drake could have torn the crowd away from My Morning Jacket's teddy bear–lined stage. The band's psychedelic Southern rock was captivating, but it was the group's signature ruminations on spirituality – from assuring the crowd of fate's ambiguous ways ("Believe (Nobody Knows)") to wondering how our heavenly bodies fit into the universe ("Circuital") – that really brought the audience to a higher plane.
While her voice often barely registered to the outskirts of the crowd, Lana Del Rey was a striking melancholic vision in a Yankees-branded dress on Sunday night. Her stage backdrop, a set of skyscrapers with a video screen playing footage of Del Rey, morphed in tone with each song change: flame-ridden and dark for "Blue Jeans," black, white, and beachy for "West Coast" and so on. Still, her vocals were hard to hear, so much so that audience members wondered if a speaker had blown out. "It's Lana – she's soft-spoken!" one onlooker proclaimed loudly in response to these speculations, and the fan had a point. This was Lana at her Lana-est: stony in her stage presence, dramatic in her visuals, with a very good voice delivered as softly and morosely as possible. Judging by how many roses her devotees brought her, they wouldn't have had it any other way.
"New York City! Are you ready to polka?" Weird Al proclaimed at the start of his set, and NYC wasn't. His accordion and banjo medleys, a constant across each of his 14 albums, seemed to be a curve ball for many in the crowd. But then he changed into his Michael Jackson-in-pudding "Fat" suit, and the audience was swiftly won over. One by one, Yankovic removed articles of clothing to properly perform "All About the Pentiums," "Handy" and "Bedrock Anthem": a secret service-type suit gave way to a carpenter's tool belt, which begat a simple black shirt and pants for parodies of Puff Daddy, Iggy Azalea and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, respectively. What really got the kids going was when he stripped away his heart, performing "eBay" in the style of the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way."
If a crowd of screaming teenage girls telling the world to fuck off is your idea of a safe space, then no space was safer than front row at Charli XCX's set. The energetic English pop star arrived with a punk sensibility and a zebra-print-clad band, and did everything from strum a giant inflatable guitar to flash the crowd to instruct everyone to raise their middle fingers high and chant the tune to "Famous" perfectly. "This one is for the ladies," Charli said before launching into her masturbation anthem "Body of My Own," her stage orgasm culminating in a piercing screech. She was screaming, the teens were screaming, everybody was screaming for Charli XCX.
The promise of 1995 (or maybe the dream of the Sixties) was alive at Governors Ball in the form of Noel Gallagher in sunglasses, strumming his acoustic guitar. From sunny day stomper "Dream On" to "Everybody on the Run," which remains cool 20 years later, his was a strong set – though many missed it, the main stage area revealing far more pavement than at any other point in the festival. But then Gallagher said the magic words – "This one's for the mums and dads in the back" – and "Champagne Supernova" swam through the speakers. Gen X was in the building! The crowd immediately doubled in size; the idea of singing along to "we were getting high, we were getting high. . ." proving to be incredibly relevant in 2015.
St. Vincent continues to reinvent what a rock show can feel like and look like. There are reminders of Kraftwerk, Gumby and Charles Sheeler in her performances, but there’s also a unique understanding of grace and movement. At Governors Ball, she used her guitar as a literal axe during “Marrow,” then let her body flow outward (ending in jazz hands) on “Rattlesnake,” as her feet tapped nervously beneath. At one point, she completely flipped Robert Palmer’s masturbation fantasy, handing off her guitar with arm outstretched, never breaking her concentration to the back row. Her back-up dancers echoed what she did while crawling over a Devo hat of a ziggurat, but no one moves quite like St. Vincent.
As Ryan Adams closed out Saturday night's festivities on the Honda Stage, so too did Deadmau5 in the main breezeway. Annoyed by the bass bleeding through the air, the rocker fired off a couple of shots: "Try to make this song on your fucking iPhone. Fuck you. It's like we're living in a Terminator nightmare." He took a breath. "This song ['Oh My Sweet Carolina'] is not going to match the robot music over there. . . It's like we're living in a fucking Terminator nightmare!" It should be noted that a peace flag hung quietly behind Adams the entire time. The electronic musician responded later, tweeting, "I guess Ryan Adams wasn't feeling it. No biggie. Sorry for bass? Whatever. Nice seeing you again too. *shrug* back to my iPod."
Eminem blared from the PA Sunday afternoon as drummer Ben Thatcher, outfitted in a Brooklyn Nets jersey, walked to the center of the stage, held his beef can aloft in salute and took his place behind the kit. Seconds later, singer-guitarist Mike Kerr joined him and it was on: The pair unleashed a frenzy of blues and psych rock that marched across the field until everyone in earshot had wandered over to check out the scene. This was some of Gov Ball's best raw rock & roll, scorching songs that sounded like Queens of the Stone Age had devoured the Black Keys. Kerr, feeling the moment, even made an attempt at arena-rock crowd teasing, wailing on his guitar and ordering fans to raise their arms in time. Within moments, everyone had happily complied.
Just half a day after bringing down the house at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theatre, Montreal's funk brothers were onstage at Governors Ball surprising fans with a celebrity guest, Ezra Koenig. The Vampire Weekend singer and Fool's Gold holiday party guest strolled out to help his longtime pals cover "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," changing "Peter Gabriel" to a friendly Chromeo shout-out.
All the best characters were there for Australian DJ Flume: the guy dressed as a piñata, the seven men running around in Dream Team uniforms, the Baywatch twins, a group of young girls near the back Snapchatting themselves, the stage just a blurry speck behind a guy in a Jamaican Deadmau5 mask.
The sun was still as high as the bros vaping in the crowd when the Aussie psych-rock crew took the stage Sunday afternoon. Kevin Parker's band droned, vamped and grooved, but when they gave the crowd a taste of their latest album (the forthcoming Currents) via the boppy "Let It Happen," the dance fans and psych folks found a place to happily unite. Tame Impala evoked Eighties pop on " 'Cause I'm a Man" and blissful Sixties vibes on "Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind" before closing on the pounding "Apocalypse Dreams," sending fest-goers off to Weird Al with confusing visions in their heads.
With mixtape after mixtape, Future is arguably hotter right now than at any point after the release of 2014's Honest. At Governor's Ball he was killing "Peacoat" and "Commas" in a black cowboy hat, and made sure people were checking for his voluminous output. "Who's fucking with that Beast Mode?" he asked, to cheers. "Who's fucking with that Monster?" The volume somehow went up. "Who's fucking with that 56 Nights?" The crowd screamed, and the rain — still at a drizzle — stopped.
While Governors Ball's set list was filled with electronic producers and EDM genre hit-makers like deadmau5, Flume, SBTRKT and more, Hot Chip brought a little something different to the dance-music table. The English band played a mix of new material from its latest record, Coming on Strong, plus a few old hits like "Ready for the Floor" and "Flutes," the latter of which got a little synchronized dance routine from the group. But it was Hot Chip's stellar finale track, a bubbly, synth-pop rendering of Bruce Springsteen’s "Dancing in the Dark" played just as the sun went down, that served as the perfect cherry on top of Hot Chip's set.
Mississippi twosome Rae Sremmurd had already run through "We," "No Flex Zone," "Illest Walking," turn-up anthems each and all. They're young, running all over the stage; there's a lot of jumping, whipping and crashing around. But midway through their set — on Friday afternoon, with rain still coming down steady — things took a different, less-fun direction. Slim Jimmy slid into a stage light, the glass tearing his leg wide open. At first harrowing and scary, soon enough Jimmy was being tended to while urging everyone with footage to "upload it to Instagram." Swae Lee finished the set solo, saying, "We always tell Jim not to do shit like this, but he never listens. He'll be good, we'll be back."
The Gotham Tent couldn't hold everyone inside, so big was the crowd to see one of David Letterman's favorite acts. Future Islands singer Samuel T. Herring's performance style is one of legend – he is a human GIF machine, perfect for every Hump Day post – and droves came to see. When he dances, it's like all five Temptations are inside, trying to fight their way out: sometimes he's Russell Crowe, flexing; not seconds later, he's a ballet dancer, soft toes and fluttering hands. He twerked! The crowd screamed, so he stopped and wagged his finger at them, before doing something completely different. All eyes deserve to be on him. But there are songs, too: He sings in volcanic rumbles, sometimes pounding his chest like a silverback in order to force the words (or really, sounds) out. He said, "Let’s celebrate this – what a beautiful fucking day. Fuck!" What a beautiful day, indeed. Fuck.
Even though Marina Diamandis has shed her kitschy Electra Heart persona, opting to mine emotional material from her own life on her new record Froot, it was clear at her performance that the fans really miss the Welsh singer's silver-haired character and the bubblegum-pop anthems she belted. While invitations from Diamandis for audience members to join in on new songs were met with little response or mumbled words, the entire massive crowd’s rendition of her 2012 hit "Primadonna" was so insanely pitch-perfect and glorious that it felt staged.
Kiesza took it back to the days of '94, doing the butterfly into a popped-out squat, throwing in a couple of donkey kicks for good measure. Backed by two dancers — wearing generic Rock N' Jock-style softball jerseys, of course number "1994" — she seemed thrilled to be in her second home of New York. It's almost like she bleeds out WKTU weekend playlists and decided to throw everyone a cookout. "I want to know everyone's name," she said. "I know it's slightly impossible, but shout it out anyway."
In the middle of her set, she said, "I want to know everyone’s name. I know it's slightly impossible, but shout it out anyway.: She seemed genuinely pleased, saying, "I feel so much closer to you all," even if she just heard a keyboard smash of noise.
Sharon Van Etten is known for deeply emotional, scar-baring break-up music, but her stage presence at Governor's Ball was downright joyful. She spoke in funny voices, gave a shout-out to mom and dad, and even gushed over one particular performer. "I never even dreamed of doing a show Björk would be playing at," she told the crowd excitedly. "This is my high school dream come true."
With an early set plagued by rain showers, DIIV's dreamy, bass-heavy songs and relaxed performance were actually well suited for the weather and perfect fare for festivalgoers easing into Governors Ball. Sometimes the band's laid-back posture may have been too laid-back, particularly in how the band played over a handful of new songs yet named none. "This is 'Untitled. . . Five'?" Zachary Cole-Smith mumbled into the microphone. Still, for the fans just getting hyped for a long day at the grounds, the smooth, melancholy sounds of DIIV were perfect.
After a few technical hiccups during her furious punk band's set, White Lung lead singer Mish Way took a brief break to vent. "The music sounds fucked," she said before requesting different levels for vocals and guitar. She then took general issue with multi-day mega-concerts like Governors Ball: "See, this is always what happens at festivals," Way proclaimed. "Now we're exposing it!" But that wasn't the only topic on the frontwoman's agenda: She also jokingly (or maybe not) commented how much she dislikes seeing bare legs in the summer, especially those of men. This is a woman with standards.
Just a couple of hours after playing in front of thousands at the Honda stage, A-Trak set up shop for a few dozen in the Samsung stage. "I already played a dance set. . . Who wants to hear a hip-hop set?" the Fool's Gold general asked, then led off with Kanye's "All Day," which bled into "My Way" and "Flicka Da Wrist." The fans in the crowd – the 40 or so who weren't professional photographers, publicists or Samsung employees – danced like festivalgoers do, waving their Miller Lite cans around. Security practically tackled anyone who tried to sneak in, including a poor girl with dirty knees and a "That Shirt Cray" tee.