June 24, 2013

2013 Governors Ball: One Tough Mudder

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UPDATED: Musical acts came and went at the 2013 Governors Ball, but the one constant — and least enthusiastically received — presence was a rank, viscous mud that swallowed up concertgoers’ shoes, splattered their faces and clothes and made the three-day-long event feel more like a Tough Mudder race than a music festival.

Undaunted, attendees clad in American-flag shorts and gauzy lace dresses trudged through the swamp-like conditions for the carefully curated lineup, which matched more established summer festivals in its breadth and depth. Even for those poor unprepared souls who didn’t come with industrial-strength, knee-high rainboots, staying was worth it. From the jazz-inspired stylings of indie rockers Beirut to the mellow folk rock of The Lumineers to Kanye West’s hip hop and the classic rock of Guns and Roses, all acts beckoned and some tough decisions had to be made. Brave a pit of sloshy goo for Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes, or take your chances with the terrain and head over to Azealia Banks? Musically, there were only good options. Topographically, not so much.

(It is worth noting that we, unable to make the tough choice, danced knee-deep in muck  in-between stages to the cross-winds of “22″ and “Home.”)

And yet the mud, as it exhausted us, covered us, sucked our shoes and friends away, bound us together. “Hope you all aren’t getting too muddy,” Bradford Cox, the lead singer of Deerhunter, called out sympathetically to the crowd on Saturday; then not-so-sympathetically conjectured about the amount of bacteria in the ground (prompting groans from those who had lost or eschewed footwear). Yannis Philippakis of the English band Foals proclaimed, “This place is awesome but it smells like nothing else.”

If you could get your mind off the smell, there was indeed a lot of awesome. Portugal. The Man busted out the dance-inducing “Purple Yellow Red and Blue” from their recently-released album, then set Evil Friends aside to play older material, hits off their 2011 In the Mountains In the Cloud. The smooth “So American” reverberated with a crowd clad in American flag headbands, the twanging beat of “All Your Light” set off muddy dance parties. For a rowdier time there was Azealia Banks, who lit up the stage in a neon orange dress and a buoyancy to match. For the entire set, which included “1991,” “212” and “Liquorice,” there was not a non-dancing fan in the crowd — Azealia left no time for boredom.

Though it was perhaps the headliners of Governors Ball  — Kings of Leon, Guns and Roses, Kanye West — which attracted the most attention, the festival’s smaller acts were equally worth braving the mud. Alt-J’s sedate rock played surprisingly well to a swelling crowd, even the leisurely “Tesselate,” while “Breezeblocks” and “Fitzpleasure” inspired a good deal of head-nodding. For a more NPR-approved sound, there was Beirut, spicing things up with trumpets, trombones, an accordion, a ukulele, a cello, a tuba and maracas. (A quibble, albeit minor — how can a band perform across the river from a place that also titles one of its biggest hits and not perform the song?) The Lumineers’ crooning quelled a rowdy, tired crowd and, though playing nearly every song from their debut album would have been enough, they kept things interesting. Halfway through the act The Lumineers sang in the middle of the crowd perched on crates. Next, elementary schoolers from the Bronx Success Academy choir emerged to shuffle together in some very basic, very adorable choreography.

And yet, judging from the crowds that braved the elements, Governors Ball has done the unthinkable. Though given every reason to balk from a three-day commitment — the torrential rain, calf-deep mud, ferry or alternately, the mile walk from the subway — New Yorkers committed.  They showed up in the regalia of manufactured Bohemia — floral crop tops, distressed high-waisted shorts, face paint and fake flower headbands — only to find themselves eyeing a neighboring pair Crocs. Tarps were the best picnic blanket, trash bags in hot demand as a makeshift shoe substitute — indeed, it was possible to laugh at the extent to which Mother Nature had sloshed the best laid plans, but only if you had really sturdy shoes and a dirt-proof outfit. A festival styled by Urban Outfitters could really have used a guiding hand from LL Bean.

The painted yellow and blue sneakers looped around wires high above attendees’ heads loomed significant for the (many) unhappy shoeless. The name of the “You’re doing great” stage transformed into the mantra needed to trudge through the slick mud. You’re doing great you’re doing great you’re doing great.

Governors Ball 2013 left the Randall’s Island landscape liquified, pockmarked with errant footprints and riddled with beer cans. It was similar to the strewn wreckage of an abandoned frat party. The clothes will wash off, the rain boots may be wiped, but mud splatters and all, this was a festival that was hard to not love.

Original Author: Emma Court