It’s safe to say that the Governors Ball rain curse was officially broken this weekend, since we only braved a few fits of drizzles throughout the exciting 3-day music fest on Randall’s Island. But we couldn’t have known that yet on day one, when the weather was still an unpredictable deity everyone wanted to please, and the sunlight filling the bright-blue sky seemed almost too lucky to discuss above a whisper. Of course, all of NYC’s fans, foodies, and fashionistas weren’t taking a moment of it for granted, so the festival was packed for Friday – and with the number of phones in the air, nearly every possible angle of it was being captured and shared. The young, hyper crowd had a lot to do with the lineup on day one, which was noticeably more pop-focused, and they were happily dancing and day-drinking in the grass whenever they weren’t running to shows.
Based on the selfies and photo opps we constantly tried not to walk through, it appears that cutoff denim shorts and halter tops are extremely in – as are face jewels, pasties, crocheted bralettes, and glitter-smothered skin (all things that would have surely raised an eyebrow back when I was under parental curfew). But in an era that seems to be embracing confidence more and more, it was refreshing to see so many people feeling comfortable with themselves. It was equally refreshing to see so much batshit crazy stuff on the other end of the festival-fashion spectrum, like a jacket with decapitated Barbie heads stitched all over it, and a rocketship-shaped NASA backpack, among other excellent choices.
It ain’t easy to get a crowd dancing at the beginning of the day, but when we strolled by the Big Apple Stage a little before 1, we were impressed to see German synthpop singer/producer Roosevelt really turning things up. Blossoms, the UK indie pop band who took the Honda Stage just afterward, kept the good vibe going with their groovy, synth-charged sound and unintentional charm (“I want to hear you TALK!” squealed one fan as soon as she heard their English accents coming through in the lyrics). There was more swooning in store for the day-one crowd, especially with Francis and the Lights cooling down the enclosed Bacardi Stage during the most dizzyingly-sunny part of the day. As the group pumped out his PBR&B tracks, Francis Farewell Starlite was a blur – spiraling all over the stage as he sang, and even diving over the rail to lead a swarm of fans out of the tent altogether. In fact, he was leading them in exactly the right direction, because Kehlani would take the main Gov Ball NYC Stage just moments later – and her set was a treat with its sleek, sexy costuming and her dazzling vocals.
The highlight of the day arguably came in the late afternoon with a heart-racing performance by iconic funk and soul singer Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires, who absolutely crushed their set; once again spreading his love to a whole new segment of fans. The incendiary performer, whose announcement of a stomach cancer diagnosis days after he blew away the Meadows Fest crowd last year came as an awful shock, looked significantly healthier and happier for his Gov Ball ‘17 appearance. For the occasion, the legend donned another sizzling red suit and wielded his mic stand like a weapon as he sang like no other can. The rest of the afternoon was a blur of tight crowds and nonstop dancing with energetic sets from Bleachers (the poppy solo project from Fun.’s Jack Antonoff), powerful guitarist and soul singer Michael Kiwanuka, and South-Central L.A. rapper Schoolboy Q that their respective fans were appropriately stoked about. In fact, it was the Schoolboy Q crowd that seemed to be the craziest and most impenetrable – of the whole festival weekend – and it felt like an endless battle to escape the tangle of bodies that had flocked to the Honda Stage to see him throw down.
Much-loved New Zealand songstress Lorde wasn’t billed as the main act for day one, but she became the unequivocal headliner in our eyes when Chance the Rapper pulled a bit of an unclassy move (which most of the audience was not likely privy to). We were getting hyped up with Aussie DJ Flume as we stuck around for Chance’s headlining performance on Friday night – until, just minutes beforehand, he unexpectedly shut out the entire press crew, abruptly prohibiting photos for his set with no explanation. It was a disappointing choice for all the media folks who were looking forward to covering the young rap star, but it was tough to leave in bad spirits after the flash of fireworks that had finished off Lorde’s fabulous nighttime set. After a dramatic intro involving a lacy white veil that flowed to her shoulders, she indulged the Governors Ball crowd with ultra-catchy radio hits like “Royals,” “Team,” and closing song “Green Light” – plus a live debut of “Perfect Places” that featured Jack Antonoff on keys – with a stage presence as captivating as her rich, distinct vocals. The audience was thrilled, the weather was perfect, and in retrospect, you couldn’t have asked for a better day one finale.
Words: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley