A massive security guard patrolled the bathroom line, his stomach at war with his tucked-in shirt, a radio at his hip. The McDonald’s on the corner of 125th Street and Lexington Avenue in East Harlem is the last major chain store on the way to Randall’s Island from Manhattan. So for those who flooded out of the subway at 125th Street, it was the last place to take a piss that wasn’t a ninety-degree port-a-potty.
Only hours ago, those standing in the restroom line, about 20 in all, most coming from far downtown or crossing in from New Jersey, had raided a box in their closet evidently kept around for raves, festivals or Halloween. A man stood fidgeting, a pacifier in his mouth and a shirt on his back with only one button fastened. Next to him, sitting down, a woman in a hot pink tank top and webbed leggings poured a 4Loko into her emptied McDonald’s cup. After waiting in line, now properly relieved, the young man and woman exited the bathroom and fell into a great multi-colored migration — a two mile march over the Robert F. Kennedy Bridge to the site of The Governors Ball, a three-day music festival.
The footpath over the bridge to Randall’s Island is bordered by speeding cars and a stunning view the Upper East Side. Dotted along the path during festival hours were police officers, waiting to catch festival goers as they race to finish alcohol or shove an assortment pills and powders into their underwear before reaching the security lines. Bottles of flavored vodka and spent 5 Hour Energy containers lined the cement ledge against a chain link fence, waiting for the periodic sweep of the trash man — a festival employee slowly pushing an oversized garbage barrel against the stream of festival goers — to erase the evidence of a drunken exodus.
The festival itself hosted over 40,000 music fans on each day of the three-day weekend. From 12:15 p.m. until 11 p.m., musicians took to one of four stages, performing in front of fans holding 25-ounce Foster’s cans and hailing from as close as the Upper East Side to as far as Los Angeles. But despite the event’s national brand, the festival is still distinctly New York’s; a screen aired the Stanley Cup (the NY Rangers played the LA Kings) and jumbotrons, set on either side of each stage, flashed facts related to the city and quotes from the likes of John Updike and other New York authors. Above all, space was limited. There was nowhere to stay the night, making the festival relatively tame and touristy and discouraging the kind of drugged-up hoola hoopers or liberal amounts of skin that come at a residential four-day camping festival.
But more than its location, the Governor’s Ball was influenced by its musical lineup. The promoters had netted headliners for prime time slots, those stopping in between sets at Coachella and Bonnaroo, and also lesser-known acts, who were taking the stage in front of audiences the size of which they’d never experienced. This led to crowds — despite the Ball only being in its forth year — larger than any other music festival in New York, even outpacing the Electric Zoo Festival, which also takes to Randall’s Island, but in August.
Despite being bright and scantily clad, the festival-goers were far from the ravers at Electric Zoo, which focuses primarily on electronic music. Governors Ball, like many similarly sized festivals, had everything from the gentle head bob of indie rock to the face melting of the L.A. beat scene. From the Strokes to Outkast to Axwell Ingrosso to Vampire Weekend, Governors Ball appealed to thousands of fans who, while waiting for their favorite acts to come on at night, wandered around to find some new undiscovered music during the day. We met with three of the more undiscovered acts in order to see what festival life is like on the other side of the stage.