It’s difficult to stay woke if you’re completely dehydrated.
Thousands of bandana-clad festivalgoers made their pilgrimage to Randall’s Island Saturday for a slate of performances dominated by hip hop and EDM.
Saturday’s longest lines were for the free water stations. Kudos to festival organizers for having plenty of resources to keep people healthy and happy throughout the day, as well as staffers who went out of their way to help any sick attendees.
That dehydration was the biggest safety issue on Saturday was a blessing given the scary news in London (from which the crowd, with sketchy cell service, was for the most part insulated) and the tragedy at Ariana Grande’s concert in Manchester last month.
Speaking of safety, an increased security presence was felt, but it wasn’t overly oppressive. Getting in and out of the festival grounds was fairly seamless, but entrances and exits were lined with security guards, police officers and even The National Guard.
Safe and sound, attendees trickled over to the Big Apple stage for a rocking set from Car Seat Headrest. The band, fronted by Will Toledo, ripped through some of their best material from “Teens of Denial” and “Teens of Style.”
A few years ago, rock bands like Car Seat Headrest were all over festival lineups. But as tastes have skewed more toward the electronic end of the spectrum, the band was one of the few true we-all-play-instruments-and-we-like-to-rock acts of the festival. They seemed to not take that responsibility lightly, especially on “Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales,” which seemed to convert some casual set-watchers to new fans.
Switching it up completely was Stormzy, the UK rapper who is a hero of the emerging grime scene across the pond. Grime is a genre that hasn’t completely made it over to the States yet, However, based off the bombastic reaction from the crowd, Stormzy might not only play the role of hero, but also that of grime ambassador.
For the unitiated, grime features pulsing beats reminiscent of drum ‘n’ bass and garage music, but with rapid-fire rap on top. The South London MC’s energy whipped the crowd in to a frenzy, leaving festivalgoers with an energy that would carry over into the rest of the day’s performances.
Next up was goofy rap duo Rae Sremmurd, who played hit after hit after hit to a packed crowd at the Bacardi stage. The two MCs mostly rapped along to their own tracks spun by a DJ, sometimes completely doing away with the mic so they could dance or flex.
Was their a lot of technical prowess at Rae Sremmurd? Certainly not. But do Slim Jxmmi and Swae Lee understand how to deliver a spectacle? Hell yes.
Things mellowed out on the main stage for Seattle indie rock band The Head and the Heart. The group demonstrated their range, mixing in both folk ballads and driving, radio rock. They also utilized a tambourine, which is the spirit instrument of any true outdoor music festival.
Across the festival grounds, Local Natives belted out older classics like “Wide Eyes” while integrating songs from the newest record. The band is a summer festival staple and for good reason: they can be dance-y, they can sing and, most of all, they can rock.
A cover of Kanye West’s “Ultralight Beam” delighted fans, and easily bested Harry Styles buzzed-about rendition that made the rounds on social media in May (sorry not sorry).
Nobody knows how to work a crowd better than Wu-Tang Clan. As they constantly mentioned that they rep New York (the group came together in Staten Island), a hometown crowd turned out in droves for the hip hop legends.
Wu-Tang’s set could’ve easily been a nostalgia trip where a DJ played the hits and the group’s sprawling membership phoned it in. But every single MC on the stage, from Raekwon to Method Man to Ghostface, and especially the ringmaster, RZA, were totally dialed-in and revved-up.
The performance commemorated the 20th anniversary of Wu-Tang’s 1997 sophomore album “Wu-Tang Forever,” and they popped champagned bottles onstage to celebrate. For fans of the Wu, their Gov Ball set was unforgettable.
Perhaps the biggest conflict of the weekend for festivalgoers was Childish Gambino versus Phoenix. The two acts performed at the same time on opposite ends of Randall’s Island, and both had strong qualifications for being a can’t-miss set.
Luckily, the crowd was split enough that afforded mobility between the two stages so fans could get a taste of both.
Childish definitely won in terms of attendance, as he had the most compelling reason of the festival to check out his set: Gov Ball is Gambino’s only performance of 2017. Decked head to toe in white, Gambino confirmed this would be his only gig and that he specifically wanted it to be in New York.
He opened with songs off his latest album, “Awaken My Love,” which is a huge diversion from his earlier rap records into space-age funk a la Parliament Funkadelic. But he also mixed in cuts from “Because the Internet” like “II. Worldstar” and “V. 3005.”
The final song of the set was a slinkified version of “Redbone,” with Gambino imploring the crowd to “stay woke.”
Pencil Childish Gambino in for best performance of Governors Ball 2017.
As he closed the show, he left fans with a monster of a mic drop: “I’ll see you for the last Gambino album.” It was a dramatic masterstroke, ensuring the buzz from his set would continue long after Saturday night as fans speculate what a post-Gambino Donald Glover has in store.
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