A walk on the wild side: An insider’s look at Governors Ball
The No. 6 subway train is hot, crowded and miserable. The assembled riders are a jarring clash of commuters making their way home from work, and eager (if not cranky) festival-goers identified by rainbow hues and buckets of sparkles. Everywhere. Release comes in the form of a lesser evil: crowded subway car for crowded city streets. Here, it is easy to identify native New Yorker from tourist — those who weave efficiently through the crowd, and those who stumble around like zombies. Then, the long march across the RFK bridge from Harlem to Randall’s Island. A hot, crowded and miserable affair. If only a zombie apocalypse could clear the pathway.
It smells of adventure. But since it’s New York City, that could also just be stale urine and baking trash in the unforgiving sun. I see a girl’s crop-top split down the middle seam three times. Every time her top splits, her friend holds it closed, zips it back up, then they jog down the bridge towards the thundering bass. A mother with her stroller walks in tandem with a goth couple outfitted in leather, pleather and fishnets. Most come to Governors Ball for the music; the far more interesting “show” consists of the attendees.
Across the battlefield
First, a shuffle through the off-brand TSA. Then, more shuffling among the tightly packed crowd. It feels like you’re part of a massive school of fish, or maybe a ping-pong ball if you’re short like me. The Governors stage lies tantalizingly ahead. But like any “Hero’s journey,” there are trials to be conquered. A march across the muddy field in flare jeans; dodging drunk party-goers and moshing high schoolers; skipping over the unidentifiable splatters on the ground like a game of high-stakes hopscotch. Victory takes the form of a dry patch of ground, a spot alongside the barricade and clear view of the stage.
The Governors Ball looks like a battlefield and smells like a fFrat house the morning after Halloween. Empty cans are strewn across the muddy grass. A couple passionately makes out amid the jostling crowd, flirting dangerously with an R-rating in a PG-13 crowd. Friends hold hands as they navigate in long, human chains. A newly minted 21 year old curses like a sailor, carded for a third time. A beautiful girl in immaculate makeup and a white dress crouches carefully above the mud in heels, a slice of pizza folded in one hand, her makeup and dress still pristine. Kudos.
Belly of the beast
Hundreds of bodies crash against mine as the crowd frantically jumps up and down, sing-screaming along with The 1975. I’m swallowed beneath the “waves,” holding my breath against the waft of stale beer and vomit. I take big, heaving gulps of fresh air when my face breaks briefly above the sea of moshing festival-goers. I step in something wet, with a squish. Everything is decidedly gross — but hey, it’s The 1975, and Matt Healy is wearing a hat with rabbit ears. Life is good. I add my own hoarse voice to the primal scream as we cheer on Healy’s sinful gyrations. Maybe this is how it was in the actual rock world of 1975?
Two doe-eyed Texas boys stare entranced at Florence + the Machine. “Are you a fan?” I ask. “Depends on what you mean by fan,” one of them replies.“Like, a fan who listens to her music sometimes? Or someone who would die for her?” I pause, think, and shrug — “Yes.” The three of us trade smiles. The question is forgotten as the stage lights dim, plunging our world into darkness. Later, as Florence dances wildly across the stage, I hear one of them whisper in awe, “She is a goddess.” I nod in satisfaction. “We would die for her.”