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  • Writer's pictureBryan Jun

Gov Ball 2021

Basically a part 2 of my previous post, and in sharp contrast in my experience described there, I'm still hesitant about even taking time out of my precious 24 hours to talk about this event. Ironically it was the main reason why I ended up on the East Coast last week and the longest planned part of my trip (since my Nags Head week in May), but I honestly could have done without it. For those of you not in your first half of college or not trying to relive your 20's alongside your kids, Governor's Ball has nothing to do with the lead of a state nor is it a glorified dance party - it's your standard music festival hosted at Citi Field in New York. As you might imagine, it's filled mostly with college kids and some high schoolers with "cool parents" hoping to get the perfect instagram picture for their story. I'm not saying I'm above this by any means - I attended the festival myself and looked forward to seeing Post Malone in person (which I think was the only part of my time there worthy of the $100 I spent on an entrance bracelet) - I just have a hard time accepting that 90% of the people there actually enjoyed their time. Maybe I'm just cynical.

It's been awhile since I've attended a music festival, the last one before Gov Ball being Summer Smash in Chicago my first full time summer there, which I recall as a "disgusting time." Me and a coworker came off a happy hour cruise on the Chicago River and took a long Uber out into the suburbs, where the festival was held in a giant field. The summer was humid, the kids were reckless, everything wreaked of weed and I still don't understand the utility of mosh pits. Regardless, it was fun to see Playboy Carti and Lil Yachty do their thing as a long time fan and seeing backpack kid walk around the festival as if he was also an A class celebrity was also amusing. I can't say I'd ever go back again (especially at my age now) nor do I remember any performance in detail, but I think it was a prominent part of my Chicago experience and a good way to start off a restraining job.

In comparison, Gov Ball actually wasn't terrible, and I think a couple of systemic (?) things helped this cause. Being September, the weather was a lot better and at no point did I feel stuffy nor hot, in fact there was a breeze quite frequently which made the physical experience quite enjoyable. I'm now realizing how much of a boomer I sound like talking about the weather at a music festival, but I'm also of the belief that paid experiences should be enjoyable in all aspects of the event, not just in the main function (which is to enjoy music from artists you know and "vibe" with the people around you) so bare with me. I'm not entirely sure if this is just the lack of popularity of Gov Ball itself, the cast of artists performing on Day 3 or some COVID induced market condition, but the festival itself was not as packed as expected. If I recall correctly, there were still tickets available on the day of the concert and you could easily make it to the front of most shows if you pushed through hard enough. Mosh pits still existed but the artists that would provoke them (Young Thug and 21 Savage) didn't encourage them to the extent that the Summer Smash folks did and I think the overall age demographic of Gov Ball was older than the former. I even yelled out "no mosh pit" through the dad identity I was embracing and people gave me high fives (either in agreement or in a "you're a loser" tone, regardless it worked). Lastly, I think given Summer Smash being a Lyrical Lemonade festival (for those of you who don't know what that is, it proves my point), most of the artists are relatively "niche" whereas Gov Ball mostly featured household names or at least people most young folks have at least heard one featuring from.

I think my problems with Gov Ball aren't necessarily tied to the festival specifically, but more with the overall concert experience for music festivals. While I was there, I compared music festivals to a buffet - you get the chance to experience a wide array of flavors for one single price, but none of the dishes are going to be particularly spectacular. If you accept this fact before you go in, you can probably have a decent experience. Except a more valid comparison would be if you went to the Wicked Spoon buffet in Las Vegas with the understanding that they'll have steak and lobster (and that's the majority of the reason you're going, waiting two hours and paying $80 to get inside) but the steak takes an hour and a half to come out only to be sweeped up by everyone else and you only get a small bite and the lobster never shows up. For those of you lost in the analogy - because artists don't really have any strong ties to the festival nor the audience (this is a two way streak), there really isn't an incentive for them to give a great concert and in the case of 21 Savage, show up on time (I actually thought he never showed up but saw someone's story yesterday and found out he did). Outside of Dominic Fike, not a single show I attended started on time or played the full time they were slated for, many lacked any form of fan service and the audience couldn't follow 90% of the songs that were played. If anything, the DJ that played before Young Thug who played popular tracks everyone knew probably had the best audience interaction and immersion. I actually don't think this is anyone's fault - the festival has to make money and attract a customer base by diversifying their portfolio, the artists grab their cash and have no incentive to try their best, and the audience want the buffet experience but people who are looking for that buffet experience probably aren't stans of a specific artist. It's no surprise that most of what occurs at festivals like Gov Ball is a series of instagram stories that anyone can post, dehydration, and a miserable commute back home.

Following this experience (which honestly wasn't as bad as I'm making it sound to be), I'm planning on investing more in single-artist performances as well as show I can actually sit without seeming like an old person. I can't say I didn't tear up during Post Malone's stay and I'm not ashamed to admit that I've been listening to Dominic Fike on repeat, as a direct result of his commitment to being on time and playing the whole show - but I don't think I'll be attending any more festivals any time soon. Maybe I'll live vicariously through my kids in the future when they're attending NFT-filled virtual concerts with avatar artists.

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