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Charles Bradley performing at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Charles Bradley performing at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
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The Best Performances of Governors Ball 2017

Picture of Ryan Kristobak
Music Editor
Updated: 8 June 2017
Begun in 2011, The Governors Ball Music Festival returned to Randall’s Island in New York City once again this past weekend, and along with it came the surprise of great weather and even better music.

For what seems like ever year, GovBall has been plagued by downpours and mud pits, but, magically, this year featured two days of sunshine and blue skies, with just a mild sequence of drizzles marking Sunday’s hours. While some promising sets fell short in translation, like Chance the Rapper’s gospel-charged rap, others soared to headline-worthy dimensions.

After catching approximately 25 acts across all three days, Culture Trip picked its seven most memorable performances, awarding each titles like The Comeback Kid, Party of the Year, and Best in Show.

Rookie of the Year: Lo Moon

Lo Moon's Matt Lowell performing at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Lo Moon’s Matt Lowell performing at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

At multiple points of any music festival, you’re going to deal with crowd members that will distract from your viewing experience. However, you rarely expect this to occur during one of the day’s opening sets.

At Lo Moon’s 12:45 pm Saturday slot, a group of about 10 high school kids decided this was the opportune moment to smoke all of their day’s weed—seriously, all of the goddamn weed—one guy’s intake was way more than he could handle. Abandoned by his terrible friends, this kid stumbled around the Bacardi-sponsored pavilion, mustering every bit of sobriety left in his body to remain standing. While another crowd member went to find an emergency medical technician, I allowed the kid to hold onto my shoulder for stability because, come on, we’ve all been there, but he eventually staggered away from my support, working his way to the front of the crowd, grabbing onto two people at a time like the world’s highest Olympian competing in the parallel bars. Thankfully, security took notice, escorted him to the side for some water, and then, assumedly, walked him to the medical tent.

Lo Moon's Crisanta Baker performing at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Lo Moon’s Crisanta Baker performing at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

I tell all of this because despite the (essentially literal) weed monkey on my back, I didn’t miss a second of Lo Moon’s set. The Los Angeles trio may have only released two songs in their eight months and change of public existence, but the band continues to dazzle crowds even when it wades into unknown territory. While “Loveless” and the freshly released “This Is It” had fans singing along to every word, the best moments were the songs yet-to-come; one track starts off like a Phil Collins heartbreaker before suddenly bursting into an Explosions in the Sky-worthy wall of ambience. A prediction: come festival season 2018, Lo Moon’s debut will have arrived, and they will be leaping closer to headlining territory.

The Comeback Kid: Charles Bradley

Charles Bradley performing at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Charles Bradley performing at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

“Now, we’ve been out of commission for a bit.” After being forced to cancel all tour dates last fall due to a diagnosis of stomach cancer, Charles Bradley is already back on the road, just over six months later after completing his treatments. There was an energy present at Bradley’s set that was unlike any other that weekend. With every glorious spin in his bedazzled red jacket or sexy robot in his silver-silk suit with a diamond skull on the back (that’s right, there was a wardrobe change), the crowd went nuts. At the end of every song, Bradley would make a heart with his hands or yell out “I love you too!”. It was an appreciation of presence and life like I had never felt before, coming in equal force from both sides of the stage.

Charles Bradley performing at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Charles Bradley performing at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

At one point, Bradley let out one of his iconic screams, picked up the mic stand, and fell to his knees. Slowly working back onto his feet, Bradley heaved the stand onto his shoulder like Christ carrying the cross. And then, in a moment of defiance, he raised the stand high into the air and then slammed it onto the ground. It was a powerful metaphor not just for the many trials Bradley has faced in his life, but for his will to overcome them every single time. In the closing minutes of his set, Bradley took a moment to thank his fans for their cards of well wishes and prayers during his cancer before saying, “I promise you one thing: I’m back.” While there are few such guarantees in life, all that mattered was that, in that moment, Bradley had indeed returned.

The Best Cover: MUNA

MUNA's Katie Gavin performing at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
MUNA’s Katie Gavin performing at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

MUNA’s set of politically-charged electro-pop anthems was already one of the weekend’s top performances, and then came their cover. As the crowd erupted into cheers at the announcement that the band would be playing a cover, guitarist/back-up-vocalist Naomi McPherson quickly corrected, “You don’t know what it is yet. It’s about to get really dark.” Having caught the trio’s headlining tour this winter, I expected to hear their rendition of Stevie Nicks “Edge of Seventeen” once again. While things didn’t get witchy, they did become awesomely dark, as the opening piano riff of Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” flooded onto the unsuspecting mass.

MUNA's Naomi McPherson performing at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
MUNA’s Naomi McPherson performing at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

Now, anyone who pretends that they either don’t like “Bring Me To Life” or don’t know every single word is a liar. Thankfully, this attitude was absent on Friday afternoon, and for four minutes, it was spring 2003 all over again, and we were all Jennifer Garner obliterating bags of sand with sais in a thunderstorm. And let it be known that the meanest screams of 2017 go to the badass that is Naomi McPherson.

Party of the Year: The Avalanches

Spank Rock performing with The Avalanches at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Spank Rock performing with The Avalanches at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

I will be honest, I didn’t guess that The Avalanches would perform with a full band. While I probably should have done my research, the surprise of seeing more bodies than just Robbie Chater and Tony Di Blasi on stage along with a variety of instruments—including a freakin’ theremin—was a pleasant surprise. The live interpretation of the duo’s tracks was an even greater surprise.

Eliza Wolfgramm performing with The Avalanches at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Eliza Wolfgramm performing with The Avalanches at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

Fan favorites like “Because I’m Me,” “Frankie Sinatra,” “Frontier Psychiatrist,” and “Since I Left You” were given more life thanks to touring members Paris Jeffree (drums), Spank Rock (vocals), and Eliza Wolfgramm (vocals), all of whom have names which are too cool. For parts of the performance, Wolfgramm, who was cleverly hiding a neck brace under a bandana—although, based on her motions you would have never guessed—swung a baseball bat above her head. I’m not sure why she did it, but it was awesome. In the middle of one song she let out a loud, “Yeah, kids!”. Considering that The Avalanches’ first album was released in 2000, the mean age of the crowd was absolutely above 21, but that’s just the effect of their music. For an hour, we all returned to our childhood days and danced like idiots.

The New Wave: Stormzy

Stormzy performing at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Stormzy performing at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

No one sells Stormzy better than Stormzy. During his Saturday afternoon 45 minutes, the British rapper must have said “hashtag merky 20-17” nearly 100 times – #Merky being the name of his independent label. Walking away from the stage, it’s all I could think about.

Stormzy performing at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Stormzy performing at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

But it wasn’t just about spreading his personal brand; “Wicked Skengman” took every moment to represent his hometown of South London and the genre the city birthed. “This is the fucking UK in the building, this is time in the building,” he passionately yelled. Constantly referring to the crowd as his “energy crew,” everyone present bought into his pitch, bouncing up and down with each beat drop, a mosh pit even forming at the front. Knowing that he was close to sealing the deal on lifelong fandom, Stormzy jumped off the stage after he concluded with his hit track “Shut Up” to give hugs, high fives, and take selfies with everyone in the front rows. Grime has officially landed in the United States, and it’s greatly in part to Stormzy.

The Runner Up: Logic

Logic performing at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Logic performing at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

Whether its YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever social media platform, every artist receives their fair amount of criticism, the vast majority of it unwarranted and probably racist. Every time I see a particularly criminal thread I can’t help but wonder if the artist has read through the comments. With the release of his new album, Everybody, Maryland MC Logic received flak for its heavy focus on race issues and its poppier moments, and on Sunday evening, he made it clear that he’s seen it all. However, as Logic put it, “Fuck haters, just bounce.”

When he wasn’t solving a Rubik’s Cube a fan threw onstage in under a minute, bringing out surprise guests like Ansel Elgort, or challenging Cat, the ASL interpreter, to keep up with a freestyle of increasing speed, Logic spent the time between songs connecting with his fans. He recognized Nicole, asking her age (19), and remembering that she had first attended one of his shows in Maryland when she was 15 years old. In the lead up to new track “Anziety,” Logic opened up to the crowd about the crippling anxiety he faced not too long ago, a subject, he noted, often taboo in a genre like hip-hop. And on the closing track, “Gang Related,” Logic noticed fan Tony in the front row rapping every word, so he had Tony repeat the song’s final lines with him at varying speeds.

Ansel Elgort performing at Logic's Governors Ball set © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Ansel Elgort performing at Logic’s Governors Ball set | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

“Everybody was born equal, regardless of race, religion, color, creed, and sexual orientation,” Logic states on Everybody standout “Take It Back.” It’s the theme of the album, and it has become a banner under which the rapper marches. But writing music for everyone doesn’t equate to the idea that every song works for every person at every time, and that’s okay.

At the end of Logic’s performance of “1-800-273-8255” (the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline), the camera cut to a young couple embracing each other and sobbing. No matter the disparagement, no matter the animosity, there are people out there who need Logic’s music, every single song.

The crowd at Logic's performance at Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
The crowd at Logic’s performance at Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip

Best in Show: Childish Gambino

Here’s a brief list of things that made Childish Gambino’s, aka Donald Glover, headlining performance at Governors Ball the year’s best:

– He announced that this would be his only musical performance of 2017
– His epic white jumpsuit that looked like a karate gi
– When he lit up a joint thrown on stage during “California,” and the stoner “Yo,” he let out after taking his first puff
– His stage design, which basically made you feel like you were floating through the universe
– His announcement that he’s been writing the second season of Atlanta
– The perfect translation of every song performed off his latest album, Awaken, My Love!
– The airtight mixture of hip-hop, funk, pop, and soul from his three studio albums
– His James Brown-worthy dance moves
– The moment when he told the crowd that this was “exactly what I needed”

While I could go on, the set’s true highlight was his introductory skit to the concert’s final song. For approximately six minutes, Glover detailed a hypothetical house party that included picking the right soundtrack to impress a girl of interest (featuring tracks like Lil Wayne’s “Mrs. Officer,” V.I.C.’s “Get Silly,” and Rihanna’s “Sex With Me”), consuming a bunch of MDMA, and a bust by the police. With the hook-up on the line, the aforementioned girl pulls him into the bathroom to hide from the cops, and then the “perfect” make-out song hits the speakers—“Redbone.” The best part: it’s all based on a meme about the track.

Right before he walked off stage, he had one last bit of news for the crowd: “I’ll see you for the last Gambino album.” With no other context, all present were left reeling, wondering what this could mean. While some headlines have suggested Gambino’s music career could be coming to a close, my guess is that the time has come for Glover to rebrand. Awaken, My Love! is a far cry from the rest of the Gambino discography, and with the huge success of Atlanta, it wouldn’t be surprising if Glover wanted to move all of his ventures under his government name.

This performance marked the beginning of an end of an era, and whether it represents a fizzling out or a new page, it was beautiful in every way.

Governors Ball © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip
Governors Ball | © Amanda Suarez/Culture Trip