The Governors Ball: Your reason to road trip

Beck performs at the 2012 Governor’s Ball.

Katy Coduto

According to Google Maps, it will take you about six hours and 45 minutes to drive from Kent to New York City. When you factor in traffic while driving through Newark and into Manhattan, you can probably add an hour to that total. When all is said and done, eight hours are between you and one of the greatest cities in the world — a place with vibrant neighborhoods, endless culture and diverse people from widely different backgrounds.

It only makes sense that New York City would have its own music festival, a place where city dwellers can see some of the best bands over the course of three days and where travelers can land for those three days to experience New York both as a city and as a festival venue. However, while other cities across the United States are home to some of the most renowned music festivals in the world — Indio’s Coachella, Chicago’s Lollapalooza, San Francisco’s Outside Lands — New York City has struggled to capture music fans’ attentions with their own outstanding festival.

The Governors Ball Music Festival is in the process of changing that. What started off as a one-day affair on New York City’s Governor’s Island has grown to a three-day marquee event on nearby Randall’s Island, with multiple stages and some of the prime (and best) names in music today. And this all started because three friends who “grew up” in the music industry thought they could make it happen.

“It’s a labor of love,” said Jordan Wolowitz, one of the founders of Founders Entertainment, the group behind the Governors Ball. “I think New York City is the best city in the world with so much to offer. We want to give the city its first marquee festival.”

Wolowitz handles booking acts for the festival, which this year includes headliners OutKast, Vampire Weekend and Jack White, as well as the first New York City show from The Strokes in three years. The festival’s past headliners, since its beginnings in 2011, have included Girl Talk, Empire of the Sun, Beck, Passion Pit and, perhaps most notably, Guns N’ Roses and Kanye West. West even used the quickly growing festival to debut five songs from his alienating, best-selling “Yeezus” album last year.

When it comes to choosing acts, Wolowitz said all three of the Founders guys — which also includes Tom Russell, festival project manager, and Yoni Reisman, in charge of festival sponsorship and marketing — are huge music fans, and tend to find bands based on what they’re listening to.

“When we’re out walking around town, we’re listening to music,” he said. “We’re checking out blogs. We’re young guys in the music business who have friends who are agents, managers and everyone is constantly sharing music.”

This is how many of the bands and artists that play earlier in the day on each stage are picked. Wolowitz and his cofounders take recommendations from friends and blogs, as well as attending shows around New York City to scope out up-and-coming bands. Some of the newer acts you can see on this year’s Governors Ball stages include the Chain Gang of 1974, Meg Myers, Haerts, Classixx and Chance the Rapper.

In addition to the new artists and major headliners, Wolowitz said that the real theme for this year’s festival comes back to New York City. The earliest iterations of the festival relied more on genre-centric days, attracting up to 20 thousand people at the first festivals, whereas last year was the event’s first foray into the big time. Governors Ball 2013 could hold up to 45,000 people and stretched across three days, losing a real theme and instead focusing on growing. Knowing they can handle the huge capacity and the major names, Wolowitz said this year is for the city they call home.

“We wanted [the festival] to have a New York centric soul,” he said. “So when I started booking the lineup for this year, we got acts like The Strokes, Interpol, Sleigh Bells and even on the lower end of the bill, Haerts and Ratking, who all call NYC home. It worked out great; we set out wanting to do that and it came to fruition pretty well.”

When asked why someone should make the trip from Kent to New York City, Wolowitz said the festival promises to be a good time and well worth the accompanying adventure.

“I think NYC is the best city in the world with so much to offer,” he said.

“Besides Governors Ball being an amazing music festival with great bands from noon to 11 p.m., it’s a great excuse to come to New York. I use Outside Lands as an excuse to go to San Francisco. You’re not just coming to New York City to shop and eat food — which you can do, too — but you’re also seeing an amazing music festival.”

Wolowitz said that now is the time to go to Governors Ball, while you can still be among those to reminisce on the festival’s earliest days. With acts like the ones Governors Ball is now bringing in, it’s only a matter of time before the festival joins the ranks as one of the country’s go-to music festivals. Until then, Wolowitz is excited to watch his project continue to grow.

“The festival started really small and really organically,” he said. “This thing started as three friends working together, and it’s always a little nerve wrecking. But it’s always rewarding to see those festival gates open, and you see what you’ve been envisioning for 362 days come to life.”

Contact Katy Coduto at [email protected].