The Governors Ball 2023 Recap

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The Governors Ball Music Festival saw performances by some of the biggest acts in hip-hop, pop, and EDM this past weekend (June 9-11, 2023) at their new home of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. Leading up to the festival, the cloud of smoke hanging over the city from the wildfires in Canada threatened to cancel the weekend of music, almost being added to the list of curses the festival has faced in the past from thunderstorms to COVID and transportation nightmares to artist dropouts. As late Thursday rolled around, New York City lifted its air-quality alert as the skies began to clear (although the air quality index remained above normal all weekend). The new location featured ample room to move about, as well as plenty of food options and shade.
In case you couldn’t make it to the festival this year or just want to relive it, here are our thoughts and photos from 12 sets over the three days; as well as interviews and portraits from up-and-coming artists we were able to speak with. 

FRIDAY

Remi Wolf (Barcadí Stage) ★ DAY FAVORITE

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Remi Wolf took the Barcadí Stage after 070 Shake had started a mosh-pit, and brought the atmosphere back to a chill energy with her chaotic and loveable demeanor. Wearing an “I like to get drunk and hump things” tee under a New York Knicks jacket (that she admitted wearing for the vibe and only learning who the team was that morning), Remi played through a large portion of her debut 2021 album Juno from “Liquor Store” to “wyd” and “Anthony Kiedis” to tracks from the Deluxe version released in 2022 with fan-favorites “Liz,” “Michael,” and “Cake.” Backed by a massive 8-piece band complete with a trumpeter, Remi never missed a beat as her vocals soared throughout the set – throwing in her popular track “Sexy Villian” and even a cover of Gotye & Kimbra’s “Somebody That I Used To Know.”

HAIM (GOVBALLNYC Stage)

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The Haim sisters never disappoint, and their stage banter never gets boring. Joking that they could find a husband in NYC and debating on who is the favorite sister; Este, Danielle, and Alana rocked the stage in matching black outfits as they opened with “Now I’m In It,” “Don’t Save Me,” and “My Song 5.” The sisters are proficient in multiple instruments with Danielle on lead vocals and lead guitar, Este on bass, and Alana on both the rhythm guitar, keyboards, and percussion – with Este and Alana contributing vocals. Jumping into “Want You Back” and “Gasoline” then “Summer Girl” and “Forever,”  the crowd really ramped up when the trio launched into hit single “The Wire” before closing with “The Steps.”

Kim Petras (GOVBALLNYC Stage)

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Pop star Kim Petras owned the stage as soon as she stepped foot onto it. Her 20-song setlist played through her Slut Pop album in its entirety (interspersed with tracks from her 2022 debut TURN OFF THE LIGHT and included a downpour of rain during “Throat Goat.” Her set started with “Slut Pop” and “Treat Me Like a Slut” from the Slut Pop album, complete with two backup dancers and each song title projected onto the screen behind her. After running through the rest of the album, Kim performed older tracks “Do Me,” “Party Till I Die,” and “<demons>” before largely playing her entire unreleased album Feed The Beast (out June 23rd) from “King of Hearts” to “Uhoh” and “Revelations” to “Hit It From the Back.” Before her set began, there had been whispers from the crowd of the possibility of Kim bringing out Paris Hilton (as she had done so earlier that week in LA) to celebrate the re-recording of “Stars Are Blind” featuring Petras. While this did not happen, Kim did perform her collab “Unholy” (minus Sam Smith) and ended with “Heart to Break.” 

Lizzo (GOVBALLNYC Stage)

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Lizzo
made my jaw drop as her incredible performance began; the production was simple (compared to her fellow headliners) yet breathtaking. Donning a silver gown and pink hair, Lizzo radiated positivity as she preached self-love, surrounded by her dancers (from her dance reality competition Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls). Opening with “Cuz I Love You” and “Juice,” fans were in for an evening of good ‘ol fun. The night’s breakout performer was Sasha Flute, better known as the flutists partner in crime who features prominently in “Juice” – if you did not know, Lizzo is a trained flutist and performs frequently with her flute. More highlights of the evening were her cover of Chaka Khan’s “I’m Every Woman” and her Pride anthem “Everybody’s Gay.” The electrifying performance closed with hits “Good As Hell” and “About Damn Time” before Lizzo called for climate action, hitting attendees hard as Gov Ball had almost been canceled due to the fires in Canada produced by climate change.

In light of all the environmental events and disasters, we need to listen to our First Nations, Indigenous people of this country…we need to listen to our water protectors because they’re trying to make sure we have land to live on.

SATURDAY

Suki Waterhouse (GOVBALLNYC Stage)

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English actress, singer-songwriter and model Suki Waterhouse is a real-life rock star, not just one on TV (her most current role was in Daisy Jones & The Six). Despite an early set time, Suki drew a large crowd as she danced her way through tracks from her debut album I Can’t Let Go and her EP Milk Teeth. Opening with “Bullshit on the Internet” and “Devil I Know,” Suki and her band kept the crowd at rapt attention before playing “Moves,” “Neon Signs,” and “On Your Thumb.” The 11-song setlist was not long enough but the tracks coincided perfectly with the hot sun beating down, making us feel like we were on the West Coast for “Melrose Meltdown” on which Suki commented was “a song about suffering in Los Angeles.” 

Evan Giia (Barcadí Stage)

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On playing The Governors Ball:

It feels incredible and very surreal. I actually attended the festival 3 years in a row back in 2013 when Gov Ball was at Randall’s Island. I was front row for Kendrick and now he’s headlining. So to see what people can do in 10 years, including myself, like to be able to be booked here 10 years later is a literal dream come true. I’m feeling extremely excited and this is a huge bucket list item for me.

On her musical process:

I’m very melodic driven – so my melodies come first and my hums come first – it’s a lot of gibberish, and then I create words afterwards. I use the notes app if I have bursts of inspiration, and I have my own recording setup at home so I can just run upstairs and record something if I’m feeling it.

Who she’s listening to: Lil Dickie, Julia Wolf

Rina Sawayama (GOVBALLNYC Stage) ★ DAY FAVORITE

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Our favorite set of the day, Rina Sawayama brought an entire theatrical production to the stage with five costume changes, live theater, dancers, and prop work. The performance had a storyline and script: starting with Rina gracefully dancing through “Hold The Girl” and “Hurricanes” before shedding her white gown for baggy jeans and an oversized button-up for “Dynasty,” and “STFU!,” before revealing a black tank underneath for “Akasaka Sad” and “Frankenstein.” The British-Japanese artist is known for her fusion of 2000s pop and nu-metal which had the crowd dancing along as a new scene was set on the stage. Rina donned a black suit jacket as her dancers sat down, pretending to read a newspaper with the bold headline “Rina Sawayama: Does She Even Know Judo?” a nod to the lyric “don’t f*ck with me, hoe, take you down like judo” in her next track “Comme des Garçons (Like The Boys).” Rina’s final outfit change came at the end of her set for “Bad Friend” and “XS” where her dancers peeled off her clothes to reveal a red lingerie set that made the crowd go wild. Closing with fan-favorite “This Hell,” Rina added a cowboy hat, fringed skirt, and boots to the look before waving her fans goodbye. 

FINNEAS (GoPuff Stage)

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8-time Grammy Winner FINNEAS did not stay still during his 15-song performance, one moment sitting at his piano, the next playing his guitar. Some may know him as Billie Eilish’s brother or her writer and producer, but FINNEAS holds his own. His set was focused on tracks from his most recent album Optimist with songs “The Kids Are All Dying,” “A Concert Six Months From Now,” and “Medieval” while peppering in fan-favorites from his debut album Blood Harmony including “I Don’t Miss You at All,” “Partners in Crime,” and “I Lost a Friend.” The alternative artist knew how to slow things down by closing with the emotional “Till Forever Falls Apart” and the jazz-inspired pop track “Let’s Fall in Love for the Night.” 

The Amazons (GOVBALLNYC Stage)
On playing The Governors Ball:

Feels so good to be here, we love Gov Ball

Vocalist Matthew Thomson On their musical process:

Very rarely if ever do the lyrics come first. The music and the arrangement come first and we’ll make a demo of it. I’ll sit on the lyrics for months and months and months. I find it hard for the subject of the lyrics to come and to write. It is simultaneously the thing I find the hardest and the thing I care the most about. 

Who they’re listening to: Vocalist and guitarist Matthew Thomson (Lana Del Rey, Chappell Roan, Dominic Fike), Bassist Elliot James Briggs (Deftones), Guitarist Chris Alderton (Alice Cooper)

ODESZA (GOVBALLNYC Stage)

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ODESZA is more than an EDM duo, instead they are focused on creating an otherworldly and futuristic performance complete with a drum line, horn players, and dancing lasers. Rising above it all are Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, each perched on their own platform where they lead the performance. The Tron-like show began with “This Version of You” and “Behind The Sun” as the duo took the stage to bursts of fire and pyro before their drumline entered the picture. A visually stimulating performance, fans were immediately immersed in the experience, smiling and dancing with their friends underneath the trees that made up the new venue. Lasers were projected onto those very trees throughout the night, dancing about and adding to the otherworldly experience. The duo’s set also featured a rotation of guest singers as they performed “Wide Awake” with Charlie Houston, “Better Now” and “Higher Ground” with Naomi Wild, and “Forgive Me” with Izzy Bizu. Closing with the aptly-named “The Last Goodbye,” ODESZA capped off their audio-visual spectacle with a massive display of fireworks.

SUNDAY

PinkPantheress (GovBallNYC Stage)

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The most chilled-out artist of the entire festival was British artist PinkPantheress who brought us back to 2008 with her tube top and tiny purse. After strolling on stage, PinkPantheress set her aforementioned purse to the side and started into “Break it off” and “I Must Apologise” as if it were just another day. Her laid-back style was perfect for Sunday as the previous days had already taken their toll on most of the crowd. Her setlist seemed long at 14 songs, but most run under two minutes making her able to perform most of her debut album to hell with it from “Noticed I Cried,” “Passion,” “All My Friends Know,” and “Nineteen,” to “Pain,” “Reason,” “Last Valentines” and “Just for Me.” Fans waited anxiously for her closing song “Boy’s a Liar” hoping that Ice Spice (who performed on Friday) would join her to perform their remix. No such luck as PinkPantheress performed the track alone, but the crowd still enjoyed the song as they screamed the lyrics. On brand with her chill demeanor, PinkPantheress finished the song before picking up her bag and sauntering off stage.

Haiku Hands (GOVBALLNYC Stage)

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On playing The Governors Ball:
Claire Nakazawa:

Something I didn’t know could happen is happening, and that feels really great.

Beatrice Lewis:

It was awesome, that stage was massive and Kendick Lamar is playing on the stage tonight. It was definitely a vibe.

Sofi Tukker (GoPuff Stage) ★ DAY FAVORITE

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Our favorite performance of the day came from Sofi Tukker, an EDM duo of best friends Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern. Currently making their rounds on the festival circuit after playing Coachella earlier this year, I knew their performance would be one to see and it did not disappoint. The stage was dressed with a Grecian background of columns, contrasting with the playground setup of arched monkey bars, a merry-go-round, and a large swing. The duo incorporated the playground into their performance as they ran through their hit “Drinkee,” as well as “Treehouse” from 2018’s Best Friend, and “Original Sin” and “Summer in New York” from 2022’s WET TENNIS. Their performance was interactive not just on stage but with the crowd, giving them points on a giant scoreboard behind them for their participation vs points they gave to the Coachella crowd. One of the most memorable parts of the performance was a mashup of their song “Matadora” with that of the theme song from the show White Lotus, creating an eerie and fascinating vibe as Sophie sat on the swing, surrounded by the dance crew Bob’s Dance Shop. 

Lil Nas X (GoPuff Stage)

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The first 30 seconds of Lil Nas X’s performance were phenomenal – until he stopped performing to scream into his mic and run off stage due to technical difficulties. A few minutes later, he was back and re-started the performance of his opener “MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name).” The set was beautiful and the production was top-notch as expected, but throughout the performance he would stop and tell the audience that he was having a terrible day and wanted to leave. The constant threat of the performance ending abruptly left a sour taste in my mouth, but setting that aside, the show was a stunning spectacle as Lil Nas X performed “SCOOP,” “DEAD RIGHT NOW,” AND “DONT WANT IT” before leaving the stage and re-entering on a Trojan-sized horse for “Old Town Road” and “Rodeo.” His backup dancers looked as if they could perform all day while he left the stage once again to return in a new outfit complete with a blue animal skull on his skirt for “Panini,” “THATS WHAT I WANT” and his closer “INDUSTRY BABY.”

Maude Latour (Barcadí Stage)

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On playing The Governors Ball:

It’s been an actual dream come true – this is a full circle moment in my life. All my friends were in the crowd and are here at the festival. I felt so in my element. I have such great memories here – my first time coming here was the morning after my Senior Prom; we stayed up all night and came here in the morning and I swore I would come back here one day and play on a stage and I’m here six years later.

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Portraits by Ann Storlie & Susie McKeon

On her new EP Twin Flame (released Friday, June 9):

Music takes on a new life once it’s out in the world and I have no idea what these songs will do now that they’re out in the world and I can’t wait for people to live with them. 

Who she’s listening to: FKA Twigs, Ethel Cain, Remi Wolf

Kendrick Lamar (GOVBALLNYC Stage)

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Kendrick Lamar had the most multi-generational crowd of any headliner during the festival and he knew how to play to them, as his 24-song set spanned from 2011’s Section.80 with “A.D.H.D.” to 2022’s Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers with “N95,” “Purple Hearts,” “Rich Spirit,” and “Count Me Out.” The show began with the first notes of “N95” piping through the speakers despite a black stage before Kendrick was lit by a single beam of light. As soon as the chorus hit, a large banner unfurled behind him while fireworks simultaneously erupted. The last time Kendick played Gov Ball was in 2013, 10 years later he is the closing headliner and had the performance to prove it. His set jumped around from 2015’s To Pimp A Butterfly with “King Kunta” and “Alright” to 2017’s DAMN with “ELEMENT,” “DNA,” AND “LOVE,” as he scattered in four covers including The Weeknd’s “Sidewalk” and “Nosetalgia” by Pusha T who performed earlier that day. The best part of the night came at the end when Kendrick brought his cousin and fellow rapper Baby Keem onstage for their track “family ties” before closing with “Alright” and “Savior.” 

FESTIVAL ATMOSPHERE

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This year’s festival lucked out with the weather despite the cloud of smoggy air still hanging over the city. The hottest day was 80 degrees, and the trees throughout the new location offered welcome shelter from the sun. Friday seemed to be the most crowded, as well as drawing the youngest crowd for headliner Lil Uzi Vert. The number of high schoolers is always overwhelming at Gov Ball, but with the larger space the venue offered it was easier to find an area to watch the performers separate from the pushing and other annoyances the younger crowd tends to create. As for everyone’s favorite part of a festival aside from the music, there were food vendors galore ranging from pizza and fries to dumplings and fried noodles – something for everyone’s palette. The food trucks and tents were congregated in a central part of the grounds which was an annoyance when you were hungry and next to a stage, as it was a bit of a trek from all 3 stages to get food and come back to a performance (compared to last years setup at Citi Field where food vendors were peppered throughout the grounds and directly next to stages). Another part of the festival future attendees should be aware of is the walk through the park before even making it to the festival entrance. The walk was advertised as 5-7 minutes, but it is actually a good 15 minutes from the Metro station and even farther from the ride-share drop off.

Nonetheless, the new venue was beautiful and created a respite from the city that the old location could not achieve. The lineup spanned genres from Alternative to Rap, and from R&B to the fests first ever K-Pop performance. Additionally, the staggered set times gave fans ample time to walk from stage to stage without missing too much of a performance. Overall, The Governors Ball is a festival that stands out from the rest, and we are already looking forward to next year.

Words & Portraits by Ann Storlie
Photos by Susie McKeon

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