As an avid Coachella-goer it’s hard for me to find a reason to skip the yearly pilgrimage to Indio. In recent years, I’ve tried my hand at a few other festivals, too—including a so-so run at Outside Lands 2015 and a failed attempt at waiting in a four-hour line to get in the Observatory’s Soulquarius festival. But when a lineup is as near-perfect as the one New York’s Governor’s Ball put out for 2017—including headliners Chance the Rapper, Phoenix, Childish Gambino and Tool plus a historic set by the Wu-Tang Clan—it’s hard to skip the trip and see how the other side of the country does it up.
So I did. Here’s 10 takeaways from Governor’s Ball 2017.
1. It’s the ’90s Right Now in NYC
Everything old becomes marketable again, and right now my childhood is on sale at the mall. While GovBall had a scant smattering of “Coachellans”—those slightly Native American-inspired but not-at-all Native Americans covered in body glitter—the look is different on Governor’s Island.
Chokers and neon are “back” in NYC as much as they are in Cali, but the Supreme drop is much fiercer, dudes are wearing retro Jordans to the show, and the subtle one-upmanship of who has the throwbackiest throwback jersey is real (Shawn Kemp, Dennis Rodman & Chris Mullen all came out to play).
Worst Moment For Me: Congratulating someone on their awesome “Nation of Domination”-era “The Rock” shirt only for him to lean in and tell me that if I want one too, “They’re at Forever 21, bro.” Fuck, I’m that old now.
2. Being Able to Drink Throughout the Festival is (Mostly) Awesome!
Stagecoach allows drinking throughout the festival but Coachellans are corralled into beer gardens. At GovBall you can walk the grounds with beer and (stackable) wine but no cocktails. Upside: You can enjoy a summer shandy while melting during Bleachers. Downsides: Drunks are sloppy and the underage trust-funders stumbling all over you in the thick of the crowd don’t give a shit that they just spilled Shock Top all over your new Spud Webb Mitchell & Ness.
3. Charles Bradley Still Extraordinary After Cancer Scare
The 67-year-old “Screaming Eagle of Soul” was on hiatus for more than half the last year due to stomach cancer. He’s back on the road all summer playing festivals across the country, just as dapper and soulful as ever. His excellent band The Extraordinaires were clutch, too, hyping up the crowd for Bradley’s entrance and keeping them entertained during the requisite mid-set costume change.
4. The Instagram Food Game is Strong
Food lineups are nearly as important as who’s playing the festival these days. I’ve seen Chefs Morimoto and Cosentino plate at Outside Lands. I remember when Afters’ Milky Bun consumed the Polo Field. And now I’ve had Roberta’s Bee Sting pizza on the Island. Lots of dishes are designed for their Instagramability, but the vendors at GovBall not only had great looking grub, everything we tried was just as tasty. Shout-outs to Magnolia Bakery’s Banana Pudding, Mr. Dips Burgers and Korilla BBQ’s tacos for being delicious and ‘Gram worthy.
5. Rap is Rock N’ Roll Now
The number of people moshing to mainstream rock has dwindled considerably because mainstream rock doesn’t rock as hard as it used to. To point, the craziest show I’ve seen this decade was Odd Future at the Glass House in 2011. You know where the moshers were at GovBall? Fighting for room to rage during sets by Logic, Danny Brown and Rae Sremmurd.
Most Metal Moment of The Weekend: People climbing the sides of the Bacardi Stage during Rae Sremmurd, and the duo themselves encouraging the crowd to throw whatever they had in their hands toward the stage. Like a scene from “Game of Thrones,” but instead of arrows it was half-full beers and sodas. There were casualties.
6. Wu-Tang Clan REALLY Ain’t. Nothing. To. Fuck. With.
Twenty years to the day of the release of Wu-Tang Clan’s seminal “Wu-Tang Forever” Shaolin’s finest took to the GovBall stage to cement their legacy as New York hip-hop legends. Set to dizzying videos of fire and bees and “W’s,” with actual “Shaolin Apartments” and an “Ol’ Dirty Chinese Restaurant” built on stage, the rap collective tore through their classics with force and focus. Young Dirty Bastard (you guessed it, Ol’ Dirty’s son) rapped his father’s bars; Redman appeared for “Da Rockwilder” along with an absolutely jacked Method Man; and “Triumph” was never more triumphant.
7. Catch Childish Gambino Before He’s Gone
During his Saturday night headlining set opposite Phoenix, actor/comedian/rapper Donald Glover brought his Childish Gambino persona roaring back to life for his only scheduled show in the United States this year. Gambino blazed through old favorites. He shone brightest though on the funkified tracks from new album “Awaken, My Love!” But the glee was short lived as Glover announced he’d be retiring Gambino sooner than later—like, in one more album. IF he plays Coachella, or anywhere else close to SoCal in the near future, make sure you see him before he’s gone.
8. Royal Blood Ready to Conquer
Short of Death From Above 1979, it’s hard to think of many active duos that play as loud and ferociously as England’s Royal Blood. The rollicking drum-and-bass attack of Mike Kerr and Ben Thacker is hypnotizing and awe-inspiring, especially for the uninitiated who don’t yet realize it’s just 2 dudes making that huge sound. They’re playing summer festivals across the globe and just booked a tour of the UK with At the Drive-In opening for them. They’ll be back in the States in late summer, with an already sold out show at The Observatory Aug. 15. Craigslist a ticket. It’ll be worth it.
9. I Love Coachella More …
A friend of mine just celebrated his 11th year going to Bonnaroo and described how it’s his favorite festival of all. Coachella 2017 marked my 11th time, and this one was hard to top.
Maybe as festival junkies we are ultimately aligned with the one we grew up going to, but the Polo Field is magical in the way few venues are (The Gorge and Red Rocks qualify; Madison Square Garden, too?). Coachella’s ticket price, though steep, has always proven to be worth it: through advancements in technology and overall production of the festival; the addition of infrastructure like a real beer garden and permanent bathrooms; and this year, the expansion of the overall fest, the addition of a new stage and the mind-blowing Antarctic Dome.
Plus, Coachella is cameo heavy, something I thought would ring true for one of the major New York music festivals, but that wasn’t the case at all. Still, GovBall in its 4th year produced one of the best lineups any festival had in 2017 in spite of the fact their main stage is in a parking lot.
10. Old Guys Still Rock
Tool played its first New York show in more than a decade at Governor’s Ball. I was dismayed on Days 1 and 2 by the number of people I met who basically said “Tool, who?” but on Day 3 they all came out to play. No single band’s T-shirt was more widely represented all weekend.
This show was a reminder that the bigger the stage and louder they can play, the more destructive Tool is, sonically and visually. Anyone who wasn’t blitzed out at Wiz Khalifa surely had their face melted by the lights and lasers and MAYNARD FUCKING JAMES FUCKING KEENAN himself. If Tool were to drop that record tomorrow it would go No. 1 and they’d be the biggest band on the planet again. Pretty good for a group of guys nearly 30 years into a storied career who haven’t released a new record since 2006.
… Stay Tuned for our interview with Tool Bassist Justin Chancellor before the band winds down its current tour with an epic mini-festival of its own at San Manuel Amphitheater in San Bernardino June 24!