How music festivals serve as a snapshot of the cultural, generational moment
Flushing Meadows Corona Park typically serves as a recreational hub for barbecues, sports or a stroll through the park.
And while the Governors Ball Music Festival, held at the park, did not interrupt all the family fun from June 9 to 11, it certainly changed the landscape quite a bit.
From far away, you could hear the bass blaring and a crowd singing along or applauding. You could see singles, couples or groups walking in all kinds of different styles; baggy cargo pants, knit shrugs, bucket or cowboy hats, cowboy boots, tube or crop tops, paisley designs and sundresses being some of the most popular. And along the way, festival-goers could buy scalped tickets, liquor shots and margaritas and replicas of Gov Ball merchandise.
The first day, June 9, was held just two days after New York was covered in an orange tint and bad air quality due to wildfires in Canada. But besides all that, the weather was great all weekend, except for an about 10-minute downpour that did not seem to take away from the fun. In some cases, it actually added to the fun.
The Governors Ball Music Festival is arguably one of New York’s most popular music festivals. The first one was held 12 years ago at Governors Island.
This is the first time the festival has been held at Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and besides it being a little difficult to navigate at first, especially if you’re not familiar with the area, it provided ample space to provide a wide array of food options, plenty of space for sponsored experiences (brands like M&M, RedBull and Coca Cola set up stations to hand out free products and provide interactive experiences), art installations and for putting down blankets to relax or watch performances from afar (which plenty of people did).
Over 60 artists were hosted by Governors Ball between three stages. And this year’s headliners were pop singer Lizzo, DJ act Odesza and hip hop artist Kendrick Lamar. What makes Governors Ball so unique is that it does not stick with just one type of music genre. There is truly something for everyone, whether you’re a fan of R&B, pop, electronic music, alternative music, rock or hip hop.
Festival-goer Brenden Gregory, who has been to Gov Ball for one day before, said this was his first weekend going all three days. He was convinced to go for the weekend because he loved all three headliners. He said on Sunday, as he was entering the festival, that so far he was having a good experience.
“Especially here in New York, for a New York City based festival, [what stands out] is not only the music diversity, but the amount of different types of people, types of taste,” Gregory said. “It’s been nothing but good energy and welcoming vibes, which is what I love to see in New York.”
Fellow festival-goers Thomas Pittau and Iris Nenu shared the sentiment. They flew in from France.
“It’s a great atmosphere,” Pittau said. “It’s a great energy. Everything starts on time. Whereas in France, that’s not the case at all.”
Nenu said that in coming here, she noticed that a lot of people are free to be themselves.
“It’s really nice seeing all these people being dressed how they want to,” she said.
And festival-goer Carissa Aekins, right before seeing artist Pink Pantheress, who sings on the very popular track Boy’s A Liar, Pt. 2 featuring Ice Spice, said it was her first time here. She said she enjoyed browsing the sponsored experiences, including one by Dunkin’ Donuts, that were handing out merchandise, food and drinks and photo opportunities.
“The artists that were invited here come from a large range of genres,” Aekins said. “I guess it’s kind of representative of us now. It’s more diverse. Whoever wants to do anything can, and it doesn’t matter who you are.”
It’s impossible to reflect on the impact music festivals have on culture, style and music without looking at one of the United State’s original music festivals, Woodstock. It took place between Aug. 15 and 18 in 1969 in Bethel, New York, about a two-hour drive away from where Gov Ball was held. Headliners included Jimi Hendrix; Crosby, Stills and Nash; Janis Joplin; The Grateful Dead and many more legendary acts.
Woodstock attendee Adrienne Kitaeff told Long Island Weekly that she believes another Woodstock could never happen again.
Kitaeff went to Woodstock in her 20s with two friends. They stayed at a motel in Pennsylvania, which allowed them to bring food to the event and share it with the lots of hungry people there. She doesn’t quite remember the performances she saw, but she could remember setting up a picnic and hanging out with the people there. She said that everyone was friendly, and that she did not encounter any negativity. She also shared in the beliefs of everyone there which were against the war in Vietnam, and for liberations such as women’s rights.
“It was quite an experience,” Kitaeff said. “I was never a person who liked being around crowds, but it was like being with thousands of your best friends.”
While Gov Ball is not very politicized, there’s certainly many political issues that are on the festival-goers and performers minds, such as climate change and pollution, LGBTQIA+ issues, gun control (there was an Everytown booth at the front of the festival), police brutality and reproductive rights.
In describing my experience at Gov Ball with Kitaeff, we could draw a few parallels between the two, including the fact that a lot of people were smoking weed and that there was a sense of freedom.
Although, there are certainly differences.
“It sounds much more sophisticated than Woodstock,” Kitaeff said of Gov Ball. “Now it’s more of a business. Woodstock was more of a happening… I think that makes a difference. Maybe not. I haven’t been to anything like that since Woodstock… If you’re in the audience, that’s the price you have to pay, the commercialization of it. And maybe that’s okay. Nobody is going to be able to pull off anything like they did at Woodstock again between insurance and all kinds of things, and what the acts would get paid today versus what they’d get paid then.”
Though there’s business in music festivals nowadays, unlike Woodstock, festivals still provide a way for newer artists to be discovered, to embrace art and creativity, to learn about contemporary issues, to meet new friends, to experiment with fashion and share in the love of music.
“My whole philosophy is you have to be right in the moment,” Kitaeff said. “That’s how I live. That’s how I’ve always lived.”