Whether it’s indie rock, pop, electronica or hip-hop, music festivals are an awesome place for music lovers to come together and discover the newest trends within music culture. It is a main attraction for indie artists or new artists to showcase their new albums, and sometimes older artists and emerging new ones make appearances. Festivals beat concerts because you can actually see all your favorite artists in one setting. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the best music festivals in New York City.
My first music festival experience was Googamooga Fest in 2013, which mainly consisted of indie rock artists at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. I went with my two hometown friends who were just as stoked as I was for the Yeahs Yeahs Yeahs. They put on a great performance along with earlier acts Matt and Kim, The Flaming Lips, The Darkness, etc. After that I decided I was going to attend as many festivals as I could. Overall, festivals beat concerts because they have it all! Food, a variety of artists, music fans, games, contests, raves, etc.
Later on, I went to the Governors Ball in 2014. I have attended the Governors Ball for two years in a row, and I can honestly say it has been one of the best experiences of my life. I am a huge concert goer going to a festival three days in a row, including all my favorite artists is such an experience, meeting people that are just as obsessed with music makes me want to live in a music festival forever. I have seen Empire of the Sun, Foster the People, Vampire Weekend, the Kills, Interpol, and more. Everyone has their preferences and the beauty of attending these festivals is that you get to choose the artists you want to see. The first time I attended the Governors Ball on Sunday, I woke up early to a bright sunny morning; geared up in festival clothing, hippie shades, a hat, cropped lace top and some washed out distressed denim jean shorts with gladiator sandals. An old friend accompanied me to Randall’s Island where the festival was taking place. There was so much to do when we arrived mini-rave tents, silent-discos, face painting, food stands, charging stations, freebies, souvenirs, mini bar areas, etc.
Then the next big festival of the season happened in 2014, similar to Governors Ball but with a more New Orleans-type of theme, Voodoo Festival in Louisiana completed my year. I saw my two favorite acts The Arctic Monkeys and 30 Seconds to Mars. Luckily, I was able to afford this trip because I bought a round-trip ticket to Louisiana at the time and I have family down there. I crashed at my cousin’s place, and I went with my three cousins to the festival. This was one of the best times of my life. Seeing and hearing Alex Turner perform “Do I Wanna Know” or “I Wanna Be Yours” from his 2013 “AM” album was truly a dream a come true. I couldn’t be any happier about that memory. Not just that but I got to see my ultimate crush Jared Leto perform my favorites from his 2005 album “A Beautiful Lie” and 2002’s “30 Seconds to Mars.” I felt like I died and went to musical heaven with Alex and Jared, swoon! it was pretty awesome. Unfortunately, all of my photos were deleted from that time period thanks to an iPhone malfunction. I guess it’s the memories that count, not so much the pictures.
In 2015, I decided I was going to go to a music festival for a full three days, even if it meant going by myself. Most people are not willing to pay more than $200 to see random artists, unless they’re true fans. However, I was obsessed with the lineup making it easier to connect with concert goers online and make new friends at the meetup! The group I joined was catered to people who were going to the Governors Ball. Meeting Lana Del Rey fans and other music fans was very mind opening. Meeting a group of strangers in the city and having lunch with them was a nice experience. Even though I clicked with some of them and others not so much, it made me realize that online groups are a great way to make new friends. We decided to go to the event together, and, fortunately, one of my friends back home decided to join me. Making new friends and bringing a trusted one along really helped break the ice! Somehow, we all connected musically. Since then, I decided to give the meetup site another shot for the Festival. Once again, it was a success. Meeting people with the same musical interests as me made the experience all the more memorable. These could potentially be your concert buddies for life.
Top Memorable Acts
Looking back on the 2015 Governors Ball, the psychedelic Australian rock band, Tame Impala was amazing live; it was such an epic experience to hear my favorites being played from “And Solitude Is Bliss,” “Elephant,” and from their newest albums “Cause I’m a Man” and “Eventually." Their new album at the time had very disco-hypnotic tunes, and was very different from their past Beatle-esque Lennon albums. “Currents” has a bit of a 70’s nostalgic disco-retro rock, pop beats, and is one of the soundtracks on my list last summer. But I was torn between seeing my two favorite acts that followed after. I wasn’t sure whether to see Lana Del Rey or The Black Keys since both were performing at the same time. Moody native New Yorker Lana Del Rey covered “Born to Die,” “Cola,” and one of my ultimate favorites “Cruel World” from my favorite record “Ultra Violence.” This record has a sultry, soft rock, 60’s beat to it. Halfway through the show I sped off to watch “The Black Keys.” I was shocked at Lana Del Rey’s massive audience; I thought her indie followers were going to consist of a smaller crowd. It was hard to push my way through her hardcore catty fans, but I couldn’t help but worry that I was missing out on The Black Keys. Thankfully, I caught them just in time. It was a great way to end the festival. With blues rock, indie vibes, the band performed “Lonely Boy” and “Dead and Gone,” and Dan Auerbach’s vocals hit every note live. Fortunately, they served as compensation for Lana’s microphone malfunction which made everyone in the crowd protest. Although her music really speaks to me, seeing her live that day didn’t really inspire me.
Governors Ball 2016
I bought a 3-day pass for this year's Governors Ball Festival and waited months for this magical weekend to come. I was stoked for the lineup this year because The Strokes, The Killers, and Haim were scheduled to play. There were a few other great bands and artists like Matt and Kim, Bloc Party, Father John Misty, and Of Monsters and Men. Unfortunately, while attending these festivals, artists’ schedules tend to interfere with one another making it sometimes impossible to see them all. That’s why it’s crucial to take a photo of the schedule and plan in advance to see your favorite artists. Indie British band Bloc Party killed it with a stellar performance of my two favorites “Helicopter” and “Banquet.” The crowd was rocking to their indie hits, and it was hard not to stand still and engage feel the music. Josh Tillman captivated me with his magnetic charm, and it's still hard to believe that he was the drummer for Fleet Foxes. “I Love You Honey Bear” was one of the best albums last year and it evoked a 70’s vibe you would want on a lazy weekend afternoon. A bit too mellow for a music festival if you asked me, but it is an excellent way to destress from a long week of work or school. Matt and Kim were a crowd pleaser with their catchy upbeat tunes to get the crowd surfing such as “Daylight” and” Let’s Go.” I was thrown into a crowd surf as my friend lifted me up while I held onto my life, and eventually decided to let go and float aimlessly amongst the hundreds of hands passing me around. It was a very liberating and relaxing experience. Ten minutes after my crowd surf, I hit the ground; all worth it, and I survived it. Crowd surfing was finally checked off my bucket list goals. The headliner of the night was The Strokes, which was the icing to the cake; Julian Casablanca has not lost his shine and luster, and he is just as musically talented as he was a decade ago. It was awesome to see him because as a kid, I loved this band! They performed songs from their old 2001 album, “Is This It” which was an album that captivated me.
The stage was captivating with neon lights and smoke machines while they played “Last Nite,” “Reptilia,” and “Someday.” Fireworks lit up the sky as The Strokes delivered a kick-ass performance; I felt like my weekend was complete. This confirms how much of a music junkie I am. I had my three-day pass and was looking forward to Saturday’s lineup; Haim topped that day’s lineup. I was beyond excited to see this band. I could relate to their girl-power playlist, for instance: “If I Could Change Your Mind,” “Forever,” “Let Me Go,” and “Days Are Gone” were so powerful and had every female in the audience cheering.
Soon after Haim, I caught a glimpse of Miike Snow. The flashing lights and electronic tunes of “Silvia” and “Cult Logic” got the crowd dancing and cheering. I wanted to stay, but the storm got worse, but and I was drenched.
I shielded myself from the rain underneath a tree and then went beneath a table crowded of festival goers. I decided to walk to the main stage; however, as the weather dragged me down, I went the Heineken station to seek shelter. It was full, so I saw about three pairs of feet underneath a blue plastic tent that covered the charging station. There was a trio of girls, and I asked to join them for the storm was getting worse. We decided to go together to The Killers show all while under the same blue tent. Lead singer Brandon Flowers did not cease to amaze us with his presence; he started off with one of his hits “Mr. Brightside.” I was tired after this performance and I knew I had to wake up early for the next day’s set of artists at Gov Ball. However, to my demise, all the festivities planned for that day were cancelled. So much for seeing Courtney Barnett and Gary Clark Jr., but overall, the Governors Ball was truly a memorable experience.
Panorama Festival 2016
When June came around, I purchased my Panorama ticket four days prior to the festival. It was a last-minute splurge, but it was worth it! One main reason for me to go to this festival was Arcade Fire! This was the time to join the Panorama meetup page and try to mingle with people whose tastes were similar to mine. None of my friends were planning to go to this fest and I wanted some concert buddies. Luckily, I met three people from the meet-up at DBA with one of my old co-workers, who decided to join me. In the end, we met again at the festival and met two more people from the meet-up. I didn’t keep in contact with all of them but I still hang out with two of them and we have remained friends. The acts that I was excited to see were the Alabama Shakes and FKA Twigs. Unfortunately, I missed the indie R&B singer, FKA Twigs because she performed around the same time as Arcade Fire.
There was no way I was going to miss this! I was planning to camp out in the same venue station for two hours before they went on stage. I was impressed with the Alabama Shakes, their laidback soulful southern rock and roll vibes matched the sunny weather and it was pretty cool to land a front-row spot so close to the stage. They performed my favorite songs “Don’t Wanna Fight No More” and “Future People.”
A few hours later, four drinks, a funnel cake, and two hotdogs later, Arcade Fire performed! They topped off the night with my three favorite albums “Funeral,” Reflektor” and “The Suburbs.” Lead singer Will Butler paid tribute to David Bowie. While he performed “Reflektor,” an image of Bowie appeared on the screen. “Even though he wasn't from here,” Butler claimed, “New York was David Bowie’s f-cking city. We met him here - it hurts every day that he's not here,” in respect to the rock-n-roll legend. Throughout mid-performance, Will expressed his feelings toward the controversial Trump, stating, “Donald Trump will f-cking never, ever be the President of the f-cking United States of America,” he stated. “There’s no f-cking way, there’s no f-cking chance.” He finished the night with, “Black Lives Matter,” announcing that the activist group is presently working against racial inequality and the criminal justice system.
Towards the end of the night, the band topped the stage and blasted color confetti into the air with “Here Comes the Night Time.” As I weaved my way out of the crowd, the band carried along with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. I decided to delve back into the crowd to listen to their Bowie covers of “Suffragette City,” “Heroes,” and “Rebel Rebel.” It was a stunning way to end the night.
Meadows Music and Arts Festival 2016
In compensation of the cancellation of the Gov Ball on Sunday, the same organizers decided to create this line-up at Meadows and it was successful! I didn’t get to see Kanye this time around because I wasn’t able to afford a Sunday ticket, bummer! However, the long awaited day to see my top two artists, Empire of the Sun and Grimes perform finally became a reality. I didn’t mind seeing Chromeo a second time since 2015’s Gov Ball because they were fun. With their 80’s electro pop tunes from “Come Alive” feat. Toro y Moi and the flirty, funky “Sexy Socialite” and “Over Your Shoulder,” I couldn’t deny seeing this cool show. I bought my ticket for the Saturday lineup. Another splurge? Not exactly, because I scored tickets less than $90 on StubHub the night before. Although, it was a risky investment, it was worth every penny. I met my former meetup friend and while we were both anticipating different acts, it was clear that we were both open-minded people, so it worked out in each other’s favor for good company.
I discovered some tunes from Yeasayer; their sound was a cross between MGMT meets Fleet Foxes. They fall into a psychedelic experimental folk-like sound with their musical aesthetics. I walked around the venue to explore the festival, and to my surprise, the Meadows Festival was nothing but a good line-up, but the amenities were not as extravagant as Panorama, nor adventurous as Governors Ball. Just a festival in a parking lot venue in Queens, close to Citi Field with food shops, port-a-potties and benches. Of course, the long flight of stairs splitting the stadiums was a real hassle for getting to one point to another. Sadly, there was time crunch between Empire and Grimes, one went on at 6:30 pm and the other 6:40pm. This was my fourth time seeing Empire of the Sun and their performance is very Cirque-du-soleil and psychedelic with their synth-beat pop sound. Luke Steele was fully energized and really got the crowd cheering for him. His elaborate eccentric makeup, blue signature crown and his swordfish female background dancers really sparked up stage.
He started off with the electro-pop 2013 single “DNA,” followed by the catchy feel-good tunes of “Alive” and “We are the People” a more alternative electro-psychedelic beat. I was ready to see Grimes up next. I ran off to the other side of the Stadium, and Grimes was performing the catchy song “California” which can easily pass as a mainstream song. This song is based off the eclectic indie-pop “Art Angels” track; followed by my ultimate favorite “Kill V. Maim”; a song that expresses feminism and heroism. I guess lead singer Claire Boucher decided to save the best for last, with an epic performance of the emo-dance pop “World Princess Part II” a song about a loss and reminiscence. It was a great way to end the show. I was bummed about missing the beginning of it, but at least I was able to see both artists. I will most likely see Grimes again because Claire is a great performer and can sing well live. With her voice, so mesmerizing, it makes the beat and lyrics all the more powerful making the show worth every penny in seeing.
To recap, my top 3 NYC Music Festivals are as follows:
- Panorama. The amenities and food shops were awesome! The lineup could have been better. Aside from that, the best act of the night was Arcade Fire.
- Governors Ball. The lineup was great! Fun activities and great food.
- Meadows Music and Arts Festival. The lineup was also spectacular. The artists and food worked for me; however, there weren’t any fun activities contrast to the other festivals.
Overall, these festivals made 2016 in New York all the more fun. With Panorama’s amenities, the Governors Ball lineup, and Meadows Fest, these NYC music festivals served as a great opportunity for people to meet and embrace new music thresholds music has to offer. I cannot say one would completely top the other because they all had different attributes. The comparisons are useless because it’s like comparing apples and oranges. I don’t regret the money splurge or the experiences, and if I can do it again, I would. Can’t wait to see what 2017 has in store for music.