The first two days of Governors Ball, the three-day music festival held on Randalls Island, played out like a study in contrasts. On Friday, steady, angry downpours turned the island into a lake, requiring anyone who wanted to stay through the night to stand in freezing-cold, ankle-deep water for hours on end. That the worst that had to be contended with Saturday were endless fields of shoe-swallowing mud felt like a welcome relief. There were contrasts in the music, too, the laconic, wistful lineup on Friday giving way Saturday to something more triumphant and jubilant.
There was good reason to celebrate. Not only had the rains subsided, but Governors Ball, now in its third year, arrives as an answer to the yearslong question: How do you hold a music festival in New York? The answer, it seems, is scale: Where larger festivals litter their lower-tier with beginner bands, this fest's lineup favors artists who are reasonably well-established.
On Friday, those bands, fittingly, skewed melancholy. The California band Best Coast best summarized the day's mood. Their songs, on the surface, are summery and brisk, but their lyrics speak of heartache and disappointment. Swear and Shake, from Center Moriches, operated on a similar axis. Their songs are brisk and airy, but often offered snapshots of malaise and frustration. That sentiment was rampant throughout the island. The chilling winds and hammering rain from Tropical Storm Andrea turned a music festival into a white-knuckle endurance test until the day was finally brought to a close prematurely, just before Kings of Leon's scheduled performance.
They were rescheduled for Saturday, a day that offered a bit more promise. Nowhere was this clearer than in the music of the Swedish duo Icona Pop, whose songs reconfigure electro-pop to play according to the rules of punk. "It's not raining!" Caroline Hjelt triumphantly declared before the rocketing "We Got the World." "Today is going to be massive."
It was a hedged bet -- scheduled headliners Guns N' Roses are beloved, but have a penchant for flouting curfew and taking the stage well after their scheduled set time. Kings of Leon's early-evening set functioned both as a reward to the Friday faithful and a safeguard against further disappointment. In that way, the first-day washout ended up yielding positive results.