From Asphalt to Lush Grass: Governors Ball 2023 Shines In New Home

Ten years ago in 2013, Kendrick Lamar made his way to Randall’s Island for a late afternoon set on the smaller of the Governors Ball stages. It was only a few months after the release of good kid, m.A.A.d. city as Kendrick’s meteoric rise was just underway. Fast forward to 2023; Governors Ball finds itself in a new (and hopefully, permanent) home in Flushing Meadows Corona Park and Kendrick Lamar is closing out the festival unopposed and under the fireworks. This past weekend, Governors Ball proved once again why it is New York City’s favorite music festival.

Kendrick Lamar at Governors Ball 2023. Photo by Lucas Kurzweil

After spending many years on Randall’s Island followed by a two year rental of the Citi Field Parking lot, Governors Ball finally made its long desired move to Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The vast park in central Queens has been woefully underused by the city for decades; a trend that will hopefully be reversed after the success of this year’s festival. The park was designed and built with large-scale events in mind, hosting two World’s Fairs in 1939 and 1964. Flushing Meadows sits on the intersection of two major highways, is adjacent to a subway line with access to Manhattan, and has ample parking lots from the numerous stadiums in the vicinity. 

Governors Ball organizers did an incredible job of laying out the festival to take advantage of all of these features, creating a wide open festival experience that never felt too crowded at any point during the weekend. Three stages occupied the larger fields while the vendors and centralized area of the festival was nestled under large trees providing ample shade and character to the grounds. The towering Unisphere greeted fans at the entrance while the main stage was set up right in front of the New York State Pavilion, giving an iconic backdrop to the festival. 

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The lineup for the 2023 edition of Governors Ball attempted to model the diversity of Queens, the World’s Borough, as well as the eclectic music tastes of New Yorkers. There was a heavy lean towards rap and hip-hop overall, but festival organizers did sprinkle in rock, pop, indie and EDM throughout the weekend. International artists graced the stages as well including Korean pop superstars Aespa, Puerto Rican rapper Eladio Carrión and Japanese singer/dancer Rina Sawayama. Indie and rock was represented by Girl in Red, Black Midi, KennyHoopla, and Haim while Odesza was the lone EDM act for the weekend. 

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Odesza at Governors Ball 2023. Photo by Joseph Buscarello

Kendrick Lamar Trades The Production For a Microphone

Kendrick’s latest album Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers was released a little over a year ago, but its relevance lived on with his Governors Ball performance. Although the stage production did not include the same amount of intricate detail that the “Mr. Morale and the Big Steppers” tour held, the set had a simplistic yet empowering feel. The only additions to Kendrick on the GovBall NYC stage were some lights on either side, large Henry Taylor backdrops, a couple of flares, and a few dancers. Kendrick proved that he does not need the fancy add-ons to pump up a crowd. He had all of Flushing Meadows screaming the words to his songs like they were the national anthem at a playoff sporting event. 

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Kendrick Lamar at Governors Ball 2023. Photo by Joseph Buscarello

Kendrick did the majority of the set solo, running through tracks like “King Kunta” and “LOVE.” and even his iconic feature on Pusha T’s track “Nosetalgia” (sadly, no Pusha T appearance even though he performed on the adjacent stage before Kendrick). Near the end of his captivating performance, Kendrick brought out his cousin and protegé, Baby Keem, to perform their RIAA Platinum song “Family Ties.” Through his crowd control and high energy performance, Kendrick Lamar further established himself as the best of the best in the rap game. 

Lizzo And Odesza Headline With All The Fanfare

Lizzo was the Friday night headliner and she did not disappoint. Her band and numerous dancers lined the stage as the lights went out, leading up to a grand entrance to “Cuz I Love You”, the opening track of her 2019 sophomore LP of the same name. Lizzo’s thunderous voice reverberated throughout the festival grounds, especially when she dropped into her mega hit song “Juice” which sent the crowd into a dance frenzy. The glamorous staging featured retro big band style decor and backdrops, with sultry visuals playing along on the giant LED screen on the stage. Lizzo ran through her setlist with a powerful grace, performing her signature flute solo leading into “Truth Hurts” along with a fan favorite cover of Chaka Khan’s legendary “I’m Every Woman”; a song and a sentiment that has become a mantra behind Lizzo’s approach to music writing and performance. 

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Lizzo at Governors Ball 2023. Photo by Joseph Buscarello

Odesza fulfilled headlining duties on Saturday, with their larger than life EDM show filled with lasers, flaming pyro, guest vocalists, and a fireworks finale fit for a music festival. The duo took to the stage and started their set off with a bang with “This Version of You” and “Behind The Sun”. There was no shortage of pyro, as large fireballs erupted behind the DJs throughout the show, sending waves of heat into the crowd. Lasers fanned out over the crowd to interact with the tall trees in the back of the field, with house beats driving the dance floor until curfew. Odesza sprinkled in a Pretty Lights cover in “One Day They’ll Know” as well as a “TENSE” and “KEEP MOVING” from their BRONSON collaborative project with Golden Features. They closed out their set with a huge fireworks display over the stage while 2022’s “The Last Goodbye” pulsed through the night. 

Filling Out The Days

Lil Uzi Vert was the perfect addition to the rap-filled GoPuff stage. Their Friday night performance had fans in awe. They came down from the stage to rock out with the fans on the barricade, and made sure fans that fell over were able to get up and continue jamming. They brought out rappers Ken Carson and Destroy Lonely, and got the crowd going with songs like “Do What I Want” and “Money Longer.” They left fans with a feeling of anticipation for what is to come in the following weeks by announcing that they have a new album releasing this month. 

While rock and indie were not as prevalent on the lineup this year, the biggest draw in the category was certainly Haim on the GovBall NYC stage. The three sisters burst onto the scene in 2013 with their debut record Days Are Gone featuring the utterly infectious song “The Wire”. Throughout the set, the three sisters alternate vocal roles and instruments while also engaging heavily with the fans. Their dynamic performance style creates a light and fun atmosphere that is perfect for the summer festival stages. 

On Saturday, KennyHoopla and Snail Mail kept the rock vibes going on the GoPuff stage. KennyHoopla’s vigorous post-punk dominated the crowd first, bouncing all over the stage while delivering a rambunctious vocal performance over heavy guitars. Snail Mail came up next, keeping the punk rock going, featuring a set full of songs from their two excellent LPs: 2018’s Lush and 2021’s Valentine

Governors Ball Artists March On

In the wake of Governors Ball, many of the artists who played use the opportunity to announce new projects and tours. Many of the artists are on their own headlining tours and mix in the festival appearances. Right before Governors Ball weekend began, Metro Boomin released his highly anticipated soundtrack to the movie Spider-Man: Across The Spider-Verse. Just after the weekend, Eladio Carrión announced a North American tour with a stop at The Theater at MSG in October. Philadelphia’s major music festival, Made in America, announced their lineup with Lizzo making another headlining appearance along with Ice Spice, and Metro Boomin. Joey Bada$$ is running through the festival circuit with a dozen appearances including Glastonbury, Rolling Loud, and Lollapalooza. 

Odesza at Governors Ball 2023. Photo by Joseph Buscarello

Kendrick Lamar, fresh off the epic Big Steppers World Tour, is also hitting the summer festivals, taking his minimal yet relentlessly in your face festival show to the biggest stages in the world including Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Rokslide, Austin City Limits, and Summer Sonic in Japan. If any of those festivals are within reach, it is worth the opportunity to catch a generational talent at his very best. 

The Future Of New York City’s Premier Music Festival

By all accounts, the first edition of Governors Ball in Flushing Meadows was a major success. The layout of the venue was nearly perfect, transit in and out of the festival went smoothly, and three days of music went on without skipping a beat. Governors Ball has been at it for many years and are no strangers to throwing such a large party in NYC, but expectations were sky high this year. One could have argued that the very future of the festival rested with this weekend going off without a hitch. The cost of putting on these events has never been higher, and fans have so many choices of shows these days that it was unclear if Governors Ball could even draw a large enough crowd. Last weekend in Queens put all of the chatter to bed. With the Canadian wildfire smoke clearing out just in the nick of time, a glorious weekend of sunshine and music ensued. There is no doubt Governors Ball will be back at it in 2024; now we can all start dreaming of our ideal lineup we would want to see grace the stages in Flushing Meadows. 

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