The Governors Ball is an annual music festival held on New York's Randall's Island closing out its 4th year just this past weekend. We were fortunate to chat with Yoni Reisman, a partner at Founders Entertainment, the crew responsible for putting on this incredible music festival, for a little insight on what it takes to put together such an epic 3 days/nights of music.
First of all, congratulations on the success so far. Each year the lineup, scale and popularity of the weekend exponentially grows.
Gov Ball initially began as just a single day of music and has blossomed into what is a now a full weekend of fun. Is this the Gov Ball you and your partners envisioned when first brainstorming the idea—a three day weekend of live music on multiple stages?
YR: It is, indeed. We wanted to start slow, prove the concept first and begin to build a brand before going in huge. The goal was always to be NYC's music festival following the model of Outside Lands in San Francisco, ACL in Austin, and Lolla in Chicago, etc
How do you guys decide NewYork would be the home to your music festival?
YR: My two business partners are both from NYC and knew the market very well. NYC is the biggest (and coolest) city in the US and it didn't have a proper contemporary music festival. All Points West for a number of reasons didn't work out, so there was a void here. NYC deserves to have a music festival of its own and we set out to create that.
With New York having SO much culture and musical talent of its own, what does Gov Ball do to support the local arts scene and community at large?
YR: We definitely make an attempt to curate the lineup with a bunch of NYC based acts. This year we had The Strokes, Interpol, TV On the Radio, Vampire Weekend, Julian Casablancas, Sleigh Bells, Lucius, Haerts, and a couple more. We work with local artists as well on art installations and support local charities like Answer The Call (benefit for the NYPD and NYFD).
You often have acts that cover the spectrum, from Kanye to Guns and Roses to Pretty Lights. How do you label your target audience member so you know what artists to bring them?
YR:Yea, we try to have a very eclectic lineup and appeal to a range of folks. Really the target audience is loyal music fans in the northeast, specifically NYC, and their casual music fan friends. But we also have tons of people come from all over the world too, which is very cool.
Take yourself back to 2011, the very first Governors Ball...Was there a moment you remember—amidst running around backstage or on the phone trying to put out a fire—that you were able to look out at the crowd, hear whatever band was gracing the stage, and think to yourself..."I think we must just have something here."
YR: At the first Gov Ball I remember being so overtired that I didn't really know what was going on. I didn't really have chance to enjoy the festival that year, but seeing all those people was certainly gratifying. You work all year long for this weekend, and all the sudden it's upon you. In the words of Larry David...It's pretty, pretty, pretty cool .
With all of the music festivals covering the country these days, what do you think makes Gov Ball unique and stand out amongst the others. In other words, if I have the option to attend Gov Ball, Sasquatch or Coachella, why am I choosing Gov Ball.
YR: It's a tough question and one we have to answer a lot. One thing is that we are a city based festival, not a camping festival, so that differentiates us from some others like Bonnaroo and Sasquatch, etc. Mostly, we are in NYC! The most amazing city in the world. So after the festival you don't just go back to your hotel or a buddy's small apartment, you have the whole city at your fingertips to explore. Then of course, it's the lineup-while there is a bunch of overlap in the talent, we try to be a little different than other summer festival lineups, where we can. Lastly, because we are in NYC, we really try to step up our food game and art installations - we make improvements on both each year.
Last year seemed to be the year of rainy festivals here in Atlanta. Gov Ball got dumped on too. Did the weather teach you guys any lessons for future Gov Balls?
YR: It was an incredibly rainy year for outdoor music in general, last year, all across the board. There wasn't much of a lesson to learn, no. Mother Nature can be rough sometimes, and we certainly felt the brunt of it last year. It was one of the rainiest days in NYC's history actually. We are well prepared for rain and situations like that, but last year was truly extraordinary. On a bright note, rain like that used to keep me awake at night. Not anymore-we dealt with the worst of the worst, so I hope to be able to sleep easier the couple weeks before the festival going forward.
In light of the events at last year's Electric Zoo festival (City canceling the last day of the festival due to two drug overdose deaths and a possible sexual assault
), which is also held at Randall's Island, are there changes that you think need to be made to help ensure the safety of festival goers?
YR: The tragic events that occurred at Electric Zoo have lead to new protocols and additional oversight from the City of NYC and the Parks Dept. More city agencies (and more folks from each agency) are involved in our planning meetings, and we are required to do many additional things, mostly safety related. That being said, the city has been a pleasure to deal with and they have been very professional and practical about things. Safety is their number one priority, and we feel the same way, so our interests are aligned there.
Getting back to the music...Over the past years, what artist committing to perform at Gov Ball called for the biggest high five amongst you and your partners at Founders?
YR: The Strokes I'd say. Perhaps because we have tried for them every year, and finally, at the very last minute, they agreed for this year. If Phish ever happens though, there'll be some serious high fives forthcoming, ha.
Talking with other people behind the scenes at concerts, we have heard some crazy stories and odd requests coming from the bands. Anything outrageous from the bands over the years at Gov Ball?
YR: Actually I don't recall. I don't really deal with artist riders in my position (thankfully) so I kinda steer clear of that stuff. I don't recall hearing anything too crazy though.
What headliner do you think your Gov Ball fans want to see the most and what would be your own personal dream headliner to grace a Gov Ball stage?
YR: Hmm. I'd say Daft Punk is probably the most requested, perhaps because they are so aloof. Personally my favorite would be a Talking Heads Reunion, Phish, or an LCD Soundsystem Reunion.
Any plans to expand and bring a festival to another city in need?
YR: We're looking at some other markets with some potential partners, for sure. Also we're looking at other genres in NYC too.
Great. Well we hope with the tremendous success of Gov Ball, you guys expand and continue to put on awesome festivals! Thanks for the time and best of luck at the 2014 Gov Ball!
Check out the sweet merch
and festival photos and news
from this past weekend's festival on Randall's Island.