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the rise of NYC music festivals: a guide to GovBall, Panorama, Meadows & more

Panorama Festival 2016 - Saturday
Panorama 2016 (more, courtesy of Panorama Music Festival)

THE HISTORY

For a while, New York City was not really a destination for music festivals as we know them today, or at least not non-EDM music festivals (Electric Zoo has been going strong on Randall’s Island since 2009). Many people thought that NYC would and could never have their own version of Coachella, Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Many of us were also happy keep it that way.

NYC has hosted one-off fests that resemble the fests of today like 1997’s Tibetan Freedom Concert on Randall’s Island, a two-day benefit organized by Adam Yauch and featuring an insane lineup that included U2, Foo Fighters, Beastie Boys, Bjork, Sonic Youth, Blur, Pavement, Rancid, Alanis Morrissette, Patti Smith, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, and, somewhat down the bill, Radiohead who would release OK Computer a week later.

Village Voices’s free, one-day Siren Festival in Coney Island was an impressive two-stage, small (relatively speaking) fest that managed to run for a decade. It was replaced by the even smaller 4Knots at the Seaport, which so far isn’t even happening again in 2017.

Field Day in 2003 was a famous attempt at bringing a proper festival to the NYC-area (Radiohead included), Long Island to be exact, but was famously relocated to a parking lot in Giants Stadium with a smaller lineup just days before it was supposed to happen, and then it rained all day.

AEG was determined to make a fest happen and they tried with All Points West which took place in 2008 and in 2009, across the river in Jersey City (Radiohead included), but that had to end too. “As beautiful as (the site) is, it’s very hard to get New Yorkers to cross that river,” now-former AEG CEO Randy Phillips told Reuters in 2010. It didn’t help that they also got hit really hard by rain.

There were smaller attempts since then, like the drama-filled ATP which ended up doing a fest in NYC in 2012 (Frank Ocean included), but that didn’t work out so well (not to mention it was originally scheduled for Asbury Park).

NOW

The drama-filled ATP was the same year Governors Ball moved to two days on Randall’s Island, after its humble beginnings on Governors Island. Fast forward to 2017 and (the now-three-day) GovBall is one of three major festivals that take place within the five boroughs, not to mention a handful of smaller and genre-specific fests. The other two major ones are Panorama and The Meadows.

Governors Ball happens this year on Randall’s Island from June 2-4. Panorama also happens on Randall’s Island from July 28-30, and The Meadows takes place in Queens from September 15-17 in Citi Field‘s parking lot.

GovBall and The Meadows are both produced by Founders Entertainment, which was acquired by Live Nation, who are one of the biggest concert promoters in NYC and the world. Live Nation now own a ton of fests which also include the recently-acquired Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits.

Panorama is produced by the the same people behind Coachella aka Goldenvoice who are owned by AEG who are also one of the biggest concert promoters in the world and NYC (especially since aquiring Bowery Presents). AEG, which previously tried with All Points West, also has a lot of other fests including FYF, New Orleans Jazz, Stagecoach and Rocklahoma.

Panorama was initially planned to take place in Queens (the same borough The Meadows takes place in), but so far has remained on Randall’s Island. Panorama and The Meadows are both in their second year in 2017. GovBall is in its seventh.

Governors Ball 2016 - Friday
GovBall 2016 (more by Gretchen Robinette)

COMPARING THE LINEUPS

All three of these New York festivals have classic New York rappers in the big font this year. GovBall has the Wu-Tang Clan (who also play blink-182 and Linkin Park’s Live Nation-produced Welcome to Blinkin Park at The Meadows’ home of Citi Field on July 28 which also happens to be day one of AEG’s Panorama). Panorama has A Tribe Called Quest. The Meadows has former rivals Jay Z and Nas, as well as LL Cool J, De La Soul, Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah, New New York torch-carriers Joey Bada$$, Flatbush Zombies, Action Bronson, and Swet Shop Boys, and the NYC-meets-Atlanta attack of Run the Jewels.

In general, between these three festivals, a large majority of the major rappers of the moment are playing New York this summer. Chart-toppers Rae Sremmurd (“Black Beatles”) and Migos (“Bad and Boujee”) are playing GovBall and The Meadows, respectively. (Migos also play Hot 97 Summer Jam across the river.) GovBall has the increasingly gigantic Chance the Rapper headlining day one. GovBall also has political G-Funk revivalist YG, Black Hippy maniac Schoolboy Q, and the amazingly weird Danny Brown, and The Meadows has the rising, melodic Kamaiyah, all four of whom released some of the very best rap albums of last year. One of the best new MCs on the planet, Vince Staples, is playing Panorama. The ridiculously good hitmaker Future is on The Meadows, as are the back-in-action rap/electronic/rock/everything band Gorillaz.

Grime is having a huge moment, and GovBall has grime vet Skepta and rising grime MC Stormzy. Chicago is also having a huge moment, and Panorama has Chicago rapper Noname and neo-soul singer Jamila Woods. On the neo-soul note, Panorama also has Frank Ocean and Solange co-headlining day one. Frank and Solange also both released two of the very best albums of last year, and seeing them co-headline is worth the ticket price alone (let’s hope they don’t cancel). Neo-soul legend Erykah Badu plays The Meadows.

Among these lineups, there’s also the second best A$AP Mob rapper, A$AP Ferg (GovBall), former Odd Future leader Tyler the Creator (Panorama), rising TDE newcomer Isaiah Rashad (Panorama), the unclassifiable M.I.A. (The Meadows), and OutKast’s Big Boi (The Meadows).

It feels like the only current major rappers that aren’t on these fests are Kanye, Kendrick, and Drake, all of whom have played one or more of them in the recent past.

DON’T FORGET AFROPUNK

Speaking of Solange, her label St Heron has a stage at this year’s Afropunk Festival, which goes down August 26 & 27 in Fort Greene’s Commodore Barry Park. The stage has Sampha, Thundercat, Sinkane, KING, and more TBA. Afropunk also has Macy Gray, The Cool Kids, Dizzee Rascal, and more this year.

HIP HOP HERE TOO

For even more hip hop, in addition to NJ’s aforementioned Hot 97 Summer Jam, there’s the smaller, recurring Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival. The closing concert this year is on July 16 and it has Rakim, DMX, The LOX, Stretch & Bobbito, OSHUN, and more. There’s also Billboard Hot 100 Fest happening across two days at Wantagh, NY’s Jones Beach with Big Sean, Lil Yachty, Gucci Mane, DJ Khaled, Tinashe, T-Pain, Young Thug, Ty Dolla $ign, Waka Flocka Flame, and more.

Some other cool highlights: GovBall has storied soul singer Charles Bradley and rising soul singer Michael Kiwanuka (who also plays Afropunk). The Meadows has the great, genre-defying Blood Orange (who played Panorama last year), jazz-hop group BadBadNotGood, Afrobeat group Antibalas, and eccentric rapper/singer Lizzo.

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WHAT’S AN INDIE ROCK FAN TO DO

Panorama’s lineup caters more than the other two to fans of current small indie rock bands. They have Angel Olsen, Mitski and Pinegrove, who are all 2016-album MVPs. There’s also Cloud Nothings, who have been carrying the torch for hard-hitting indie rock for five years now, recent breakouts Cherry Glazerr, the great, challenging Preoccupations (fka Viet Cong), and the punky Bleached (ex-Mika Miko). Not to mention larger, more established indie acts Future Islands, MGMT, Tame Impala, Alt-J, Spoon, and Belle & Sebastian.

As for Governors Ball, there’s less in the way of smaller, newer indie rock bands, with just two 2016-album MVPs (Car Seat Headrest, Parquet Courts). They’ve also got bigger, poppier indie acts like Phoenix, Beach House, Franz Ferdinand, Mac DeMarco, and Warpaint.

GovBall is the fest for you if your taste leans on the pop side, thanks to Lorde, Flume, Bleachers, Kehlani, Tove Lo, Charli XCX, Banks, Cage the Elephant, Phantogram, and others. The Meadows has some of that alt-pop with Sleigh Bells and Sky Ferreira, and Panorama has recent Taylor Swift tourmate Vance Joy.

DANCE

Panorama is catering to dance-music fans this year with an “outdoor dance club with nonstop DJ sets.” They’ve also got Justice, Cashmere Cat, Nicolas Jaar, DJ Shadow and S U R V I V E on the main lineup. The Range, who (like Nicolas Jaar) made one of our favorite electronic albums of 2016, is on GovBall. GovBall also dips its toes into the EDM world with Marshmello and The Meadows does with Bassnectar, Big Gigantic, GTA, and possibly more than I even realize.

For way more EDM (and more Randall’s Island), there’s Electric Zoo. There’s also the likeminded Greatest Day Ever festival, which happens across two days (July 15 & 16) at a TBA Bronx location this year. Diplo and Dillon Francis are headlining, and there are some cool artists lower on the bill like neo-soul group The Internet. EDM fest Elements returns to a secret NYC waterfront location on August 12 & 13, and, among other things, has Flying Lotus co-headlining. Electric Daisy Carnival, which happened in the parking lot of Citi Field (like The Meadows) last year, is not happening in 2017.

METAL?

Between GovBall, Panorama, and The Meadows, there’s only one metal band (and it’s one with rock radio crossover anyway): Tool. They headline day three of GovBall. On that rock radio note, The Meadows has Red Hot Chili Peppers and Weezer, and Panorama has Nine Inch Nails.

In addition to Tool, GovBall has similarly rare and veteran sets from Air (who haven’t toured the US in seven years) and The Avalanches (who haven’t toured the US in 15 years).

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OLDIES BUT GOODIES

There aren’t many artists older than the alt-rock era on these lineups, but there’s the inaugural Classic East festival on July 29 & 30 at Citi Field (overlapping with Panorama and happening exactly one day after Blinkin Park at the same venue). Classic East has The Eagles headlining day one with support from Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, and Fleetwood Mac headlining day two with support from Journey and Earth, Wind & Fire.

AND EVEN MORE

While Governors Ball no longer happens on Governors Island (where it began), Full Moon Festival does happen there on July 8. This year’s lineup is pretty small, but has some cool stuff like Vic Mensa, Kelela, Connan Mockasin, Abra, TOPS, and more.

NYC still has some smaller festivals TBA, like the annual Fool’s Gold Day Off. Assuming it returns, hopefully it goes down better than last year when Migos’ set was shut down by cops. UPDATE: Fool’s Gold Day Off returns to NYC on August 19.

Mad Decent Block Party will return soon too. And we’re not sure if Roots Picnic is happening in NYC again (but the Philly one is on June 3). And as mentioned above, there has been no word of a 2017 4Knots festival.

There is also a surprisingly high number of good bands on Warped Tour this year.

These fests are all-day or multi-day things with several acts, but don’t forget about NYC’s recurring summer concert series like SummerStage, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival, Northside Festival, and Warm Up, which all include big outdoor shows.

Where will you be this summer? What’s the best fest for your money? Did we miss anything?

GovBall

Panorama

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