GovBall 2021 day 1 pics & recap: Billie Eilish, Portugal. The Man, Freddie Gibbs, Bartees, more
Governors Ball began its 10th anniversary edition on Friday (9/24), taking place in a new location: the parking lot of Citi Field in Queens. With a backdrop that included the stadium on one end and the 7 train on the other, it was a cool environment for a music festival, and the parking lot made it so the previous day's rain didn't mean a mudfest. It had four stages (plus one smaller "Bud Light Seltzer Sessions" stage for additional stripped-down performances), and things were more tightly knit than they usually are at Randall's Island, so getting around was easier than usual. (Getting there also didn't mean walking across a lengthy bridge.)
The headliner of day one was Billie Eilish, playing her first NYC show since releasing her hugely anticipated sophomore Happier Than Ever, and one of her first shows in general since its release. Backed by a band and lit-up, solid-color screens, Billie ran through a 20+ song set that was split pretty evenly between her two albums (plus a few other songs), and the new material already felt as instant-classic as her more established fan faves. Recently released songs like "NDA," "Lost Cause," "My Future," and "Happier Than Ever" had the crowd in the palms of Billie's hands. As a performer, Billie was bursting with all of the energy and confidence that you need to command a massive festival crowd (or the arena crowds she'll be playing to in 2022), and she still does it all without seeming like a "pop star." She's gotten to where she is by breaking the rules of pop, not by following them, and that came across on stage too.
As good as Billie performed, unfortunately the sound system didn't seem able to handle the size of the crowd. Her vocals were buried in the mix, and even about halfway back in the crowd -- which was about as close as I could get after thousands of fans packed her area over an hour before she went on -- it sounded too quiet and distant, which was a bit of a theme, as I was wishing for louder vocals during earlier sets by Freddie Gibbs and Portugal. The Man on another stage as well.
Things sounded a bit better over on the Honda stage, where I saw rising genre-fluid indie rocker Bartees Strange and his band put on a fiery 2:15 PM set under the hot midday sun. They played a good chunk of songs from Bartees' excellent 2020 debut album Live Forever, one of his National covers, and his new song "Weights," and they sounded great from start to finish. Bartees' band is tight and Bartees himself is just as magnetic on stage as he is in the studio.
Atlanta rap duo EarthGang also put on a great set at the Honda stage. They were loud and rowdy and had the whole place jumping and yelling along -- some much needed catharsis after 18 months without music festivals. They were immediately followed by a much different hip hop set on the adjacent Barcardi stage by Freddie Gibbs & The Alchemist. Freddie's played some other festivals this year, but this was his first one with The Alchemist as his DJ and he took the opportunity to break out songs from Alfredo, the collaborative album they put out last year that we named the best rap album of 2020. Freddie seemed stoked to finally be playing to big crowds again, and the Alfredo material sounded great, as did the older material he included. Again, his mic really needed to be louder, but there were still plenty of moments where he proved why he's currently one of the best doing it. Freddie also mentioned during his set that he had a child in New York, who was also at the show and watching from the side stage, and he played his final song with the infant in his arms.
Throughout the day, I also caught some of Leon Bridges and Kehlani, both of whom put on smooth, soulful sets on the GovBallNYC stage and both of whom had ace backing bands. And then there was Portugal. The Man, who -- despite those aforementioned sound issues -- were as fun as ever. As usual, they opened with their Beavis and Butt-Head intro video, followed by their instrumental metal medley (which included Metallica's "For Whom the Bell Tolls," Pantera's "Cowboys From Hell," and I think part of Slayer's "South of Heaven"), and then a set of career-spanning faves and a couple more covers. They segued their own "Creep In A T-Shirt" into Nirvana's "In Bloom" (which they've been doing for a while, but this time was on the 30th anniversary of Nevermind), and they brought out Sunflower Bean's Julia Cumming to sing lead on a genuinely awesome cover of David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream." Then Zach Carothers said "Okay, here's that one song," and Julia came back on stage and said, "Wait, can I sing this one?" And they closed out with a fun version of their big hit "Feel It Still" with Julia taking the lead.
I heard some of Future Islands in the distance (they sounded good), and other artists who played day one (that I missed) included Orville Peck, 24kGoldn, RMR, and more. Pictures of day one by Ellen Qbertplaya continue below, and a second set of day one pictures continues HERE.
GovBall continues today (9/25) with Megan Thee Stallion, Phoebe Bridgers, Big Thief, J Balvin, A$AP Rocky, and more; and wraps up Sunday (9/26) with Post Malone, Young Thug, Jamie xx, 21 Savage, Carly Rae Jepsen, Smino, Burna Boy, and more. If you're going and looking for suggestions, check out our list of 10 artists we're excited to see.
More day one pictures continue HERE.