As fans crossed the bridge between Queens and Citi Field at the start of this year’s Governors Ball, they were immediately greeted by the booming bass of punk band 99 neighbors. From the moment the band took the Bacardí stage at the 2021 Governors Ball music festival, the energy amplified for every passerby. In baggy jeans and hipster bandana masks, their youthful and casual appearances complemented the set’s carefree attitude. The deep 808s reverberated through the crowd as lead vocalist Swank belted about heartbreak and the band’s DJ, Jared Fier, hyped up the crowd. The attractive swagger of singer Aidan Ostby caught every onlooker’s eye. Treading the line between hip-hop and pop, the rookie band delivered just the right sort of energy to kick the festival off right.
Indie pop sweetheart Tate McRae followed the duo, rocking Gov Ball’s crowds at the main GOVBALL NYC stage. A talented and award-winning dancer, McRae was a nonstop firecracker, dancing and moving in perfect synchrony with the sharp beats of her songs. Two backup dancers, donning black sweat suits and massive jeweled necklaces to coordinate with McRae’s own athleisure outfit, joined her for most of the show. The trio were captivating throughout, and the show’s highlights were doubtlessly when they united in bursts of perfectly executed choreography. For an up-and-coming artist, McRae commands the stage like no other, performing with confidence and candor. “This is really cool because the first festival I ever came to was Gov Ball,” she said, describing the 2018 festival, before her voice went out altogether. “Fuck sorry, I turned off my mic.” Like her, though, her songs appeared all but made for the massive festival. Not only did the crowd roar at every single song announcement, but her songs’ infectious pop beats made for great dancing. Her hit “You Broke Me First,” for example, was energetic from beginning to end, her delivery begging the audience to dance along with her.
After the pop shimmer of McRae and her dancers, soul singer Leon Bridges took the GOVBALL NYC stage to bring the audience some heartfelt ballads and funky bangers. Flanked by two backup singers in black and silver getups, Bridges’ own voice was the star of the set. Smooth and angelic, it rose above the stellar band and enthralled the audience. A welcome break from the rest of the day, Bridges created a space to step back and get down to some groovy beats courtesy of his drummer and percussionist. “Make some noise if it feels good to experience some live music again,” the singer-songwriter shouted into the crowd, greeted in no time by a rush of cheers and applause. His 2015 track “Brown Skin Girl” got the jazz treatment with an instrumental breakdown, allowing all of Bridges’ band to show off their musical chops to the song’s infectious beat that matched Bridges’ own energy. Dancing and swaying with the mic stand, he was a captivating performer who commanded attention on the festival’s main stage. A highlight of the set was his hit “River,” also from 2015. Listening to him play it, its slow tempo allowing his voice to soar, was nothing short of a religious experience.
— Staff writer Alisa S. Regassa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff writer Sofia Andrade can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @bySofiaAndrade.