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My first music festival experience was Governors Ball: Here's how it went

Governors Ball took place between Sept. 24 and Sept. 26 and brought in a crowd of more than 50,000 each day.  – Photo by Emma Garibian

I got the opportunity of a lifetime to cover Governors Ball and see my favorite performers this past weekend, and for a lack of better and fewer cliché terms, it was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Between rooming with someone I had never met before, seeing artists I never thought I would get the chance to see during my time on Earth (let alone for free!) and experiencing the chaos of a festival for the first time, Gov Ball was both an intense and memorable experience.

Prior to going into the weekend, I wasn’t sure what to expect: I knew there would be an excessively long wait time for the headliners and some rowdiness from the crowd (spoiler alert: it was far more than just “some rowdiness” and more so a fight for our lives in the audience).

But now, writing this post-festival, I can say that, as much as the experience made me feel like the main character in a poorly produced Disney movie, it was also eye-opening and truly re-shifted my comfort zone.

Here were my main takeaways from the three-day weekend:

Celebrities are just people and it’s a weird concept to grasp

I know celebrities always say this, but seeing them in the flesh gives them humanity the screens and social media often strip away.

I felt particularly strongly about seeing Billie Eilish, in all of her 5 foot 2 inches, with her light blemish marks and sharp blue eyes. In some ways, seeing her perform made me pity her.

As she sang her solemn tracks, I thought about how Eilish is only 19 years old and would probably be one of my peers if she went to college, and yet has gone through more than most of us. No longer was I listening to a stream or clicking on a link — I was listening to a real person sharing their real experiences.

Maybe it’s dumb to pity celebrities, and the cynic in me tends to be indifferent toward them. They asked for this lifestyle. With fame comes misfortune, and that’s that.

But seeing their skin texture and real faces, sans Facetune and Photoshop, hearing their real voices and feeling their energy in real life gave the experience a truly intimate touch that made me understand why nothing really compares to going to concerts in person.

Gov Ball was an experience I find hard to succinctly summarize but can still sharply feel. I’m grateful to have participated in musical history.

Your health is invaluable — always make it your priority

As much fun as I had at the festival, large events in the heat with unregulated drug and alcohol consumption have their grueling realities.

Watching countless members of the audience pass out waiting for their favorite performers and throwing up over the barriers whilst being aggressively shoved around by the merciless crowds of belligerent fans was shocking, to say the least.

The strobe-like flashing of the security guard’s flashlights as they slung small girls over their shoulders like rag dolls, watching a boy near my age being dragged on a stretcher while his friends scream for help and seeing the sheer panic emanating from under the masks of the security guards aren’t sights I’ll be able to forget.

This phenomenon isn’t the fault of Gov Ball or the staff who run — if anything, the guards did their best to help everyone they could, and they can’t help it if A$AP Rocky or Young Thug decide to disregard the lives of their fans by asking them to mosh.

But it does beg the question of why danger and binge consumption of substances is totally normalized, even encouraged, in entertainment culture. While artists mindlessly rap about drugs and glamorize toxic party lifestyles in their lyrics, seeing their fans are falling ill and sacrificing their well-being just to stand in their audiences was just disturbing.

Watching young women being pushed around by towering, beefy men for the sake of getting closer to their favorite rapper was a hideous display of the misogyny rooted in moshing and party culture that has yet to be absolved in our society.

But even worse, seeing these girls in extreme, egregious states due to being irresponsibly under the influence was a stark reminder of both how crucial it is to take care of yourself when you’re on your own as well as the detriments of glorifying recklessness and participating in wild nightlife.

The normalization of drug consumption in youth is more alarming than it ever was “cool,” and since the event isn’t age-restricted, younger audience members tend to fall victim to the pressures to fit in — smoke because the person next to them is doing so, drink more due to how shows like “Euphoria” portray intoxication as a sexy purple and blue mirage when, in reality, it can easily become a fatal situation.

This isn’t to say festivals are inherently dangerous or that Gov Ball isn’t to be attended: If anything, I highly recommend going at least once if you can for the sake of experience. It can be totally fun and much safer, like my experience was, as long as you stay smart about it.

Now that the pandemic is simmering down, we ought to remain mindful of our well-being at events like these, aside from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) concerns. We ought to remember how young women are particularly vulnerable in these situations and that there’s still major work to be done in educating younger students on being responsible party-goers.

Just because it's a music festival with security, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take our health seriously, especially if you plan on drinking or using recreational drugs. Always be cautious, and don’t ever feel pressured to do something you’re not comfortable doing — your favorite artist just isn’t worth it.

Fate has a funny way of working things out, so just enjoy the ride

Originally, the plan was to deal with the hassle of taking both NJ Transit and the 7 train to the Citi Field stadium each day with a member of the editorial board.

But right before festival weekend, I was informed that the original plan was squashed and that I actually would be staying in Queens, New York, an area I wasn’t familiar with, with someone whom I also didn’t know much about at all.

In a spur of anxiety, I started calculating outcomes and mentally preparing myself for the worst. I had already decided what I would do if I didn’t get along with my roommate, if I missed my favorite performers and if a Hail Mary occurred.

Blame it on my astrological chart, my South Asian upbringing or my burdening role as the oldest sibling, but I crave structure and abhor uncertainty. I pride myself on thinking ahead. I minimize risk and maximize favorable outcomes.

The prospect of sharing a room, an hour-long commute and a weekend with someone I knew virtually nothing about wasn’t anything I had forecasted, and in the calculator of my mind, doing something so spontaneous was incomputable. But for the sake of getting the coverage you’re reading now, I bit the bullet and took my chances on someone new — and it paid off in ways I didn’t think were possible.

I got along with my temporary roomie swimmingly, shot incredible content and got front-and-center for performances others would die to witness. I made friends in the crowd, unexpectedly ran into fellow Rutgers students (shout out to WRSU-FM!) and struck up conversation with security, who really aren’t as intimidating as they seem.

And above all, I made a friend with whom I share an inexplicable bond, one that I hope to tell my kids about one day.

Perhaps I seem dramatic for reading into something rather mundane (I must seem like I’ve never lived a day in my life). But allowing myself to experience the unexpected and relinquish my anticipation anxiety made me realize that my desire to calculate and control would have stopped me from experiencing some of life’s more story-worthy moments.

I can’t say I’m a changed person now and that, like the protagonist in the aforementioned bad Disney movie, the realization fell into my hands and has profoundly changed the trajectory of my life. But the idea that I was finally willing to give a chance to the universe and lived a moment authentically is good enough for me.


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