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Inside Beat

In conversation with founder Jordan Wolowitz: Governors Ball's smaller acts are its stars

The Governors Ball music festival returns to CitiField this year, and you should be excited for all its acts, even the ones you might not have heard of. – Photo by Adrian Hernandez / Unsplash

Post coronavirus disease (COVID-19), the idea of going to a music festival can be terrifying.

Though 2022's Coachella has come and gone and the first post-COVID-19 Governors Ball was held last year in the fall after a postponement, we’re still in a period of transition when it comes to concerts, festivals and live music.

For Gov Ball though, being back in June is indisputably a good thing. “We always consider Gov Ball as the summer kickoff for New York City,” one of Gov Ball’s founders, Jordan Wolowitz, told The Daily Targum.

Wolowitz and his co-founders of Founders Entertainment created Gov Ball in 2011. It was a 12-act, one-day festival on Governors Island — how the festival got its name — full of developing acts. Those acts included then-unknowns like Mac Miller as headliners. After good reception, and a sold-out festival of 20,000 attendees in its first year, Gov Ball was a hit.

And it’s remained that way ever since. 

Another thing that’s remained is Gov Ball’s commitment to finding new, up-and-coming artists to fill out the festival once the major headliners have been booked (a process Wolowitz, who is responsible for securing talent, said begins more than a year in advance).

Smaller acts, which he refers to as “baby acts” have their discussions begin much later than the headliners. When it comes to booking them, Wolowitz said he enjoys discovering these acts.

While not every act will reach the aforementioned Miller’s or J. Cole’s (a headliner for 2022, who previously played Gov Ball as a middle of the day act) level of fame, Wolowitz’s dedication to getting local New York artists and other up-and-comers a chance in the spotlight is commendable and part of what makes Gov Ball so successful. 

When it comes to headliners — this year it’s Kid Cudi on Friday, Halsey on Saturday and J. Cole on Sunday — they can sometimes be divisive or considered a letdown when they aren't a bigger name or more in line with someone’s specific music taste.

But that’s where those smaller acts come in: By expanding its lineup outside of the Billboard Top 100 and those who’ve created, say, viral TikTok hits, Gov Ball has something for everyone.

Personally, I’m delighted to see BETWEEN FRIENDS, Japanese Breakfast, Delaware Water Gap and beabadoobee. For other people’s interests, online Jack Harlow always creates a buzz, and Glass Animals has had a hit on the Billboard Hot 100 for more than a year that finally hit number one in March. 

Wolowitz, on the other hand, can’t show his hand on which acts he’s most excited to listen to or most excited to have booked — even if he wanted to. When I ask who he’s most excited for, he does talk about the excitement of the headliners and bringing back acts who have previously played the festival but also gives a resounding conclusion of “everyone.”

Though, in fairness, picking a favorite out of a festival lineup you personally set up is akin to picking a favorite child: Even if you have one, it’s probably not good to admit it.

But for anyone who did not handpick all of the acts, it’s well worth it to pick favorites and decide if you want to see the entire lineup for yourself — which includes the aforementioned bands as well as many others, like Clairo, Roddy Rich, Joji and 100 gecs.

If you’re interested in going to Gov Ball, whether as a seasoned festival-slash-concert veteran or a newbie, Wolowitz recommends it.

He lists driving, taking the train and the subway as accessible ways of locating its new CitiField location for locals, and the experience that they’ve cultivated also includes “some of the best restaurants and food trucks” from local chefs — including dumplings, pizza, burgers, ice cream and, for the over-21 crowd, even hard kombucha.

You can purchase tickets for Gov Ball on its website, including both three-day and one-day tickets.

As for one final good reason to go to Gov Ball? The opportunity to see those baby acts — the bands you haven’t seen before. As Wolowitz says, you could “possibly fall in love with another act or two or three.”

No matter how many acts you see, a local music festival, even one as big as Gov Ball, is something worth supporting — if there’s anything the last two years have taught us about the entertainment world, it’s that live music is a privilege. Do yourself a favor and take advantage of it.

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