I’d forgotten my goddamn headphones.
Doesn’t seem to make sense to lament over headphones when one is on her way to a music festival, but I’m a commuter first, festival-attendee fifteenth.
In fact, I had never been to a music festival.
I have this thing about crowds (which I’d rather not talk about) and I’ve been to concerts, sure, but never an open-air, multi-stage event with an eclectic mix of musical options and so, so many people…
But I love music. And can find enjoyment in just about every beat.
So, I was on my way to Governors Ball 2015.
As my mother pointed out, the only things I remotely knew about Randall’s Island prior to Saturday the 7th of June were the abundance of psychiatric facilities and the fact that there were two tidal straits surrounding it named Hell Gate and Little Hell Gate.
Okay, one. Little Hell Gate is now a landfill.
But I was sure the likes of Florence + the Machine and Bjork wouldn’t be serenading the mentally ill directly, so I considered myself safe.
Transport was simple: a train to a bus to traffic to an impressive soccer field and then I just followed everyone else.
I checked in, went through security, and was immediately assaulted by clouds of weed.
Hi, Mom! I’m at my first music festival!
Sharon Van Etten
I arrived around 3pm, but took more than a minute to catch my bearings. By the time I had some festival etiquette down, it was close to the first act that I really wanted to see.
Sharon Van Etten has a way of singing sorrow that makes you angry for her. It’s not that she echoes hopelessness; she sounds justified in her hurt in a way that makes you want to fight and cry and then maybe have a good strong drink If only to soothe your rage.
Her time on stage did not disappoint.
The day was gorgeous, a cool breeze tempering the harsh sun and mellowing the 75+ degree weather. Sharon’s vocals managed to make the day feel a tad bit warmer, though. As easy-going as her sound is, the power of her vocals kept me entranced, rooted me to the spot, and swaying in time with the music.
But soon it was time to move on.
Angus & Julia Stone
Next up was a duo that I was sure was married but is apparently brother and sister whose music I adored, nonetheless. They have an indie pop thing going for them, but it was their slower, more haunting tracks that drew me to their music.
Julia’s voice on the melancholic version of ‘Slow Hands’ is the epitome of lovelorn desperation. It’s a track I’ve written too many romance short stories to. Though she didn’t perform it, she granted me with ‘For You,’ a song, she prefaced, written for a crush, recorded on Garage Band, and emailed with a kiss only to be brushed off completely.
Whoever that crush was, he’s the ultimate douche to ignore such a beautiful dedication.
I have a habit of closing my eyes when enjoying a song. Live performances barely make the difference; it just sounds better, if anything. I’m the one that does, in fact, become lost in a song, lyrics, musicianship, all of it. The crowd hardly mattered as Julia’s sweet voice, less juvenile-pitched than on recorded tracks, lulled all the whoops and hollers around me.
I clapped gently, then made my way out the area.
I’d honestly thought I’d never heard of this band until I’d actually, forgive me, heard them. But I recognized Samuel T.’s croon and the familiarity was unmistakable.
Great pop sound accented well with dancing synthesizer melodies. An awesome injection of energy after all the angst of Sharon and A&J.
The gathering was insane around their tent, making up-close enjoyment impossible, but it honestly wasn’t necessary. The sun was starting to chill and the breeze was picking up and dancing was not frowned upon.
Even I did a two-step with my too-cool self.
If the scheduling had been different, I would’ve gladly stayed at the outskirts of that tent, two-stepping and ignoring my self-consciousness to let loose a little longer.
But there was Bjork to prepare for.
The first and last time I’d seen Bjork live was for my 22nd birthday at Madison Square Garden. My good friend at the time had scored tickets for the two of us, then proceeded to bring her new boyfriend along and purchase a sketchy third all to make me feel like the big-wheel on a tricycle.
Sure, those fuckers wouldn’t have been there without me, but it still sucked to be exposed to PG-13 live and direct action while waiting for the music to start.
But I digress.
The size of MSG barely mattered when Bjork got on stage. Her sound has always been big, electronic-heavy, and, much to my treble-favouring eardrums’ relief, drenched in bass. She made her show fun and worth the trek. She brought out a local marching band at one point, surprising the former band geek in me enough to jump from my seat and scream my head off.
I wasn’t so cool back then.
There was much to live up to in my head. That night had been amazing, a beyond-satisfying auditory and visual experience with gold blow-up suits, a shit-ton of confetti , and an entire goddamn marching band, for fuck’s sake. So when I saw the rows of black chairs on stage, I knew Bjork had cooked up something delicious.
And I was fucking starving.
The orchestra filed in first and I felt my first bit of true excitement. It was as if Bjork knew I was now a functioning, independent adult with finer taste in music – specifically strings cuz nothing is more adult than classical music, goddamn it – and was now tailoring her performance to contribute to my super-adult experience.
Or giving me a justified reason to scream my head off as a grown-ass woman.
She was late, but I forgave her by the time she walked on stage. Dressed in an outfit resembling a butterfly wings on her arms, her body in an awkward larval stage while a gauzy headpiece distorted her facial features to fully mimic, my musical soul mate began to bellow.
As I mentioned earlier, I have a tendency to get lost in music. I find a groove and I fall right into it. I smile to myself, laugh as if the beat has whispered an inside joke that only we would understand, I’m the one that looks like a nutball while a track aurally fucks me.
Bjork fucked me. And it was glorious.
The open air had no effect on the power of her bass-laden music of her newest album, the backing string orchestra caressing another desire within me. Had I more personal space (and some booze in my system), I would’ve pranced around, freestyling a dance that translated to grace in my head, but more than likely would’ve appeared to be an epileptic fit to anyone else.
When I wasn’t nodding profusely to the beat or closing my eyes during a particular point of euphoria, I was watching the video playing out above the stage. The visuals eluded to growth and change, most of which appeared painful with CGI stems of plants splitting Bjork in her middle and snaking outwards. Graceful, no doubt, but the torture was obvious.
At times, Bjork fluttered about the stage (no pun intended), flapping her arms as much as the costume would allow. She still sounded shy and humble, thanking her audience after every applause, after every song.
She was an adorable force and once she was done, so was I.
I can’t say I’m a fan of the festival setting. It’s a great opportunity to see a collection of bands that wouldn’t normally play within the same time frame and all within literal walking distance.
But those crowds, man.
The experience was overall pleasant. The musical acts performed well and nothing felt rushed or half-assed.
I headed home on the same bus, back to 125th street to hop a 4, still kicking myself for having forgotten my headphones.
But at least I had the echoes of that days’ performances to smile and nod my head to while blending in with an entirely different crowd.