Summer kicks off in New York City at Governor’s Ball – the three day music festival that follows the (usually) rainy Memorial Day weekend. The kids are home from college, private high schools are over, and public school kids are in that end of the year lull. For working New Yorkers, it’s a nice time to start that half-day Friday thing. And Gov Ball has all you need: the perfect mix of upcoming and established acts – rap, rock, pop, EDM with a few curve balls thrown in; a full selection of tasty foods, an easy vibe, and the (I can’t believe we’re in NYC) wide open space of the venue – Randall’s Island. Whether you’re there for one of the three headliners – Jack White (Fri), Travis Scott (Sat) or Eminem (Sunday), a favorite undercard, to dance, or just to check out bands you haven’t heard of, it’s a great way to start the summer indeed.
The rock lineup this year is solid, anchored by four acts that have stood the test of time and will still bring it. Jack White (Friday) has continually evolved his sound and backing players since his White Stripes days, but you can count on his distinctive voice and guitar heavy sound as he offers up songs from his recent album Boarding House Reach as well as gems from his White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather and solo days. Gov Ball might be one of your few opportunities to see the alt-rock New Yorkers Yeah Yeah Yeahs (Friday). On hiatus since releasing Mosquitos in 2013, they’re taking their garage rock to just a limited number of festivals this summer. Driving rockers The Gaslight Anthem (Saturday) are also coming out of a long break to play one of their few scheduled gigs to celebrate their sophomore album The ’59 Sound. In addition to some gems and deep cuts, perhaps they’ll treat us to a couple from lead singer Brian Fallon’s recent Sleepwalkers. They may not be writing new material together, but they can still rock. Perennial tourers Third Eye Blind (Sunday) have only released five studio albums in their 25 year career, but anchored around original lead singer Stephan Jenkins, they will pump out a solid show. Their sound may not be the summer sound track of the youth at Gov Ball but certainly could be for many of the older festers in the crowd. Even if you think you don’t know their music, you’ll be surprised at how many songs you know.
There’s also a bevy of hard-working established rock bands including:
Slaves (Friday) – What better way to start the festival than with this UK guitar and drums duo with a raw and heavy rock-punk sound that reminds me of all my fave Brit rock bands. They came recommended a few years back and are supposed to put on a wild show. How sweaty can they get in the 30 minutes that Gov Ball allotted them?
Wolf Alice (Friday) – These Brits have a fuzzy indie rock sound. Moored by Ellie Rowsell’s atmospheric voice, the songs range all over the place but each grabs you and draws you in. Let’s see if this quartet can live up their buzz.
The Menzingers (Saturday) – These Philadelphia punk-rockers have been together for a decade and grown from young punkers to musicians expressing more grown-up themes with the same musical drive. They’ve been touring with some of my faves (PUP, Jeff Rosenstock), so they are most definitely worth checking out.
And a few new-comers:
Catch pop singer-songwriter Alice Merton (Sunday). You’ve heard her first hit No Roots repeatedly over the past months but why not see if she has other songs to match. Lash Out indicates she might.
Australian indie rock trio Middle Kids (Sunday) is promoting their first album Lost Friends. Featuring the strong voice of Hannah Joy, wander by and hear the range of their atmospheric yet lyrical songs.
Up and coming teen band The Regrettes (Saturday) mixes retro rock with a touch of pop and punk. You’ll hear a lot of influences as you groove along with the sound.
But when you step away from the rockers, be sure to check out these acts and be in the know:
The Spencer Lee Band (Saturday), a nine-piece old-school R&B band fronted by the voice of Spencer Lee, is worth a listen. While he’s playing big festivals this summer, he’s still scheduled in tiny clubs like Gasa Gasa in New Orleans, so who knows where he’ll be playing soon. He’s buzzy now on just a few songs – The Wolf from the Fifty Shades Freed sound track and a cover of With a Little Help From My Friends that Ringo and Joe could support. Find out why.
Australian singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Tash Sultana (Friday) has been selling out all over and wowed fan and critics alike with her live shows. With guitar and looping pedal, her clear voice and melodies range from heavy to psychedelic to reggae, but her emotion and talent shine through.
For a change of pace, why not check out breakout teen Billie Eilish (Sunday)? Riding high with a song on the 13 Reasons Why soundtrack and recording with such artists as Khalid (also playing Sunday) and Vince Staples, her breathy, stylized, moody electro pop can make for a great set.
Country singer-songwriter Margo Price (Sunday) has grit and honesty in her music and is willing to mix in politics. On the festival circuit for the past few years, she has been rightly embraced by roots, folk and rock alike.
If rock isn’t your jam, there are plenty of great hip-hop, rap and EDM acts out there as well. So grab your crew, a hat, and some sunscreen and head out this weekend and start summering.