NEW YORK, NY—Hailed as the East Coast’s response to Coachella, this year’s Governors Ball lived up to its reputation, bringing in some of the festival season’s top acts to the stage, with headliners Jack White, Vampire Weekend and the recently reunited Outkast, to individually close out each of the three nights that weekend.
Established in 2011, Governors Ball has grown from a small, one-day, two-stage festival at New York City’s Governors Island, to an extravagant three-day event with four stages and plenty of local food vendors gracing the festival’s new location on Randall’s Island, right between NYC’s Harlem and Astoria neighborhoods.
“Our first year was a smaller event, but as we grew, Governor’s Island couldn’t hold us, so we moved to Randall’s Island,” explained Tom Russell, partner at Founders Entertainment, the production company behind Governor’s Ball. “Now we view Randall’s Island as our long-term home.”
Russell, who started his career in the festival business with New Orleans’ Superfly Productions (the organization behind Bonnaroo), wanted to bring a major music festival to New York City, and formed Founders Entertainment with partners Jordan Wolowitz and Yoni Reisman to make the idea happen. This year, Governors Ball boasted a lineup consisting of artists in the rock, hip hop, EDM, and indie genres, including English folk/rock artist Frank Turner, the rising electronic duo Disclosure, and the French alt rockers Phoenix. With such a packed lineup over the three days, careful planning has to go into manning the stages, as once one band ends a set on one stage, another band is already starting on a second stage. Eighth Day Sound (Highland Heights, OH) provided the sound system for the main stage this year, while Thunder Audio (Livonia, MI) and M&L Sound (Knoxville, TN) provided systems for the other three stages.
While many of the performers relied on the services of these companies, some of the bigger artists provided their own control gear through other companies—as was the case with Outkast, who tapped the services of VER Tour Sound (Nashville, TN), supplying a plethora of gear, including a DiGiCo SD10 console at FOH and an Avid Venue Profile on monitors, and only Heil microphones across the entire act.
A decade after the duo of Andre “Andre 3000” Benjamin and Antwan “Big Boi” Patton decided to go their separate ways, Outkast announced earlier in 2014 that it would embark on a reunion tour of sorts, hitting dozens of festivals in the United States, Europe and Asia. “We’ve got about 40 shows up to mid-November,” said Chance Stahlhut of VER Tour Sound.
For the Governors Ball show, VER supplemented Eighth Day Sound’s d&b audiotechnik J Series PA system by providing another J Series system for sidefills and d&b B2s for subs. “Obviously with hip hop, the bottom end is really important,” Stahlhut said. “Our job is to make sure the sound system has enough power and control, while also trying to not push the system into the limiters.”
Because VER is accompanying Outkast on the festival tour, it faces the extra challenge of adapting to different sound systems, depending on the festival. “We see a lot of d&b audiotechnik, Meyer Sound and L-Acoustics, as well as running into JBL VerTec every now and again,” said Stahlhut. “But our engineers have been exposed to enough systems that as long as the local companies deploy them properly, you can get what you need out of them.”
Having a knowledgeable crew is another key factor to putting on a successful performance, Stahlhut added. Not only do they need a knowledge of various sound systems, from consoles to loudspeakers, but they also need to be able to work alongside the other audio vendors to assure that everything runs smoothly.
“With touring, it’s easy to spend a lot of time focusing on every little thing. But with festivals, it is more important to work with the other companies every day and focus on the large important aspects such as quick line-checks. It’s very important to maintain a schedule at a festival,” explained Stahlhut.
Comparing Outkast’s festival tour to a more traditional tour, Stahlhut noted there’s a lot more air travel involved for the artists, since they usually only perform one night a week. “There’s different sides to touring versus festivals,” he said. “With tours, the upside is you get to sleep on the tour bus, whereas with festivals, you fly out Friday for a Saturday show, load-in at 1 a.m. and do soundcheck and linecheck, then go back to the hotel to sleep for a bit. With touring, you kind of make a home out of your bunk on the bus, but with festivals, on your off days you’re going home. It just takes a little longer to get a rhythm.”
Attention to the weather is always a big consideration when playing festivals, since the majority of them are outdoors. For VER Tour Sound, Stahlhut said before the show, all of their gear is stored under tarps, so they don’t have to worry too much about the sound system withstanding the weather all day, but they still keep a careful safety plan in practice, especially when dealing with the weather.
“We have a full emergency management plan,” added Russell, who as a producer of the festival will most likely be the one making a call in the case of an emergency. “In that plan we address situations like weather, and in the case of 30 mph winds or higher, extreme thunder and lightning, hurricane, etc., then we’ll cancel the show. We’ll do whatever it takes to keep the patrons and crews safe.”
For Russell, he said Governors Ball runs, rain or shine, unless it becomes a safety issue. In 2013, Tropical Storm Andrea hit New York City during the festival, and while most of the performances still happened, it left organizers with mud all over Randall’s Island that would need to be restored.
“Immediately following the event, we worked with the parks department and did a full restoration of the field,” Russell said. As part of the restoration, Russell said they put in a mix of sand and hay into areas of the field that were prone to flooding, as a way to prevent future wear and tear on the site.
“When you’re dealing with 40,000 people a day, obviously you will have wear and tear on the park. But we really take care of the park as much as we can to minimize damage and repair it.”
Luckily, for 2014, the three-day festival was met with dry, sunny weather, perfect for an outdoor music festival.
VER Tour Sound