After gale-force winds and rain marred last year's event, New York will host the fourth Governors Ball on Friday, which could be its answer to Lollapalooza and Coachella and the city's most successful attempt yet to establish a homegrown music festival.
Grammy-winning rock group Kings of Leon were forced to run for shelter last year as the festival grounds on Randall's Island in New York's East River were transformed into a morass of stinky, sticky mud.
But the three-day event is back with a lineup that includes hometown favorite The Strokes, rock musician Jack White, French indie rock band Phoenix and hip hop duo Outkast.
It is all thanks to 20-something friends, Jordan Wolowitz, Tom Russell, and Yoni Reisman, who quit their jobs in 2011 and formed Founders Entertainment.
“You’re the master of your own destiny when you’re independent,” Russell told Reuters. “That’s part of the reason we’ve grown so organically and been so successful.”
Their first outing was a one-day, twelve-band festival on Governors Island, which was profitable in its first year, a feat that takes most festivals years to achieve. The second installment was moved to Randall’s Island where it has remained ever since.
Despite the success of Woodstock 45 years ago, New Yorkers watched as other cities captured the summer music calendar. Chicago hosts Lollapalooza and more specialized festivals like indie-rock's Pitchfork, and the retro-punk RiotFest.
Greater Los Angeles kicks off the festival season with the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival. New Orleans has JazzFest while Bonnaroo, in the woods of Tennessee, begins next week.
Tickets for events like Coachella and Bonnaroo have sold out minutes after going on sale. But the US Northeast has largely missed out on the action, although not for lack of effort. Bonnaroo N.E., Field Day, Vineland, Across the Narrows, All Tomorrow's Parties and Creamfields, among others, failed to gain traction.
Even Goldenvoice, the promoters behind Coachella, could not break into the New York market. In 2008 the group held All Points West in Jersey City, with British rock band Radiohead headlining, but the festival was abandoned after its second year. Founders said it learned from All Points West’s mistakes that New Jersey is no substitute for New York City.
Governors Ball, which remains solely owned by its three founders, faces the additional challenge of competing with major companies like AEG Live and Live Nation that have invested heavily in the festival business. Despite this, Governors Ball has grown from 18,000 attendees its first year to an anticipated 45,000 daily attendees this weekend.
“Even though the purchasing of music is at an all-time low, the consumption of music is at an all-time high,” Wolowitz said.
“People are digesting more music and their palates are more diverse than ever. A contemporary festival like ours has a lot of appeal. It’s indicative of how people digest music in the 21st century,” he added.