Gov Ball Co-Founder Jordan Wolowitz, A Pioneer For NYC’s Music Scene

Gov Ball is set for June in Queens' Corona Park./Charles Reagan

By Serin Sarsour and Kate Dempsey

 

   After a long and stressful spring semester, thousands of college students, and New Yorkers in general, look forward to letting off some steam at New York City’s annual Governors Ball. The three-day music festival is taking place this June at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. Jordan Wolowitz, Gov Ball’s co-founder and partner, let Brooklyn College students know what they can expect at this year’s music-filled weekend.

  The headliners for this year are Lizzo, Odesza, and Kendrick Lamar, with other performances by Lil Nas X, Ice Spice, Diplo, Kim Petras, and many more talented artists. Gov Ball will run from Friday, Jun. 9, through Sunday, Jun. 11. 

   “[…] The lineup changes each year, but I think that’s important for the ticket buyers is that they’re going to their favorite festival, but the experience is different each year,” Wolowitz told The Vanguard.

   Wolowitz grew up listening to music and has fond memories of having jam sessions with his dad in the car on the way to baseball practice, noting that this was his first real exposure to great music. While in high school, he got invested in live shows and went to several concerts. He soon became more interested in the ropes of the music business in his early college years.

  “I didn’t know if I wanted to work at a record label or a talent agency or a management company. But throughout college, I kind of tried every space by interning over the summers,” Wolowitz said. “I ended up just following what like my true passion was, which is live music.”

   Wolowitz’s first steps in the music industry were with Paradigm Talent Agency, and soon after, his passion for music and live shows led him to the realization that NYC didn’t have its own big music festival. “There was Coachella in Southern California. There was Lollapalooza in Chicago, Austin City Limits in Austin, Texas, Outside Lands in San Francisco. There just was not one in New York City,” he said.

   Wolowitz and his best friend Tom Russell, the other co-founder of Gov Ball, took it upon themselves to make up for what NYC’s music scene was missing. After countless long nights and weekends pitching ideas to each other, the partners in crime both quit their respective jobs and created their concert-promoting company Founders Entertainment, soon announcing the first Gov Ball in February 2011. The name “Governors Ball” stems from the festival’s first location, Governors Island. 

   A large part of Wolowitz’s job is to search and book artists to perform at Gov Ball. He explained that the factors that go into planning and organizing the lineups for each day of the festival are “a mix of stats and instinct.” It’s important to see who’s selling a certain amount of tickets in their market. Part of the process of finding and booking artists is to go to shows all the time and see who’s selling out venues like Webster Hall and Brooklyn Steel. 

   Wolowitz also bases his booking decisions on his intuition and asking himself questions like where he sees the artist a year out from now. The following process calls for speaking to the artists’ teams, building relationships with them, and actually booking them. “It’s a long process, but I’m kind of obsessed with it both as a fan and also, it’s my job. So luckily, I have both stress, but also the fortune of doing what I love […],” said Wolowitz.

   Looking into artists to book as headliners can oftentimes be a process that starts two years in advance. As Wolowitz and the rest of the Founders Entertainment team work their way down the lineup roster, they search for smaller artists or young, local artists who can be booked four weeks – or even just one week – before the lineups are announced for the year.

   “There are definitely some cases where an artist who plays earlier in the day comes back and plays the festival a few years later because they grew a lot,” Wolowitz said. “Like in 2018, we had Billie Eilish play at 2:15 in the afternoon in her tent. And then fast forward three years and she’s headlining our festival.” Wolowitz also noted that after 10 years since Kendrick Lamar’s last performance at the festival, he is coming back as a headliner this year.

  Similar to Wolowitz’s personal taste in music, The Governors Ball has a little bit of everything, with genres ranging from hip-hop to R&B to indie, providing an encompassing musical experience for festival attendees.  

  “If you look at Gov Ball kind of every year certain genres have changed, but if you look back hopefully that shows my taste in music, which is kind of everywhere. I love everything, whether it’s hip hop, whether it’s R&B, whether it’s rock and roll, whether it’s indie, you know, it’s pretty much everything,” Wolowitz said.

  Some of Wolowitz’s favorite performances have included when artists make a comeback, such as The Strokes in 2013. “[The Strokes] hadn’t played a show in the, you know, I think it was like three or four years at that time, but they came back and played our show. That was our first show in years. They’re from New York. They’re arguably the most important rock band to come outta New York in the last 25 or so years. So that was huge,” Wolowitz said.

   In the first few years of the festival’s run, Wolowitz and Russell faced a few obstacles as they were completely independent and in their 20s, especially since not a lot of people knew who they were. There was always a worry that larger corporate companies would swoop in, outspend them, and start their own festival. But with time, the festival continued to grow and became more successful as more and more people discovered it. The first year of the festival saw 20,000 in attendance; today, the festival reaches capacities of 50,000 each day.

   Wolowitz also noted that the weather can be another challenge as it is out of everyone’s control and unpredictable. “Gov Ball 2013 is now jokingly called the ‘Mud Ball’ because it torrentially downpoured the Friday of the festival,” he said. Only two days of the festival have been canceled due to complications with the weather over the last 12 years.

   The Founders Entertainment team aims to make every Gov Ball different from the last. This year’s festival will be the first to be held at the new location of Flushing Meadows Corona Park, a beautiful spot with ample space to accommodate crowds. With diverse local artists and unique installations, along with their food program where dozens of local restaurants and food trucks are stationed at the venue, there will be no shortage of attractions for attendees. The food lineup for the festival has an inclusive selection of halal, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options, with vendors like Roberta’s Pizza, Mao’s Bao, Doughnuttery, Souvlaki GR, and more.

   “We really care about the full experience for the ticket buyers,” said Wolowitz. “So it’s not just great music, but it’s also if you wanna take a timeout between two artists that you’re planning on going to see in the afternoon that you can go get some great food. You can also, if you’re walking around, check out great art installations.”

   Wolowitz is extremely proud of the work he and the rest of his team have accomplished and described seeing all of their hard work coming into fruition as “very rewarding,” especially since they were usually working out of an apartment or a floor of a townhouse in the East Village for the first 10 years of the festival.

   “​​I’m just looking forward to everyone coming out the weekend of Jun. 9th and seeing not only great music and great art and great food, but also to come and experience Flushing Meadows Corona Park for the first time. ‘Cause it’s a beautiful park, it’s easy to get to, […] it’s gonna be our home going forward,” Wolowitz said.

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