When Governors Ball once again lands on New York's Randall's Island next month, the 3-year-old festival will mushroom to three days and bring with it the likes of Kanye West, Guns N Roses, Kings of Leon, Nas and plenty of other big names. That's a far cry from its origins in 2011, when it was a one-day, 12-act walk in the park.
"The plan was always to grow the festival bigger and better each year, but to do so organically," says Jordan Wolowitz, one of the three partners of Founders Entertainment, which puts on the entire event. "We had a lot of positive feedback the last two years, both from the public and the music industry. By analyzing the landscape of where the festival industry and culture in the United States was going, we decided that 2013 was the year to expand to three days. We felt New York was ready for it and that people were waiting for a big music festival."
That's a bold claim, given that New York already plays host to a number of large-scale music events, including Electric Zoo (which also takes place on Randall's Island), Electric Daisy Carnival, Afropunk, CBGB and the Great Googamooga. Multi-week events such as the Red Bull Music Academy and CMJ also cloud the space without offering a full-fledged festival experience a la Outside Lands, Coachella, Lollapalooza, Austin City Limits or Bonnaroo.
In the face of so much local and national competition, it is somewhat shocking that Wolowitz, Tom Russell and Yoni Reisman of Founders have been able to inflate their festival so rapidly, especially given the fact that their Williamsburg office has no other year-round employees. They've also scored a number of coups, including West's first major solo date in New York City in half a decade.
HuffPost Entertainment spoke with Wolowitz about those challenges, his own background in music and what it was like to book West. An edited transcript of our conversation follows below.
The festival business is very crowded. What does Governors Ball offer that's different?
Music festivals are embedding themselves much more in our culture, the same way it has been in western Europe for the past 30 years. You're going to see every major market in this country get a big, marquee music festival. The good ones will stick around, and the ones that won't will go away.
What puts us up there in terms of the best festivals in the country? Our line-up, first and foremost, but also the quality of the experience. Our festival really takes on the vibe of New York City. You can see the line-up of New York from the festival, we incorporate local food trucks and New York artists and just get a good Gotham City vibe. No other festival can duplicate that.
This year has the highest-profile headliners to date. With artists like Kanye and Axl Rose on your bill, were any acts difficult to book?
Kanye took awhile, for a few reasons. Even though his name is so big and he seems to be in the spotlight, besides his two Watch the Throne dates with Jay-Z at Madison Square Garden in 2011, this is his first big New York City headliner in five years. He doesn't do that many huge headline shows on his own, and especially in New York. We reached out to him almost a year in advance and worked with his representatives, keeping them in the loop as we built out the line-up. Once he was presented with the finished product, it looked like something that he's never done before and a unique play for him. Now we're all excited to have him play at the festival.
Your line-up does a good job of incorporating elements of dance music without necessarily bending over for that side of the industry and fans, which a number of other major festivals have. How did you strike that balance?
The bottom line is that if you look at music festivals, the digestion of music is at an all-time high. People are listening to more and more types of music than ever before and their palates are more diverse. With our company being myself and our two business partners, at the end of the day, the music will be a reflection of people that we individually like. We're selling a product but we love every single band and artist that's performing. We listen to everything under the sun, but it has to be diverse while also being cohesive.
Who, in particular, are you looking forward to seeing live?
This is a crappy answer, but I'm really excited about all of them. There are no throwaway spots, from the first band coming on at 12:15 in the afternoon to the headliners. Like a lot of people, we're looking forward to seeing what Kanye's going to do -- it looks like he's dropping new music in June and we've seen his production rider and it's going to be incredible. But Kings of Leon are making their first return to New York since 2010, and of course Guns N Roses is huge.
What's your own background in music and event production?
I didn't study anything music-related really; I went to school in Washington, D.C. and studied history and political science. But everything I did outside of class was music-related, from writing about music for our school paper to volunteering on the school's programming board. I had an internship with Jason Flom when he was the chairman of Atlantic Records and after college I went to work for Paradigm as a music agent and then moved to New York to work under Marsha Vlasic at ICM in the rock division.
Hosting a festival in New York -- and on an island -- brings its own challenges with it. What were they, and how did you tackle them?
The great thing about Randall's Island is that you can access it by every type of transportation that exists. You can hop in a cab in Midtown and be there in 15 minutes. You can take the 4, 5 or 6th train up to 125th and walk over the bridge, for a 10 minute walk or a shuttle bus for about three minutes, or you can ride your bike or take your own car. There are many, many ways to get to the festival.
Are there any permitting or other issues that make New York a difficult place to host an event of this scale?
It's oddly ... well, "easy" wouldn't be the right word, but Randall's Island Parks Commission and NYPD and NYFD have been incredibly easy to work with, as long as you're prepared. If you work along with them, things go smoothly.
What's the festival's long-term plan over the next few years?
The plan is to bring a major, marquee music festival to our hometown. The same way that Chicago has Lollapalooza, that San Francisco has Outside Lands and Austin has Austin City Limits, we want Governors Ball to be everything to New York. This year, we've established that -- we're going to be 100 percent sold-out going into the festival, which is impressive given its our third year.
And what's the daily expected attendance?
Over 40,000 people a day. And there is a lot of ground on Randall's Island to add different stages and activities.