Governors Ball Explains Sunday Evacuation + Reveals Dates For 2020

A makeup date for Day 3 headliners, The Strokes is also in the works

June 3, 2019

Gonzalo Marroquin / Getty

This year's incarnation of Governors Ball was not without it's hiccups, namely manifested in a Day 3 which barely happened at all.  After delaying doors by 6 hours due to area thunderstorms, the event was ultimately forced into emergency evacuation when a pair of weak storm cells combined later Sunday evening, creating a threatening environment for attendees, which ultimately resulted in the cancellation of sets from headliners The Strokes and SZA.  The turn of events forced tens of thousands of attendees to flea the scene en mass (though some chose to hang around the grounds and vandalize art installations, as is par for the course of humanity at this point), resulting in something that felt akin to the exodus from Egypt, complete with biblical rain, and earth shaking thunder, with much of the trek across RFK bridge illuminated by bursts of lightning overhead.

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Naturally, no one was exactly thrilled with how things turned out, including Gov Ball promoters Founders Entertainment, who in a move of rare transparency for a festival of this size, issued a lengthy apology and explanation for the days turn of events.  As if that wasn't enough, the team took to a Reddit AMA in a bid to actively engage festival goers, answering additional questions and providing clarity on key issues.  While we've included the full note below, there are at least a couple noteworthy takeaways from the aforementioned AMA, which includes the revelation that the festival will indeed return to Randall's Island next year across the dates of June 5-7.  This was confirmed by Founders' Entertainment founder Tom Russell.  Additionally spurned fans can hold out hope for another area show sooner than later.  "We're working on it", the Gov Ball team confirmed, when one user asked if a make-up date from The Strokes was on the table.  Another interesting revelation from the thread comes with Randall's Island apparently standing as the only suitably sized New York venue that can host a ticketed event such as the festival, explaining the promoter's reasons for not moving locations following this year's debacle.  The whole thread, which continues to be updated and addressed, can be viewed here.

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Additionally, while it's easy to throw stones, a detailed explanation of the fest's attempts to work with multiple city and weather agencies in a bid to make the best decisions on Sunday is detailed below, and paints an honest picture of a company doing their best balancing act to provide attendees with their expected musical experience while maintaining a safe environment.  Ultimately it was a futile exercise, but it's an interesting read on festival mechanics and reminds us all that there are in fact real people behind the brands we love, and their intentions are good. 

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First off we want to sincerely express how sorry and upset we are that the festival had to delay opening and then eventually evacuate yesterday. We work all year round on the festival, and yesterday’s chain of events was the very last thing we ever wanted to occur.  We are sending you this email to give you the truthful and transparent backstory on how the day played out from our side, and we encourage you to read through it all, and chat with us about it tomorrow (Tuesday, June 4th) at 1pm via a Reddit AMA.

On Sunday June 2nd at 8am, the festival management team spoke with our professional weather service about the day’s forecast. At that time we were told that there was a high likelihood of thunderstorms and lightning throughout the afternoon, with 4pm-6pm being the most problematic and the most threatening. We relayed this information to The Parks Department, The Mayor’s Office of Citywide Special Events, and New York Police Department, and given the moving nature of the storm, we all agreed to regroup with the meteorologist for an updated forecast at 11am. Immediately after our conversation with the city agencies, we communicated to all Sunday and 3-day ticket buyers (as well as all wristband registrants) that due to severe weather, patrons should not come to Randall’s Island, and an update on the festival would be made no later than 11:30am. This message was sent via email, social handles, app push notification, and our website, in an effort to communicate to as many people as possible. 

At 11am, the festival management team and all aforementioned city agencies (in addition to others) called our weather service for an updated forecast. We were informed at that time that the forecast had not changed. We were also told that after the expected weather cell hits between 4pm-6pm, a cold front was moving in which would reduce the likelihood of severe weather for the rest of the day. Given this information, a decision was made to push gates back to 6:30pm. This decision was made in an effort to save the festival day and deliver the most amount of music to you, our fans (15 of the 22 acts were rescheduled). After this call, we communicated through all of our channels about the delayed gates.

At around 5pm, the expected weather system did in fact come through the NYC area and hit Manhattan and Brooklyn with thunder, lightning and heavy rain. This weather was close enough to the festival site that we would have had to cancel and evacuate had it been a normally operating festival day. It moved fast through the city, and by 5:40pm the festival grounds were clear from imminent threat. Doors opened around 6:30pm, and the music started at 7pm.

At 9pm, we were alerted by our weather service that two weak weather systems had formed in New Jersey, and while weak, they needed to be monitored closely in case they intensified. We decided to check in with them every ten minutes, and while on the phone with them at 9:20pm, the two systems combined to create a very strong and very severe threat. There were reported sustained winds of 50+ MPH, a very strong likelihood of thunder and lightning (including cloud to cloud lightning & cloud to ground lightning), and the threat was moving in our direction. We immediately spoke with City officials and began to implement the part of our emergency management plan that calls for evacuation. Music stopped, stage managers instructed people to leave the venue via the PA system, stage screens showed evacuation instructions, and we messaged out via our socials and the festival app that an evacuation was in effect due to approaching severe weather. Working hand in hand with NYPD, MTA, DOT, TBTA (Tri-Borough Transit Authority), and a number of other agencies, we carried out our evacuation plan until the site was clear of attendees.

While we are happy that no injuries were reported during the evacuation, we aren’t going to sugar coat things here. When you are evacuating tens of thousands of people from any site, it is a challenging endeavor. We simply had no choice given the data we received about the approaching severe weather. Your safety is always our number one priority, and yesterday we did everything in our power to give you the most amount of music and Gov Ball as possible.

Less than two hours after the evacuation went into effect, we announced that all Sunday ticket buyers would be refunded and all 3-Day ticket buyers would be refunded pro-rata. There was no doubt in our mind that this was the right and necessary thing to do.