Updated: January 28, 2023
The spectacle of the annual Governors Ball doesn’t lie in the performances. It’s in the swaths of neon-clad teens trekking across the RFK bridge from Harlem to Randall’s Island. It’s in the murals that insist “YOU’RE DOING GREAT” and the made-for-Instagram “seatbelt forest” by the Honda stage. It’s in the identical photos taken around a plexiglass wall and the five $20 tequila sodas that I will inevitably consume. Music feels secondary to the scene — the festival is a branded social affair.
Last month Tinder launched “Festival Mode,” a function designed to connect fellow festival goers, and partnered with a number of US and UK fests including Bonnaroo, EDC, and, of course, Gov Ball. “If your summer plans include finding a Bonnaroo bae, Firefly fling or Hard Summer hang,” the press release stated, “Tinder just made it easier to swipe and connect with concert warriors near or far just in time for festival season.”
It had been about two years since I swam in the digital cesspool that is Tinder, but the idea of being stranded on an island with all of your matches and their matches and their matches’ matches was just chaotic enough to make me re-download. The app recovered my old picture and bio, which read: “Just got dumped lol.” I had just gotten dumped.
Festival Mode isn’t exactly “user-friendly.” To opt in, you have to swipe through user profiles and find your festival’s designated profile. It then lets you match with other fest attendees even before arriving on-site. Instead of doing that, though, I stood outside the festival gates on Saturday, vigilantly swiping until I found the Gov Ball card. My swipe right was rewarded with a blue and pink “Gov Ball” sticker that appeared on my picture.
“Kevin, 22” was my first match. He also had the sticker. His bio read: “Irish boy over for the summer. Part time personal trainer. Full time virgin. If anyone has numbers for green please help me out.”
I did not have any numbers for green but I started the conversation anyway: “Gov ball?”
He replied: “Don’t even know what it is haha.”
I thought it best he not know and unmatched him.
A few more matches rolled in, “Dan, 21,” a “6’1″ Filmmaker & Music Producer & Vibe Architect” and “Sara, 20,” who has a dog named Prozac. But the cell service on Randall’s Island is shoddy at best, and the app, of course, only works if you have service. Inside the festival grounds, user pictures rarely loaded. I ended up swiping right on everybody, hoping something would stick.
“If you can legally drink at Gov Ball you are technically considered a senior citizen,” my very wise friend Lauren said after we watched a girl hit two Juuls at once. I went over and asked if she uses Tinder. She stared at me and walked away. Maybe I came on too strong.
Later that night, I found a small stretch of grass under the balloon arch where my phone could send and receive messages. Most of the people I chatted with hadn’t met up with any of their matches. I was about to close out of the app when a message from “Nick, 26” popped up: “You look groovy. Meet at rainbow?” Normally, I would ignore this corny compliment. But, for the story, I obliged with a “yas.”
As I approached rainbow, I was able to find him easily because he was wearing the same dumb hat he had on in his Tinder picture.
“I want to see Major Lazer,” I said.
“Same,” he replied.
We were bonding. He nodded at my half-drunk, Adderall-fueled musings while we walked to the stage and didn’t respond when I complained: “I can’t see Diplo.”
“Nick” followed me in search of a better Diplo vantage-point. I knew I could get a good view in the VIP section. But I didn’t want to ditch my new friend, who Gov Ball so cruelly deemed a Less Important P. Still, I really wanted to look at Diplo.
“Maybe you could sneak into VIP with me,” I offered half-heartedly. I didn’t expect him to try, nor did I expect it to work, but he did and it did.
Columns of fire shot up around the stage while Major Lazer played “Original Don,” which, at the time, was the best song I had ever heard. “Nick” had a staunch “I don’t dance” vibe. I love to dance. This was our first fight, the earliest sign that we were growing apart, that this wasn’t meant to be. Walshy Fire, one of the Major Lazer members who is not Diplo, told everyone to put their arms around the person next to them. I thought this was as good a time as any to lose “Nick” in the crowd. “I can’t see Diplo,” I said again before moving to the opposite side of the sectioned-off area.
You had to spend a good portion of your day refreshing Tinder and looking for service to get the full Festival Mode experience. This is not lost on the folks at Tinder, whose business model thrives on an island of people compulsively swiping to little avail. It’s almost too on-the-nose. The futility of it all set in on Sunday. Gov Ball was delayed until 6:30PM, long after the scheduled start time, because of an impending storm. Just three hours later, a voice took over the speakers and instructed us to move quickly and calmly toward the entrance. A wicked storm was fast approaching the grounds and the rest of the day was cancelled. People started throwing beer bottles and destroying the plexiglass sculpture in what might’ve been the best performance I saw all weekend.
Before leaving Randall’s Island, I matched with “Kabir, 25.” He initiated the chat with: “Are you here?! I’m rolling super hard and I think it might be fun to talk.”
I, too, thought it might be fun to talk. But, on account of the torrential downpour and island evacuation, we never met up. When I checked in later, he said he was “dancing in a tree when the announcement happened.”