>> The first wave of festivalgoers arrived at the shores of Governor’s Island at 1:00 PM on September 8th to gray skies and cool gusts. Despite the dismal forecast and the slight beginnings of a rainy day, groups huddled along the gates to confirm schedules and recite detailed itineraries. As the rumble of sound-checks seeped from the stages to the lines, friends chatted animatedly about local breweries, while hardened music fans discussed their set-list predictions. Eventually, the crew opened the gates and directed festivalgoers to a line of booths adorned with rows of small sample cups that read, “Octfest.”
Octfest boasts its second year in existence, celebrating the end of summer and the start of autumn with 20 musical artists and over 90 breweries. The festival created by the online magazine, Pitchfork, and its beer-culture publication, October, takes the title of “one-of-a-kind beer, and music and food festival.” A two-day event spread across two stages and a field of over 100 booths, attendants are encouraged to sample beers from across the world while enjoying live music.
The festivities kicked off with Madison McFerrin’s unique and intimate cover of Britney Spear’s, “Toxic.” A singer-songwriter from Brooklyn, McFerrin’s soft crooning echoed through the field and attracted stray festivalgoers, who were mesmerized by the resounding hums of her politically charged piece, “Can You See?”
The day continued with performances from Flasher, Hatchie, Standing on the Corner, and Preoccupations— all bands met with eager whoops and hollers from delighted fans. As bodies hopped and swayed against the barricades, Vagabon took the stage midway through the first day. Groups cheered for the Cameroon-born singer-songwriter and the brilliant touring band that accompanied her. An intense set, heralded by her single, “Fear&Force,” the crowd sang along to the soft strumming and met the explosive guitars and drums with cheers. Fans received a sneak-peak of Vagabon’s next untitled album, with intimate acts of stripped-down vocals and echoing synths.
Both NAO and Saba took charge of their respective crowds, making the most of rainy conditions and encouraging fans to bounce around despite the mud. Festivalgoers cheered and danced to NAO’s funk-inspired R&B as the night crept over and the resplendent stage-lights illuminated her swaying figure. Saba dedicated the second half of his performance to the late Mac Miller, citing him as an important figure and a tremendous loss. Songs from his latest album, “Care For Me,” detailed the underpinnings of grief, and audiences felt the emotionally charged lyrics as they rapped along.
Jeff Tweedy, frontman of Wilco, incited a quieter crowd of loyal devotees with his acoustic set. Admirers of the singer-songwriter’s biting lyrics gathered along the barricades to recite stripped-down versions of songs that never quite saw the light of day with Tweedy’s other various projects.
The night came to a close with a brilliant performance by Vince Staples, an American rapper from North Long Beach California. Finally, the festivalgoers proudly sporting their Vince Staples merchandise received the opportunity to see the artist perform the titular tracks off of his critically acclaimed, “Big Fish Theory.” Backed with a set of glowing screens and interchanging imagery, the rapper commanded the stage as a mysterious figure adorned with neon lights. The audience cheered to the electronic hip-hop and biting choruses of, “745” and danced to the celebratory lines in “Big Fish.” Tired music enthusiasts poured their way through the gates, humming to the tune of Staple’s last track and satisfied after a long day of distinctive performances.
Day Two began with the all-too-familiar pattern of gray clouds, and the unrelenting promise of consistent rain throughout the entire day. Breweries prepared for another afternoon, welcoming new and returning customers. The Courtney’s kicked off the second half of the festival with an upbeat set of poppy choruses and distorted fuzz.
Performances from Julie Byrne, Shopping, Kamaiyah, and No Age catered to the wide variety of genres that the all-inclusive Octfest promised. Julie Byrne hovered atop the elevated stage, sitting cross-legged while humming her confessional lyrics into the microphone. The crowd was completely silent, mesmerized by the reverberating synths, the soft sounds of the amplified harp, and Byrne’s careful voice.
Girlpool marked the day’s halfway mark with another loud set, playing songs from their most recent album “Powerplant.” The loyal audience circled around the stage to watch the dynamic between Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad as they, traded instruments, joked with the audience, and sang about navigating complicated relationships and the unavoidable existential dread that comes with simply living.
Hop Along took the stage next, beginning with the first single, “How Simple” off their most recent album, “Bark Your Head off, Dog.” The seasoned rock band from Philadelphia confidentially encouraged the audience to sing along, and the crowd happily obliged. Front-woman Francis Quinlan interchanged between her breathy vocals and scratchy falsettos, as the band backed the exchange of raw and intimate lyrics.
Nile Rodgers & Chic provided a much-needed dance break amongst the frigid rain. Soaked festivalgoers reveled under the shining disco ball hovering above the stage and animatedly danced along to the freeing disco hits of the late 70s. Yo La Tengo came on shortly thereafter, proving to devotees of this indie-rock band that there is no end in sight. Yo La Tengo’s masterful performance and careful attention to every second of every minute they’re on stage created a warm comfort for an audience that was left speechless and crying.
Groups immediately rushed to the second stage to meet Wayne Coyne, the frontman of the Flaming Lips, who was politely insistent on letting Yo La Tengo’s set finish in fear of disrupting their intense fade-out, which he personally enjoyed. In a few short seconds, the stage was rearranged as “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (also known as 2001 Space Odyssey’s theme song) introduced the remaining band members. Silhouettes grabbed instruments as Coyne conducted the audience’s cheers until the stage exploded in a cacophony of confetti and massive balloons.
Long-time fans of the band belted out the lyrics to “Race for the Prize,” while hitting balloons with their flailing limbs. The Flaming Lips magnificently led a performance bustling with karate chops, giant bots, human-sized orbs, and devoted fans that grabbed their loved ones and sang into the faces of strangers with the utmost excitement. Each song was met with loud praises while the seconds in between were filled with tearful reflections of a band’s long and immense impact on so many people.
Coyne serenaded the audience under an enormous, inflatable rainbow as the rain came to an end and the last of balloons finally made their way to the ground. Together, they harmonized to the existential words of “Do You Realize??” And with that, Octfest came to a spectacular close.<<