When thousands of music fans stream into Flushing Meadows Corona Park for Governors Ball in June for performances by headliners SZA, The Killers and Post Malone, a slew of other well-known artists and a roster of up-and-comers that might include a future Gov Ball top-liner, it will be the result of a process that started about nine months ago.

And if you picture the festival poster, it all starts from the top down, with the big-font names.

“We want this show to be young,” Huston Powell, talent buyer for festival promoter C3, told Highway 81 Revisited. “So I think it’s important to know who your demographic is. You can’t be all things to all people.” 

C3, based in Austin and owned by Live Nation since 2014, puts on 30 festivals, said Powell, from Lollapalooza to Austin City Limits, so it can reach niche music fans or older audiences with certain targeted festivals. Gov Ball is not one of those: the audience is mainstream and, as Powell said, young. “Nothing kind of defines that more than who your headliners are,” he said.

Gov Ball could be settling into the Queens park, home to the 1964 World’s Fair, the Queens Zoo and more, setting up camp for a second year after bouncing from Governors Island to Randalls Island to Citi Field since its inception in 2011.

“At least we felt going into the show, last year the bands loved the site and the fans had a good experience,” Powell said. “We are kind of selling the experience to the bands in New York, the biggest music market in America, that it was going to a unique show.”

Asked what headlining artists’ agents are looking for — besides a big payday — Powell said, “Bands have a lot of options in New York or the greater New York area.”

“You’re into New Jersey and Long Island and Forest Hills and Barclays and MSG and Radio City Music Hall and Central Park, etc.,” he added, “So this is a market where the bands have more options than any other market that I deal with. These are tier-one bands, very strong brand names. They want to be on the biggest, most prestigious stages they can be on, and I think Gov Ball is that in New York.

“And they want money,” he said with a laugh.

As the headliners are being locked in, the C3 team is building out the rest of the lineup, with big names like 21 Savage, Carlie Rae Jepsen and Sabrina Carpenter, then the small-print undercard, including TV Girl, Goth Babe and Alex G.

“The whole lineup is kind of booked piecemeal, like you’re trying to put together a puzzle,” said Powell. “You’re having conversations with 8,500 bands at once and trying to do everything all at once and trying to do something that makes sense. We started this festival to be diversified, and by diversified I mean in every way you can be diversified: by musical genres, represented by women, racial diversity, sexual orientation diversity. It’s something we try to capture like a celebration in New York.

“So we’re just going through and you’re seeing who’s hitting right now, especially because you’re booking these shows nine months before it happens. You’re kind of looking for indicators of how bands have done recently in New York. Chappell Roan, for example, hadn’t done touring on a really mega size but started seeing this groundswell. You try to do that all the time but it doesn’t always work. You’re kind of looking for what’s the next band, who do we see elevating from three [nights at] Terminal 5 or can headline Forest Hills or will be at MSG one day.”

Powell, who is working on Gov Ball for the first time this year, has had success with booking artists on other festivals before they blew up.

“Historically, I’ve booked Lollapalooza since 2005 and those are probably my most rewarding bookings, when you book someone early,” he said. “In the fall of 2017 I booked 16-year-old Billie Eilish. Or last year Noah Kahan. Or the first time we had Mumford & Sons on Lollapalooza, or Hozier, or Dua Lipa for very little money on a very little slot. There’s a lot of those.”

Governors Ball is June 7-9 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. For tickets and more info:

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