In late July, my fiancee, Catey and I went to the Firefly Music Festival. Located at Dover Downs in Delaware, the event was held at a facility that is usually a home for Nascar events. This was the first year for Firefly and there was an estimated draw of 30,000 plus people. On our way toward the festival, traffic seemed a non-issue until we actually approached the venue. Cars were slowly shuffled down the road through a checkpoint where the camping RFID tag that we were sent and affixed to the windshield was scanned. We were then directed through a small city of tents and porta-potties until we were given our spot to park. The 10 x 30 lot provided enough room for the car and the tent. I remarked that I had hoped that we were somewhat near the toilets, making a late night trip to the bathroom easier. Well, there they were, right across the road. At least they didn’t smell too much, but the noise of everyone using them kept me awake at night.
After successfully erecting our abode, we began the trek to the festival grounds themselves. Not actually being held in the Dover Downs complex, but rather over the highway at an area where Nascar fans usually camp, it was a short hike to the gates. Once there, we walked in through the maze-like entrance gate to the checkpoint. They peeked in my bag, but just barely, and then patted me down, not bothering to ask me about my bulging pockets. I could have brought anything that I wanted into the venue. I brought a roll of toilet paper, a water bottle, and a couple of ponchos for my partner and I, just in case it got too wet. My durable but mildly uncomfortable cloth wristband served as my pass and had an RFID tag in it as well, making entry as simple as scanning my bracelet. This tag, if you had registered it online properly, would also serve as a way to “check in” to various areas of the festival by scanning your bracelet on the provided terminals. The rain maintained a steady drizzle for most of the day, but it was nothing a seasoned North West native couldn’t handle. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Western Washington State. I think that I rather like Delaware!
The first thing that we did was walk around the grounds to check out what was there. There were a total of four stages, with two on each side of the grounds, and it was clear that the festival was set up very well with many wonderful amenities. The Information booths were easily identified by the big question mark balloons above them and there were plenty of porta-potties. The pathway that led between each side of the festival was well decorated, with colorful jackets wrapped around the tree trunks and some kites in the branches above. One area boasted a hammock hangout, complete with a couple of swings and a handful of benches located in a beautiful, shady clearing within a grove of trees. Next to two of the stages there was a “hot air balloon ride” featured, where, for twenty bucks, you could go forty feet in the air… not even above the treeline! It was a pretty useless attraction, but it looked good behind the stage. Toms Shoes had a big tent set up where you could buy a pair of shoes and have them custom painted. Each pair that you bought for one hundred dollars would also provide some child in need with a pair of shoes of their own. There was also a flipbook-making station where, for seven dollars, you could have seven seconds of your life recorded to a small paper flipbook. To spice up the shots, a bunch of props were made available for use. The process was quick and painless and it will be a lovely memento to have around. Cellphone recharging stations offered air conditioning with limited seating and there was even a mobile shower vehicle, as well as some other vendors near the campsite. It turned out that the amenity that I was the most thankful for was the free fresh filtered water filling stations where you could buy Kleen Kanteen brand water bottles and accessories. It was there that I was able to snag a Firefly branded bottle for twenty bucks.
There were a few rows of food vendors, each with a different theme. Among them were Lemongrass (East Asian bistro), Sweet Tooth (ice cream and such), Salud (the mexican grill), Fresh Co (the vegeterian friendly option), Trattoria (pizza), The Front Porch (Southern cooking), The New Kitchen (American comfort food), and The Burger Joint. There were also plenty of frozen lemonade and ice cream stands. A mobile Jack Daniels tour bus was giving out free photos and ten dollar shots, while multiple vodka and tequila booths poured Ketel One and Jose Cuervo. A handful of stands were selling sixteen ounce Budweisers and Bud Lights for 6 dollars. The vineyard where you could sip on eight dollar wines appeared to be the least popular.
The first place that I wanted to go to, though, was to get some real beers at the Dogfish Head Brewery tent. Eight dollars a beer is acceptable when the it’s a 9% abv behemoth like the 90 Minute IPA and there is air conditioning provided with places to sit down. It also felt good to be buying beer that came from only about 45 miles away, really giving the festival a good local tie. Dogfish Head made a custom English Pale Ale for the event that they dubbed the Firefly Ale. It sat at a lowly 5% abv and tasted like a generic English bitter–rather disappointing. After having a of couple of beers while the Wallflowers played their set in the background, I made my way to one of the vendors to try some food. Seven dollars and five minutes of wait time later, I got my “Grown Up Grilled Cheese” on Texas Toast with a slice of tomato, and possibly another slice of tomato. It was really more of a warmed cheese sandwich, as they were rushing them off the grill, even though there was not much of a line. I tried to get a mac and cheese pizza, but they did not have any. Catey, however, got the Buffalo Chicken pizza: a formidable 8″ pie with some pretty decent looking toppings.
After munching down the food, it was time to actually see the set that OK GO was performing. The band plays an upbeat alternative pop rock with plenty of catchy hooks. Best known for their elaborate music videos; starting with their internet sensation “Here it Goes Again,” featuring a choreographed dance on treadmills and, more recently, with a spot in the Superbowl for the song “Needing/Getting,” where they sing from the inside of a rally car, as they drive it through a custom-made track, in which the vehicle actually plays the backing music as it passes rows of instruments. Their live performance was fairly animated and the crowd was having a grand old time. At one point they started a sing-a-long to “This Too Shall Pass,” which has a music video featuring an meticulously constructed rube goldberg machine, or an extensive marching band and ghillie suits – depending on which version you watch. Plenty of confetti was sprayed all over the audience, but that was the extent of the stage antics. It was a solid performance, but I expected a more interesting show from a group that has such creative music videos.
Next we decided to check out John Legend. His band of R&B stars consisted of powerhouse drummer, Rashid Williams, a talented bass player, a shredding guitarist, a pair of female backup singers, a couple of horn players, and a guy surrounded by keyboards. Based on everything that I had previously heard from him, I went in expecting something pretty cheesy, but I ended up somewhat impressed. His band was tight, talented, and fun to watch. The backup singers were doing choreographed moves and the guitarist regularly interacted with the other members. The man himself puts on an excellent performance; switching between running around with his microphone, stirring up the crowd, and sitting at his piano, showing off a fairly versatile voice. The crooning ballads tended to lose the crowd a little, but his upbeat tunes were a lot of fun. A cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”opened the set, and a funky stab at Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” blended in with a mix that included both originals and a few other covers, with ease. Legend demonstrated his showmanship through such crowd pleasing antics as stripping off his jacket, walking down the aisle between the crowd, and giving out fives to the audience. Plus, it’s not often that I see someone ending a set while standing on their piano. I noticed the sound breaking up a bit toward the end, foreshadowing possible technical problems, but this did not stop John Legend from giving a solid performance.
Rather than lose our position in front of the stage where Jack White was to make his appearance, we decided to skip out on seeing either of the Silversun Pickups or Bassnectar sets and, instead, we stood in place watching them set up the stage. It was a good thing too, because thirty yards or so from the performers is a great spot, and it seemed that every single person at the festival decided to see White play. When Jack and his gentlemen band hit the stage, the crowd went nuts. Unfortunately, the only sound coming out of the speakers was from the vocal mic. After making it through the first song, chants of “turn it up” echoed through the crowd. When the technical details were finally worked out, the first audible kick drum blasted the audience and cheers roared approval.
Everything was in full swing now, including Jack‘s band. A bit sloppy at moments, but full of gritty passion, they put on a very high energy show. At one point, the frontman sat down and tore off his shoes, evidently fed up with the slick conditions of the stage. Williams made things exciting, frequently standing upright and using traditional grip, with his drum kit strangely tilted toward the audience. Also a treat to watch was the keyboard player; jumping up and down, sometimes even playing with his feet, he was perhaps the most energetic member of the band. In the back was White‘s Raconteurs bandmate, Brendan Benson, providing backup vocals, mandolin, and tambourine; as well as a guy who was ripping up pedal steel and violin. Jack had us sing along to “Steady As She Goes” (Raconteurs) but when the White Stripes classic “Seven Nation Army” started, he didn’t have to encourage the audience – everyone began singing along to the easily recognizable riff. During one section, the band even stopped playing and let the audience take over for them as Jack sang a verse.
The set list included hits from various Jack White projects, including The Raconteurs, The White Stripes, The Dead Weather and his new solo album, Blunderbuss. I think that the technical derailment at the beginning kept Jack from feeling really good about the set, and it showed, but he was professional enough to keep it going and burned through it anyway.
After a rousing hour and a half set, the trek back toward camp began for the endless sea of people. Echoes of “Seven Nation Army” kept flowing through the crowd, as we shuffled out of the gates. Back at the tent we settled in for a few snacks and drinks before retiring. Overall, it was a great first impression, even with the drizzly grey weather.