Dragonflies and giant Japanese beetles were buzzing about, but oddly not one firefly to be found at the first ever Firefly Music Festival this weekend in Dover, Delaware. With the weather remaining comfortable from the occasional raindrop, the crowd — estimated at 30,000 — was tame in comparison to other outdoor venues, letting the music be the focus — as it should.
Overall, the event was a success. Extremely well-organized and virtually free of traffic and lines for each of the three days. Security was present but not interfering. And it didn’t even turn into a muddy mess. Of course, there were a few minor glitches on signage for locating the free parking and the camping areas, but once settled, it was only a short walk to the entrance and non-stop music on four stages — the Lawn, Backyard, Porch and the main Firefly stage. It was about a 10 minute walk from the entrance and first two stages, through the well-lit wooded area with a newly created ramp and steps to cross the smallest brook, and into the other field for the main stage. The lineup was more limited than similar fests, allowing you to actually catch at least some of all the bands if you chose to. The larger stages also had screens, so you could get a good view from farther back or on the side. Although there were a couple of speaker malfunctions (possibly due to the rain), there were few complaints on sound quality.
In between the stages, there were ample food and beverage stations, a design-your-own Toms’ shoes kiosk ($64), Firefly gear, a poster printing operation, an arcade, hot air balloon rides, cell phone charger areas, and a photo booth. The set-up basically required you to constantly walk back and forth through all these money pits. But except for the Tom’s area, there were few lines. There was no wait even for the $7 photo flipbook, so it’s questionable how much additional profit these extras brought in, though they were a nice touch.
Most of the readily available food options were standard for any concert. Well-done burgers, average hot dogs, decent fries, stale tortilla chips with orange cheese sauce, limp chicken tenders and undercooked pizza. Free condiments, however, included a ton of pickles and Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce.
Fortunately, there were a few gourmet options inconveniently located far away from any stage. The large portion of tri-color nachos at Salud were loaded with seasoned beef, fresh monterery jack and cheddar cheese, jalapenos and corn salsa, with a side of guacamole available. Then there were chicken and waffles (waffle was good but the pint size piece of chicken was disappointing). The Asian BBQ pork tacos were a better bet. Gourmet grilled cheese and tater tots were good, even after a long wait. Too bad the specialty food area was nowhere near the music. Unlike GoogaMooga, no one seemed to care that much about the food situation. Maybe because they were making a meal on the craft beer.
Near the Firefly stage, the Dogfish Head Brewery setup was first class. Complete with air conditioning, tables and TVs. They had $8 drafts of a special Firefly Ale, Midas Touch, Raison d’Etre and the 60 Minute IPA. It was a nice place to chill out. The Vineyard area offered decent wine options, and was even romantically lit at night. Unfortunately, it was located in between the two areas and made it hard to get a drink and dash without spilling wine all over. The mobile Jack Daniels’ distillery was better located, which you could tour and even walk away with a free picture. There were also frozen margaritas stations (too bad the weather wasn’t right for them), and ample Budweiser and Kettle Onesince they were sponsors. (Who missed the obvious marketing ploy with Firefly Vodka??) Drink prices and pours were not bad considering what you would pay at any concert. And, of course, there were two water bottle refill stations — the only places with a line (except for some of the port-o-potties closest to the stages).
Since this was an unfamilar venue, in a field near the Dover International Speedway, the bands seemed to be oddly confused as to who was attending the show. Almost every band, except for Yeasayer, noted that they’d never played in Delaware before and seemed not to realize that a fair amount of the attendees didn’t exactly live nearby either. Billed as the “East Coast Premier Music Experience” — most of the people were from New Jersey, Philly and New York and had 3-day passes. But it certainly drew people from farther away, as evidenced by the various license plates in the camping area. Much like people roadtrip to attend Bonnaroo, there’s no reason that this shouldn’t operate the same way, especially since there are a ton of lodging options nearby. According to some friends, even the “glamping” was very well done, with decent showers, toilets and plenty of food. That the bands didn’t seem to grasp that people would come from all over to attend the fest was odd.
The newer bands with one or two hit songs waited till the end of their performance to play the crowd favorites, which was a bit frustrating. Then there was a mass exodus to whoever else was still performing or coming up next. It was like clockwork and became comical. But it forced whoever was performing to interact with the audience to keep them around. For the most part, everyone put on a good show. John Legend’s voice was smooth and soulful, and he played some covers to get the audience more involved. Grouplove pelted the crowd with confetti. Cake was hilarious- cynical and ironic, even noting the “75 people who actually paid for music,” it was unclear if the crowd got the joke was on them. Michael Franti really got the people into it – making a big deal about “love” in all its forms. Lupe Fiasco was a real showman. And the Flaming Lips had a ton of energy — even sending someone crowdsurfing inside a balloon. Lesser known bands, mostly bluesy, performed earlier in the day. It didn’t seem to get very packed until mid-afternoon, so it was easy to get right near the stage for most of the bands.
As the big closing act on Friday, Jack White gave a surprisingly boring performance (maybe the weather was a factor), and the crowd didn’t seem interested in staying around. On Saturday, the Killers drew a huge crowd, with almost everyone singing along throughout the show. They had some pyrotechnics, which was a crowd-pleaser as always. As did the Black Keys who closed the fest on Sunday night with a few songs you may have heard. If you didn’t get enough action during the day, afterparties at the Dover Downs casino next door (tickets required) seemed to draw a good crowd, as did the free ones in the parking lots.
Since I don’t have a press pass, you might want to check out Billboard‘s review and great photos. The event was such a success that they’re pre-selling tickets to next year’s Firefly tomorrow at noon! I’m betting it will be an even bigger event, drawing more bands, more people and, of course, more advertising. Congrats to everyone who worked hard to make this event go off so smoothly!