Last years inaugural Firefly Festival was the dirty little secret of 2012s festival season. It managed to go relatively unnoticed, despite the fact that it boasted an incredibly strong lineup and atmosphere to rival any of the major US fests. So, it was a little hard to know what to expect for the second go-around this weekend in Dover, DE. Sometime during the third hour of waiting in standstill traffic on Highway 1 South, however, it was pretty obvious that word had gotten out. Everything from the size of the campgrounds to the number of attendees had almost doubled in size. Rather than having bit off more than the still-fledgling festival could chew, the weekend once again proved to be a resounding success.
Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, and Foster the People rounded out the top of the bill. Now, I know what youre probably thinking – but what these headliners lacked in the hip department was made up for by an above average list of mid/lower level acts. Combine that with a serene, evergreen-lined setting, gracious staffers, and ample shade and youve got a festival with the potential to stick around. The folks who put on Firefly are clearly in it for the long haul, and they rose to the occasion with flying colors.
I actually lost count of the number of bands who took time out of their sets to specifically note how well they had been treated by the festival staff. It was something you dont see too often, and bodes well for many Fireflys to come. Perhaps it was the shady oak tree around every corner, or the area of woods devoted solely to hammocks, but Fireflys stress-free temperament cannot be overstated. Especially after the mud-covered clusterfuck that was Governors Ball earlier this month, it was hard to disagree with Fireflys not-so-modest tagline: The East Coasts premiere music experience.
Photography by Yetunde Dada.
When Schoolboy Q personally hugged everyone in the audience who was expecting to see Earl Sweatshirt
Earl Sweatshirt was scheduled to perform at The Porch Stage on Friday night, at the same time as headliners Red Hot Chili Peppers. Unfortunately he had to back out on short notice due to a case of pneumonia. Schoolboy Q was tapped as a last minute replacement, and was quick to extend his apologies to the 30-40 people who showed up to watch his set. He was so apologetic, in fact, that after finishing the final verse of Yay Yay, he actually jumped off stage and proceeded to personally hug every single person in the crowd.
While Kendrick Lamars Saturday set just prior at The Lawn Stage more than quenched everyones hip-hop fix, it was Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes that stole the afternoon. Draped in a long blue dress, the frontwomans sweet Southern bellow gave the sticky crowd a second wind after enduring the 95-degree heat all day long. Bassist Zac Cockrell, meanwhile, looked like a trucker about to start his next shift dressed in baggy overalls and a white t-shirt. This taste of Muscle Shoals fit right in next to the backwoods surroundings and swampy atmosphere. Though it was Hold On that proved to be one of the highlights of the weekend, they did also manage to slip a new song into their all-too short set.
Mike Campbells hair
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers headlining set on Saturday night brought out the best Dad dancing in all of us. As rough as the 60-year-old Petty looked, he sounded impeccable. There were none of the tell-tale symptoms of a band losing its battle with father time, like key changes to adjust for worn out vocal chords, or several back up singers to share some of the load it was just a bunch of old dudes rocking out like it was 1979 again. Though perhaps the one puzzling thing about a set filled with straight to-the-gut classic rock gems was whatever that was sitting on top of Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbells head. Before they even got to tracks like Wont Back Down or Mary Janes Last Dance, I heard the words Zak de la Rocha and Captain Jack Sparrow being thrown around among the audience. Proof yet again that as long as youre in a band, it really doesnt matter what you look like. Thankfully the dred-locked ax man helped deliver a thoroughly enjoyable set of radio classics that even the folks waiting for Big Gigantics midnight set enjoyed.
It wasnt muddy
A few things happen to you after spending three straight days in utter misery, up to your shins in mud at a music festival. In between questioning your life choices, you promise yourself never to take the concept of solid ground for granted ever again. The grounds crew at Firefly was prepared for the isolated thunderstorms on Sunday afternoon with acre upon acre of beautiful, water absorbing mulch. Tree cover was also easy to find, as were the basketball court-sized shade tents. Some folks embraced the few momentary downpours, but the point is that if you wanted to, it was possible to stay relatively bone dry. So what if it ended up smelling like something that spilled out of the port-o-potty? It kept my Vietnam acid flashbacks at bay and allowed the festival to continue virtually uninterrupted.
The Backyard Stage
Tucked way back into the festival grounds, about a 10 min walk from the main stage, The Backyard Stage wasnt exactly the spot for incidentally running into a band youve never heard of. This made it easy to see well-known bands like Grizzly Bear, The Walkmen, CHVRCHES, and even a late night set from Azealia Banks with crowds the size of a High School talent show. Usually at festivals, you get stuck squinting at your favorite acts from half a mile away unless you show up an hour before set time. That wasnt the case at The Backyard, and it ended up being the perfect place to sit down and peacefully catch some tunes or to recharge before trekking back towards the main stage.
Karen O dedicated Maps to James Gandolfini
Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs was dressed relatively modestly in a red leather jacket with fringe and matching pants. Not quite the crazy getup that a headlining spot would likely have necessitated, but her bands Saturday night set opening for Tom Petty was essentially the days climax for those of us who dont have the classic rock radio station on preset. The set predictably favored Mosquito, and peppered in a few older fan favorites like Gold Lion and Pin. The most touching moment came when O dedicated Maps to the late James Gandolfini, who also hailed from the YYYs native New Jersey. It wasnt exactly a somber, moment of silence-type moment, rather a celebration the actors life through one of the greatest love songs of the past 15 years.
The HAIM sisters
The sisters of HAIM made the best of a not-so-great billing in the middle of the afternoon at the very large Lawn Stage. For the average looky loo on their way to the food trucks or port-o-potty, it was almost impossible not to stop and gawk at the bands hypnotic percussion and 80s-indebted pop sensibilities. Danielle Haim stood front and center, shredding away on her Gibson SG with her long, straight dark hair bouncing like Black Sabbaths long lost daughter. Haim showed off their lighter side with a cover of Fleetwood Macs 1969 deep cut Oh Well, fitting it seamlessly into the sound of the rest of their set.
Matt & Kim seriously overshare (a.k.a the time Kim showed 10k people her boobs)
Matt and Kims Sunday afternoon set at The Lawn stage drew one of the biggest crowds of the entire festival. At ten songs, it was a short but sweet adrenaline shot to the heart, even if you werent able to get closer then 100 yards to the stage. Before breaking into mid tempo torch song Ten Dollars I Found, Kim stood up on her bass drum an matter-of-factly removed her bra, leaving little to the imagination behind the mesh tank top she was left with. Being really hot is one thing, but showing off your assets to 10,000 fans in broad daylight is bravery I cant even imagine. Things got even more X-rated with she soon assured the crowd that the dark spot above her right breast wasnt a third nipple, but rather a hickey Matt had given her the night before in bed. With that mental image in everyones brains, they bounced through a killer version of Daylight complete with confetti and hundreds of beach balls.
In contrast to the often-overcrowded Brewery, The Winery was sparsely populated all weekend. It was a choice high-class retreat, and a unique way to kill some time in between sets. Complete with real vines curling their way in and out of the many vendor booths, a wide array of shades and flavors of wine were ripe for the drinking. A scrumptious fruit and cheese plate was also a bargain (in festival terms) at $10, and perfectly paired your beverage with four different kinds of cheese and a tangy apricot jelly.
Rostam Batmanglijs sweater
The moments of torrential downpours on Sunday succeeded in creating a sauna-like effect throughout the festival grounds. 15 minutes standing out in the bright sunlight and thick humidity left everyone looking like they had just jumped into a swimming pool. Walking on stage wearing an impossibly thick beige knitted sweater, the heat was apparently of no concern to Vampire Weekends Rostam Batmanglij. Thankfully, the sun went down behind the trees about halfway through his bands almost-headlining set at The Lawn Stage. Ezra Koenig & co. treated the massive crowd to an all-killer-no-filler set that touched almost equally on all three VW releases. Their self-titled 2008 LP perhaps got the most love, but it was Contra single Cousins that prompted a lovely lady in the front row to toss her pink and black bra up to the frontman. I seriously doubt Tom Petty gets that kind of treatment.
A giant ornate mirror hung against a floral backdrop behind drummer Chris Tomson, and intermittently flashed various images like the chandelier from the cover of their first album, to a headshot of a powdered wig-wearing gentleman. New single Diane Young was easily a highlight of the set, if only for the baby, baby, baby, baby chorus, which unleashed 40,000 drunk, preppy Roy Orbisons onto a massive singalong. Only the festival schedule-makers can answer how in the hell Foster the People managed to get higher billing than Vampire Weekend. But as soon as the staccato piano line of epic set closer Walcott rang out across Dover, it was clear at least from the audience that this was the climax of Sunday.
Photographer: Yetunde Dada