I was happy to get a ticket for the Firefly Festival down in Dover that arrived in the mail on the first festival day which made for quite a stressful morning. I had attended the last two Firefly Festivals and had a great time at both. This one was no exception. The Woodlands (the name of the festival grounds) is always a great place to be, full of positive energy and people enjoying both the music and the natural green surroundings. My favorite spot never changes over the years: The path connecting the two main sections of the festival grounds where people hurriedly make their ways to the next set. At night, when people all head back to their campsites, I like to unwind a bit by breathing the cool night air while appreciating the bright decorations hanging from the trees.
While the drive down was a lot smoother than the year before, the number of attendees had again jumped. In three short years, the Firefly Festival has gone from a small three stage festival to one that spans six or seven with hundreds of thousands of people that can hold its own against some of the most beloved festivals across America. However, I must applaud the logistics side of the people who organized Firefly. Everything ran really smoothly and they were able to absorb so much of the shock of assembling so many people together.
I took a much more relaxed approach to this festival. With only a handful of must-sees, I just went where the festival took me. The first artist I was really hype about was rapper Vic Mensa, who I first saw as a member of the band Kids These Days at the fist Firefly Festival Mensa has since become a great solo act in his own right among the strong Chicago rap scene. Everyone was also excited when Chance the Rapper made a guest appearance. Former members of Kids These Daysalso joined on stage to get everyone super pumped as Mensa performed Don’t Harsh My Mellowoff of the band’s final album before they broke up in May 2013.
I was also pleased to finally see Band of Horses, a band I hadn’t thought about really since high school when I used to really put them on as I drove to school. A bunch of us were surprised one afternoon by a band called Bad Things. They played really solid indie rock, but it was the guitar player that had people talking. People in the crowd kept turning to each other in the audience saying, “Is that Shaun White?” I soon discovered that it was indeed Shaun White, the snowboarder, with short hair shredding it on guitar. That was pretty cool.
I spent the rest of the evening at one stage for first, tUnE-yArDs, an experimental band from New England that touches upon worldbeat, electronic, and Afrobeat. I really had not been a fan of their studio recordings, but I was intrigued the possibility that their live performance would be good.tUnE-yArDs puts on an amazing show with really creative and exciting instrumentation and dancing that conjures a whirlwind of energy and primal textures with truly excellent musicianship forming the backbone. They were an excellent way to start off the night.
Next, I would be missing noise pop duo Sleigh Bells for the iconic Beck Hansen. With a catalogue spanning two decades and encompassing lo-fi alt rock, funk, soul, hip hop, and depressing acoustic stuff on his new album, Beck really knew how to pick ‘em. Due to a sound malfunction, the bass was incredibly high giving Beck the number one spot on the loudest sets I have ever experienced. He had so much finesse on stage, such confidence and swagger with his round hat. For a white guy, Beck can be pretty funky, but we all knew that already.
I spent the next hour or so waiting at another stage as Outkast played to a crowd of thousands that was far too large for me to enjoy. It took a dazzling set by electronic artist Pretty Lights with his colorful lasers and bone shattering bass for me to finally appreciate glow-sticks. I knew that fellow festival-goers on MDMA or ecstasy enjoy having glow sticks in their hands, but I witnessed here for the first time, the incredible phenomenon of glow-sticks erupting into the skies at the bass drop as people gather them again, anticipating the next big one.
Because I didn’t have too much that I had to see the next day, I hung around a lot trying to recover from the exhaustion that inevitably comes at the end of a music festival. I did get to see Weezer’s set where everyone and their grandmothers knew every word to every song and an unstoppable torrent of white people decided that this would be their moment to make history and crowd-surf so that everyone would have to spend the set propping them up. Later on, I caught the beginning of the set from Washed Out, a band whose latest album, Paracosm, has a special place in my heart as an album that I listened to on the reg when I rode the trains in Berlin last fall. I also saw them perform at a club in Berlin which was a really special concert.
Finally, the band I was most excited to see at Firefly: Phantogram. The New York electronic/trip hop band first album Eyelid Movies, blew me away when I first heard it. The same goes for their album from earlier this year, Voices. I listened to it heavily and it is one of my favorite albums of the year. Their performance was one of the most incredible sets I have ever seen. There was a unique energy emanating from singer Sarah Barthel as she projected her powerful voice across the festival grounds. Her gold jewelry reflected the setting sun beaming perfectly onto the stage. They also demonstrated a level of mastery that reminds me of DARKSIDE’s set at Primavera Sound. I will always remember their performance of Celebrating Nothing when near the end of the song, all instruments dropped out except for Barthel on the keyboard singing, “We’re gonna die” as the piano slowed down. The tension built by this outro was unbelievable. I distinctly remember my mouth hanging open in amazement.
To close out the festival, we got some beers at the Dogfish Head tent and then got some energy out at The Thicket where everyone gets personal headphones and dances along to the same music as onlookers look at a silent dance forest. It was another great Firefly Festival and I was really blessed to have been able to attend for my third year in a row.