Americas East Coast hasnt had the greatest luck with multi-day music festivals. Remember Vineland? All Points West? Sure, upstate New York plays hosts to plenty of jam-band and electronica festivals, and NYC has CMJ and Governors Ball-type events, but none of those are really in the same league as, say, Coachella or Bonnaroo. Companies that try to build the next destination festival northeast of the Virginias always seem to struggle, so for Red Frog Events to call Firefly Music Festival the East Coasts premiere music experience even before its Delaware gates opened for the inaugural outing showed either a ton of confidence, or severe hubris.
Things looked uncertain one week out; forecasts called for thunderstorms through the first two days, and one of the fests highest-billed acts, Passion Pit, canceled their appearance. But Mother Nature kept her potential tantrum to some mild pouting, and Yeasayer stepped up as a worthy substitute for PP. Fridays rain may have kept attendance down, but crowd control was always well-managed, with attendees snaking through gates like at amusement park rides seeming to prevent the jammed funnel effect that often plagues entrances to Chella or Roo. No more than two acts were ever playing at once, and the stages close proximity to each other kept walking down while an alternating schedule and the settings natural barrier of trees prevented sound bleeding. Port-a-johns a plenty meant little waiting there, however minimal food options (the best was actually found in the camping area – hello gastroPod!) and water filling stations did lead to some impatient sighing.
Lack of dietary options wasnt the only hiccup the festival experienced. Though the staff and volunteers were incredibly courteous, they started out pretty clueless. We may have the volunteer shirts on, one young lady told me when I asked where the nearest water station was, but we have no idea. Many vendors werent given any money for change until well after gates had opened. Security didnt know what to do with VIPs or media, and it often changed depending on who you asked. By day two, the wristband RFDI chip scanners came out, and things began to run more smoothly, but inconsistencies and policy changes persisted through Sunday. And then there was sound. Everyone from J. Roddy Walston to Jack White experienced some sort of sound issue. Whether it was a mic turned off, a terribly uneven mix, or instruments being entirely muted, no one was safe from some sort of audio inadequacy.
Then again, Red Frog is young. Firefly is young. Every baby bumps his head now and then. What makes you strong is how you carry yourself with all your bruises, and Firefly did a fine job. The crowd mixed happily, relaxing in the Hammock Hangout or shooting skee-ball in the Arcade. Bands, many of which attested to never having played in Delaware before, seemed to enjoy their time in the First State, as well. Wayne Coyne could be seen taking a ride on one of the on-site hot air balloons, while Michael Franti & Spearhead, Grouplove, Young the Giant, and others squared off in a pickup soccer match backstage. Save for some first-year jitters, the inaugural edition of Firefly was a highly promising one. Heres hoping it can keep its fire burning bright enough to return next year for another round.
Assistant News Editor
Photography by Ben Kaye.
Friday, July 20th
Heartless Bastards – The Lawn – 3:00 p.m.
Despite technically being the second act of the day, Heartless Bastards were the welcome band for many attendees. The Lawn stage was located directly across from the main entrance, and the quartets country-lined blues rock brought over a good crowd as the damp day commenced. Though not much on stage presence, the Austin, TX unit found a solid groove in Got to Have Rock and Roll and a hard stomping breakdown in Parted Ways (which - ahem - they performed for our Off The Avenue series). One apparently ardent fan continuously called for Arrow That Killed The Beast off their recent Arrow, and let out an appreciative holler when they finally played it, with drummer Dave Colvin changing a cymbal for just that song. The fan didnt remain satisfied for long, because when singer Erika Wennerstrom announced theyd be playing older material, he bellowed for Sway off 2009s The Mountain. The band laughed before diving into Hold Your Head High and continuing their breezy, simple set to start the day. -Ben Kaye
The Wallflowers – Firefly Stage – 4:00 p.m.
Back on tour for the first time since 09, The Wallflowers used their spot opening the main stage to showcase what they have in store for their upcoming reunion album, Glad All Over. New numbers like Hospital for Sinners and The Devils Waltz didnt have any Clash-assisted reggae dance vibes and adhered more to the outfits typical roots rock style, a good sign for those who scratched their head upon hearing recently revealed single Reboot the Mission. After playing another new cut, It Wont Be Long, Jakob Dylan made a tongue-in-cheek observation: Is there anything worse than when a band comes on and says Herere some new songs? I think this may be more familiar. As those familiar old opening notes of One Headlight came out, the crowd burst into cheers. The chorus may have been the first full-participation sing-a-long of the festival, and Dylan seemed pleased that the tune still hits home. A minor exodus occurred as the song ended, but those who stayed gave their voices again to closer The Difference, and it was clear fans are glad to have The Wallflowers back together. -Ben Kaye
OK Go – The Lawn – 5:00 p.m.
Hey world, guess what? OK Go does more than put out crazy music videos; they also have a damn fine live show. Dapper in suits and ties, the band picked up their instruments and burst into Do What You Want as twin air-cannons filled the sky with confetti. And those cannons fired again and again throughout the set, giving The Flaming Lips a run for their money before they even arrived at the festival grounds. Hits from all three of OK Gos albums – like Get Over It, A Good Idea at the Time, and Skyscrapers – all received plenty of audience love. Though, frontman Damian Kulash Jr. might want to take some lessons, as his commentary often came off sardonic (I didnt even realize there were this many people in Delaware. Do you all own corporations?). Still, he meant well, and when he jumped into the crowd to perform an acoustic Last Leaf, they welcomed him with open arms – and camera lenses. -Ben Kaye
John Legend – Firefly Stage – 6:30 p.m.
John Legend‘s backing band took the stage and stood still, looking pretty angry. Perhaps they had just woken up from their cryogenic sleep after being off from touring with Legend since he opened up for Sade in 2011. Yet, somehow, after a leather jacket-clad Legend took the stage (Come on John, it’s July!), they sprung to life. Legend perched atop a stool and effortlessly pushed a cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” through his pipes — the Firefly crowd ate it up. Granted, it’s more likely they knew the covers compared to most of Legend’s set outside “Ordinary People” and “Save Room”, but it was fine nonetheless. Legend was called up for the gig and he arrived prepared. -Michael Zonenashvili
Walk the Moon – The Porch – 6:45 p.m.
Though their self-titled debut received some lukewarm reception from critics, Walk the Moon is at no shortage of face-painted fans. Anyone here have [the] record? lead-singer Nicholas Petricca asked. At the generous applause, he responded with a smile, I never get sick of that. Many non-fans surely converted, as explosive numbers like opener The Liftoff to a cover of David Bowie’s Lets Dance had everyone in the crowd moving. Even slow-jam Iscariot had hands in the air and the audience singing along. At one point, the band spontaneously used the Super Mario Brothers‘ theme music to lead into Shiver Shiver, loving it as much as the fans did. Now, their music may not be to everyones taste, but after seeing them a handful of times now, I can say theyve never failed to throw one heck of a dance party, rain be damned. -Ben Kaye
Silversun Pickups – The Backyard – 8:00 p.m.
Silversun Pickups played a thunderous show on the Backyard Stage on Friday night, but the slight drizzle and chill in the air put a damper on the audiences spirits. Nevertheless, a few determined souls kept a beach ball airborne, and frontman Brian Aubert played along by batting it away from the stage with his foot without missing a single note on the guitar. The band plowed through Future Foe Scenarios from their breakthrough album, Carnavas, as well as a few tracks from their recent third full-length, Neck of the Woods. Bassist Nikki Monninger, the sole female member of the band, didnt have much by way of stage presence, but she made up for it with impeccable fashion sense. Later in the set, Aubert picked a random audience member named James to be the subject of his between-song banter. I like the cut of your jib, my friend, he told James, whose inaudible answers made the one-sided conversation that much more entertaining. -Katherine Flynn
Bassnectar – The Lawn – 8:15 p.m.
I can’t imagine Delaware has many raves, warehouse parties, or even a large supply of glowsticks. So, when Bassnectar set up stage, it was like a beacon of bass to the crowd hungry for the drop. To my slight annoyance, Lorin Ashton knew that the audience was waiting in line for these ubiquitous assaults of beats, and would play off of it to no end. Instead of the one second, suspense-building pause that one hopes for just prior to the pulsing drop in one of Bassnectar’s tunes, he’d stop the song and get on the microphone and make the crowd work for their bass, but these calls to “make some noise!” were more momentum killers than party starters. At least one of the drops was preceded by an “Intergalactic” sample, and to Bassnectar’s defense, he does know how to let the beat “mmm, drop!” -Michael Zonenashvili
Jack White – Firefly Stage – 9:30 p.m.
Well before Jack White had probably even left his tour bus, the crowd waiting around the Firefly Stage was singing the duh duh duh DUH duh of Seven Nation Army. When the three giant pieces of fabric at the back of the stage turned to make the white roman numeral three now synonymous with the artist, the crowd roared. It all gave the impression that, despite the constant rain, this was an audience hotly anticipating Whites performance. But when he gave the line Can you give me number nine? to the audience on deep White Stripes cut Hello Operator, barely a voice rang out. Same goes for The Raconteurs Top Yourself, and those who joined in for Steady as She Goes had to be coached into it.
Maybe the rain put a damper on the mood, despite White quipping, I know youre standing out in the rain, but you kind like it, dont you? to cheers. (White himself kicked off his shoes during the second song, as the towels laid down by crew members apparently werent sufficient in the slippery conditions). It also could have been the terrible sound issues: if you werent right in front of the stage, you only heard drums or blown-out vocals. It wasnt until the third number, Missing Pieces, that everything leveled out (and someone likely lost their job). Whatever it was, the crowd felt lackluster.
Of course, thats not to say White and his band Los Buzzardos didnt put on a hell of set. Light on cuts from Blunderbuss (only Freedom At 21, Missing Pieces, Love Interruption, Trash Tongue Talker, and Weep Themselves to Sleep made appearances) and heavy on Stripes material, the on-the-spot setlist came with barely a breath between numbers. Madman drummer Daru Jones commands as much attention as White himself, bashing and bending over his set with stanky ferocity. Hes a perfect sparring partner for White, who steps up to him at nearly every solo, nearly falling over his snare during Ball and Biscuit.
The crowd wasnt totally asleep; they gave themselves unbeckoned to We’re Going to Be Friends, and closer Seven Nation Army finally broke them completely out of their shell. Sadly, that was the last number as the set ended about seven minutes early with no encore. Maybe it was the rain, maybe it was the crowd. What we got was fairly short, damp, and weakly received, but it was still Jack White, and the man hasnt failed to deliver yet. -Ben Kaye