Firefly Music Festival Concert Review



written by
John Hanson

John Hanson aka Johnny Rooftop is a musician and writer based in Boston. John has been focusing on his writing, performing, recording and sound engineering. Follow John on Twitter @johnnyrooftop, or visit john-hanson.com to stay up to date on all his projects.

The second Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware went off this year with great success. The headliners Red Hot Chili Pepers and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers each put on incredible performances to audiences containing the majority of the 65,000 festival goers. The show took place at Delaware’s Dover Downs, an international speedway with over 100 acres of woodlands on the premises, which is where the entire festival took place. The campsites are set up about ten minutes away from the front gates on foot, for which the closed down a bridge road that goes over the highway and it is a decent trek. Once inside the two bigger stages are easily accessible and the two smaller stages are tucked away, about another ten minute walk. The festival grounds are littered with awesomeness, such as Heineken rave tents, the Dogfishhead brew house, an illuminated forest garden, a headphone dance party, hammock hangouts, and food stands.

The first day was filled with anxious excitement. Wilde Belle led the buzzing audience into a groove with the swaying beautiful blonde front woman in shades Natalie Bergman and her brother Elliot. The band is super tight and set the mood right. Their songs “Backslider” and “Keep You” stuck out, even soared, surely gaining them new fans. Natalie’s infectious voice matched by the groups impenetrable grove with hard, nearly hip-hop-esque beats set the bar for three day to come.

Django Django kicked off on the big main stage and led a mid-day dance party. Their energy and European coolness rubbed off on the audience well. Their sound is so individual and danceable, some really fun music. As the Delaware sun beat down on the audience, the sense of community could be felt. Atlas Genius was next on the smaller main stage. Keith Jeffery moved around the stage like a seasoned professional, displaying great talent on guitar. The Australian brothers and their group was really impressive live, with a great song selection and good showmanship. The audience sang along to “Trojans” and “If So” and discovered other tunes like

Public Enemy played on one of the back stages as the sun began to set on the first day. Chuck D was on point with his stage presence, bold and in charge. Foot soldiers stood guard of DJ Lord’s booth. Flavor Flav, depending on your stance of him, either made the show or ruined it, hyping the audience with his “Yeah Boy’s” and at one point taking a turn on the live drum kit. Public Enemy was a fun show and a taste of history for the mostly young crowd. The sounds and lights from Calvin Harris could be heard and seen from any distance. The pumping beat and light show took the audience by storm and people went wild. “Sweet Nothing” blasted throughout the grounds like the Festival’s soundtrack. Don’t let anyone say a techno show is not worth seeing, just tell them to check out Calvin Harris.

Red Hot Chili Peppers took the main stage to headline first night of Firefly. The audience was literally packed like sardines, even from a great distance. With guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, the band still sounds classic as ever. They focused on big hits like “By the Way,” “Dani California,” “My Friends,” and “Under the Bridge.” After the slightly lacking solo on “Dani California” Anthony Kiedis advised Klinghoffer to “hate his guitar.” It was very interesting to hear him giving advice in front of nearly 60,000 people. The show was an absolute highlight of the entire festival, a very memorable experience.

At 9 am on Saturday, the temperature was already up around 90 degrees. ZZ Ward was the first group we caught, who played to a relatively smaller crowd, with some obvious diehard fans present. Not too much later, Jim James put on a great show. The bass lines could be felt at our core as James led this band, wearing a black suit and letting his hair run wild. He played a guitar that had a stand on the back, moving it around like he was Steven Tyler with a microphone stand; this was an appreciated innovative piece of equipment. Later he played saxophone and partook in odd behavior, such as holding up a golden teddy bear to his band and the audience and singing half the show with a black towel over his head. Awesome stuff. When you thought you had seen it all, he toned it down and played an utterly beautiful version of “New Life.”

Alabama Shakes and their fearless leader Brittney Howard were a blast of old school southern style laid-back rock. Her voice on great performances of “Hold On” and “Hang Loose” shook the bolts every structure around. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero’s put on a early evening show, as the day started to cool down. “Home” was played with a large majority of the audience singing along. Leader Alex Ebert traveled out to the audience and asked individuals to tell us all a story, which slightly backfired due to most of people who he lent the microphone to being so excited that all they could do was compliment the song, except one guy who exclaimed that he proposed to his girlfriend the day before.

Yeah Yeah Yeah’s played the mainstage as the day was turning to night. The trio rocked and sounded exceptional and very tight. Karen O’s personality on stage is attention grabbing, she even had some wardrobe changes. Guitarist Nick Zimmer showcased insane talent and Brain Chase was on point with his steady beat. The band was pretty obviously ecstatic to be playing to such a large audience, likely much larger than they are used to. Their show was an excellent surprise.

MGMT were up next on the smaller main stage. The screens showed interesting psychedelic images, exploding with color. The band too was filmed in this way, so much so that you could not make out distinct feature of the musicians and they were reduced to silhouettes of moving colors. They jammed through “Weekend Warriors,” “Electric Feel,” “Time to Pretend” and “Kids” from their first album, focusing on fan favorties toward the end.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played on the mainstage to what seemed like literally everyone at the festival. While some of the group’s focus was on lesser known Wild Thornberry tracks and sleepers like “I Should Have Known It” off his newest album (2010’s Mojo), classics like “Free Falling,” “Won’t Back Down,” “Refugee,” and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” were very much appreciated by the audience. Petty sounded as good as ever, the man seems to keep progressing despite his long track record.

On the last day of shows, some downpours of rain cleaned up the audience. Dispatch played in the early evening. A crowd pleaser was a surprise feature of Brad Corrigan’s red-headed four year-old on a drum solo. The band was dynamic and each showcased their talents on a variety of instruments: bass, guitar, bongo’s and vocals were each played by almost every member throughout the show. “Alias” was a drum fest with all three members on a bongos. “The General,” “Two Coins,” “Flying Horses,” and “Here We Go” were played to an ecstatic, singing audience.

Passion Pit’s front man Michael Angelkos proclaimed to the audience that he had terrible allergies, and after about 5 songs told us that he need our help because he completely blew out his voice. He mentioned that they had to cancel last year. Apparently he was being treated for his mental health issue, Bipolar Disorder. He said to the audience, “I didn’t know if I would ever be able to tour again.” The 90 minute set was reduced to 45 minutes, in which the last song had no vocals at all, with Anglekos going around to audience members to sing along, but unfortunately no one could really pull it off.

Vampire Weekend had a great show and surprisingly exceptional set decorations: gigantic Hawaiian looking flowers, decked out band logo. Front man Ezra Koenig’s voice sounded as crisp as on record and the band had an immense depth to the music. “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,””Diane Young,” “Giving Up the Gun” and “Ya Hey” were all highlights of the show. As the evening and Firefly came to a close, Foster the People drove it home. Exhausted from days of music, the audience enjoyed the live renditions of “Pumped Up Kicks,” “Don’t Stop” and “Houdini.”

This year’s Firefly festival was very well organized and had an incredible line-up. The crowd ages ranged from 40-something rockers to yound children (with their parents) with a very large median age of late teens to mid-twenties. The people-watching was a blast, and the sense of community was apparent. The audiences in general were very responsive and the bands responded to this well, complementing our attentiveness and appreciation. Surely the number one complaint was the distance of the campsite to the festival grounds, next year Front Row Camping or Backwoods options are a must.


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