Friday was the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, and there weren’t many places to spend it better than the Woodlands in Dover, Delaware for the first day of the Firefly Music Festival. The sun was high and hot above the 4 stages, each in huge clearings carved into the forest surrounding the Dover Speedway, a varied mix of musical acts kicked off 3 days of camping and concerts.
Though getting to the festival site was a tough ride through traffic for those coming later in the day, getting set up at the campsites surrounding the main gate went off without a hitch. The stream of people slowing through the gates was constant by mid afternoon and most were keeping excited in the scorching sun, chanting and high-fiving as they went up the walkways to the security checkpoint.
The bands all joined in on the crowd’s upbeat mood. The Avett Brothers added some energy to their acoustic folk, and had the crowd dancing along to the chorus of strings from the banjo, cello and guitar. Rap fans jumped to Public Enemy only a 10-minute walk away, though the stages avoided any sound bleed because of the forested areas between them.
This years crowd was twice the size of Firefly’s inaugural festival in 2012. While the lines for food and traffic getting to the site certainly reflected the greater volume, the stages were rarely uncomfortable.
Calvin Harris’ set on Friday night was the first display of how big the crowds were, as the glow-sticks and fluorescent clothes flocked to “The Lawn” stage to dance along with the flashing lights. It was a little disappointing that Ellie Goulding never came out to sing along with Calvin. She had played on the same stage an hour before and is feature on his hit song “I Need Your Love”.
Each day had some electronic music on the schedule. Krewella played later on Friday night; on Saturday everyone danced along to the jazz infused dub step of Big Gigantic, while Zedd played on Sunday.
The biggest draws were the headliners, however, and on Friday night that was the Red Hot Chili peppers. They crammed hits like “Take it on the Other Side” and “Dani California” in between jams at the start of their set. The crowd was packed in, especially closer to the front, singing back the words they knew or swaying along the Flea’s intricate bass lines.
As the crowd sang out the chorus to “Californication” near the end, one guy in the audience expertly scaled up the scaffolding of the sound tent 50 rows back from the stage. He saluted the crowd below him as the Chili Pepper’s light engineer screamed to the guards below. Yet though he was being wild, it didn’t get out of hand. He didn’t jump down, but instead received cheers from all around him, smiled, hopped back to the stairs, and calmly walked down to the security waiting below.
The festival was like that too. The crowds could be intense but there was always open space. Spread out tents hosted parties early in the day, but the campsites were quiet late at night, most tired out from a day in the sun. There was plenty of drinking and smoking going on, but people weren’t frequently tripping out around the grounds.
By early morning, people were up grilling some eggs and bacon, or flocking to the nearby McDonalds in desperate search for a spare outlet to charge their phone. The same clear skies and sun graced day two, sunscreen flowing free over the burned and tanned crowd below. Kendrick Lamar and Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes, at relative opposite ends of the musical selection, both drew big crowds and enthusiastic sing-alongs in the midafternoon.
There were plenty of other sources of entertainment throughout the day, from an air-conditioned arcade to a silent disco that broadcast the DJ’s signal to headphones handed out in the crowd. Even on day two the grounds looked great, though you could tell the lots of the mulch and dirt below had just been laid down from the reactions of those who unexpectedly sank and bounced up a few inches on the spongy ground below.
Tom Petty drew the largest crowd of the weekend on Saturday night, and any drop in energy compared to other acts was easily made up by the quality of the songs. “Free Falling”, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, “American Girl”. The hits kept coming and the crowd kept cheering. Petty even threw in “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” an old favorite from his super group The Travelling Wilburys
Waking up midmorning on the last day of the festival, countless crowd members who hadn’t showered in a couple days were treated to their first rain of the festival. The storms passed through quickly, cooling off the sweaty and sunburned masses while not making the ground too soggy.
Sunday was an indie-rock dream come true. Dispatch started off with the aptly named “Open Up”, the crowd getting progressively happier and dancing looser until capping off their set with an extended version of “The General”. Their set was sandwiched between Ben Harper (covering for last minute cancellation The Lumineers) and Passion Pit.
Though Passion Pit’s set was cut short by some allergy-provoked vocal problems from lead singer Michael Angelakos, Vampire Weekend provided plenty to sing along with. They both debuted new material and played lots of the hits from their first two albums, including “Horchata” and closing with “Walcott”. “Pumped Up Kicks” was predictably the last song of the festival from headliner Foster the People.
In only it’s second year, Firefly went off without a large hitch. Fans of all genres found something to enjoy amid the 70 bands and 60,000 people, on three of the most beautiful days and nights of the year.