The planners of Firefly Music Festival didn't try to start small.
They gathered some of the hottest and/or biggest names in rock and its indie variation, threw in some green initiatives (carbon offsets; a partnership with Kleen Kanteen), offered camping and "glamping" (glam camping), and mixed in food options that ranged from chicken and waffles to Korean tacos.
And somehow, miraculously, all these moving parts resulted in a satisfying, frustration-free experience.
Well played, Firefly, Well played.
The festival, held July 20-22 in Dover, Del. -- close to very little,but not far from anyone in the Mid-Atlantic -- featured notable names among four stages on a weekend when the heat stayed away and the rain merely threatened. After weeks of extreme weather, it seemed like everyone was relieved, with even the security guards in great spirits.
Among the headliners -- The Black Keys, Jack White and the Killers -- only the latter came off as past their prime, mostly dishing up tracks from their 2005 debut. Obviously, that's what the fans probably wanted (see our discomfort below regarding Cake), but the awesome pyrotechnics exploding during an aging sound ("Somebody Told Me") felt a tad forced. That said, we had not a care in the world during "Smile Like You Mean it.
Other notable performers included John Legend, Death Cab for Cutie, Yeasayer, Lupe Fiasco, Girl Talk, Fitz and the Tantrums... Oh, we could go on. And Grouplove's cover of "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"? Charming.
Poliça, performing early in the day Saturday, managed to be the best act we saw Saturday. While lead singer Channy Leaneagh's vocals are generally obscured in recordings by loops and echos, the live experience is nothing short of heart-breaking -- in the best way possible. Dueling drummers had the ground shaking and the crowd transfixed.
Another standout was Yeasayer, a last-minute pinch hitter for Passion Pit, which had to back out at the last minute due to medical issues. Although Yeasayer had to work to win over the crowd (or maaaybe that was just us), by the the time the sun had set, they had everyone's full attention with intense versions of psychedelic disco pop hits such as "O.N.E."
The most disappointing act? Cake -- surprisingly, we think, since the 20-year veterans are supposed to be so dependable. They relied too much on new material when, let's face it, that's not what the fans were itching to hear. And when the old material did pop up, they played it straight, lacking the improv that should normally pop up in a more engaging live performance.
Speaking of engagement, the only time we heard Cake frontman John McCrea speak to the crowd (and yes, we did leave early), it was to scold audience members for recording the show on their handheld devices. Telling a crowd of 25-year-olds to put away the iPhones resulted in little more than a few blank stares.
The festival's schedule was tightly packed, with literally no wait times between sets -- something was always starting on one stage or another. This did require some hard decisions: Do we leave Act 1 early, or miss the beginning of Act 2?
The division of acts between the two main stages seemed to result in constant exoduses toward one direction or another -- there always seemed to be a clear preference of two concurrent acts. And that preference was always switching off. The surge kept looping from the Firefly Stage to the Backyard stage again and again, with almost no one going against the grain. We can't really blame planners for not pre-emptively reading our minds, though.
Or maybe they just thought we could use the exercise. Those chicken and waffles weren't gonna burn themselves off, after all.
Despite the lengthy walk -- and hey, at least it was through an impressively illuminated "enchanted forest" of sorts -- the fest seemed to run as smoothly as possible. We constantly overheard concertgoers marveling over one convenience or another.
Although all vendor stands were cash only, the reason for that became clear when lines moved quickly, and never really got too long in the first place. ATMs were abundant, but we never needed any because nothing was all that expensive. T-shirts were priced at a max of $30, and the most expensive food items topped out at $9 for a full meal. Even craft beers in the Dogfish Head tent were $8. Those are D.C. prices, not typical festival prices. Water was free, provided you filled up your own reusable container.
The Firefly app was easy to use, and let us plan out our own schedules for the day. Even better, once the schedules were saved, we didn't need an Internet connection to view them on our phones -- necessary, since service was spotty there.
A couple of small issues were baffling, but hardly reduced our good spirits. Despite the event's green efforts, ice cream was, for some reason, served in styrofoam containers. And those awesome Firefly-branded Kleen Kanteens? They could only be ordered online, in advance. "Maybe you can get them Sunday," vendors told us, but that didn't do much for day-pass holders.
Considering this was the worst thing that happened to us all day, though, we'll take it. There's little doubt we'll go with the full weekend pass next time around. The only decision for next year is: Camping, or glamping?
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