As a Delawarean, I felt it was my duty to attend the 2014 Firefly Music Festival. For 3 years now, Red Frog Events has hosted the huge music festival in Dover, Delaware and I’ve made it to all three. They’ve nearly quadrupled the size of the inaugural event , which has come with its perks and problems. The atmosphere has changed a bit, the “bros” have become a bit more “bro-ey”, but Firefly still stands to be one of the most enjoyable summer events for Delaware.
This year, Firefly changed its format to a 4-day event as opposed to a 3-day in the prior two. While the expansion was greatly welcomed, the first day’s shows did not begin until 5pm, unlike the other days which began around noon. Some could argue that the line up for that Thursday didn’t boast any widely known acts. I tend to agree with that notion, but there was still some worthwhile music to enjoy. Every year the music acts have run later and later (the first Firefly’s shows stopped around 12am every night). Just like past events, Red Frog will learn that Bonnaroo tends to schedule correctly and they should emulate that, especially when it comes to having an empty day during the festival.
This was the first year I actually purchased a campsite, so I can’t really compare the experience first-hand, but it seemed like things were a bit more organized. The grounds had almost doubled in size and a secondary northern lot with a designated entrance was added to make things a little less hectic. How much walking and waiting it saved me was hard to say.
Now, if you can imagine the ominous notes from the original Law & Order sequence, I will take you day by day through the line up that I was able to see, starting with –
Waiting around for the events to start became a bit demoralizing. As I mentioned before, the shows didn’t begin to 5pm and there wasn’t really anyone noteworthy to enter for immediately, so the wait became a daunting task. A man can only drink so much alcohol in the hot sun without losing his mind or losing his soul. I often compare music festivals to voluntary refugee camps and that felt the most appropriate on Thursday.
Our neighbors were, for the most part, respectful and decent human beings. The festival community atmosphere was abundant, although across our row of cars became what I will constantly refer to as, “Bro Alley.” Your typical Corn-Hole, Kan Jam, Keystone Lights, and EDM music were all present, but that was expected. Bro Alley came to fruition because of 4 unique New Jersyans (who’s accents ran wild) touting American flag shorts and shape-ups.
They had set up a game of Polish Horseshoes in the middle of this grass field across from our row of cars and spent a majority of the morning, afternoon, and evening inviting fellow festival-goers to participate. Not much harm there. What made these guys so particularly douchey is that they would introduce this game to a new participant, explain the rules, then proceed to pummel them, figuratively and verbally. While I lay resting under the EZ-up of my lot, I would abruptly be startled from my daze to the screams of “OHHHHH EAT A DICK SON!!!” and “USA!” chants. Not a single person left their game happy. Go figure.
It was time to head into the festival.
First up on the docket was Courtney Barnett, an Australian grunge singer. The show went well, but some of her songs came off a little monotonous. That could have just been the alcohol and sun making me so irritable.
I moved on to Amos Lee for a brief period before making my rounds to Local Natives, the main headliner for Thursday. It was hard to fathom that Natives was large enough to warrant the Thursday time-slot, but they didn’t disappoint. Nothing seemed to blow me away, but I knew better shows were in store the following days.
Placed outside the festival in the campsites were “Hubs”, which had a few merchandise tents, food trucks, and shower stalls. You could charge your phone or get free water, too. Red Bull decided to place a few stages within the hubs, but I never got to see anyone in them. Thursday night, however, after the last show let out, I decided to walk down and see what the “post-festival” activities of the Hub were.
I walked towards the Red Bull stage the featured some pretty good electronic music. It was hard to tell who was playing, but a crowd had gathered to cheer and dance. I walked up to the crowd of about 200 who were raising their hands, clapping, and pointing towards the stage. It was hard to tell who the DJ was because of the strobe lights and smoke machines. When I was finally able to see the stage, I was blown away to see that the DJ was…. no one. There wasn’t anyone on stage. At all. Not sure what else people would do to enjoy the music in that scenario, but it was tickling to see so many drugged-out hippies dancing to a person that wasn’t there. We dubbed him “DJ Mystery.”
Finally, I could wake up (in the blistering sun at 7:30am) with some hope of seeing music relatively soon. I could be entertained. This boosted the morale of the entire camp, which was desperately needed after almost 48 hours of not showering and being covered in sweat, dust, and sunscreen.
Sadly, this was short lived. My hopes of seeing Mean Lady (Newark, DE’s only representative in the festival) were cut short because of my friend Sweede’s arrival to Dover Downs. He was staying at our campsite, showed up late, and needed to be accompanied from his car to our campsite. Simple enough, right?
Well that trip was over 3 miles from car to campsite, and we escorted over 2 cases of beer and clothes in the hot sun on that trip. What was supposed to be a 30 minute excursion turned into 3.5 hours and we missed a majority of Friday’s daytime activities. Harsh toke, bro.
When we finally got situated and in the festival, Iron & Wine were playing on the Main Stage. Not really my cup of tea, but people seemed to enjoy the show.
Next up was Portugal the Man, which was really impressive. I knew a lot of their songs and they did a good job. I was happy to see the show, but left early to get a shot at a good spot for Chance the Rapper.
Chance was great. He came out with a ton of energy. The live band and soulful rapping was a great fit for the sunset.
Later that night was Foo Fighters. Everyone told me to go see Dave Grohl perform and I wouldn’t regret it. I didn’t. I’m great at hating things that a lot of people like, but I just couldn’t do it. Foo Fighters put on a great show for 2 hours and impressed me.
I chose White Denim as my late night show after the headliner. I picked these guys because they came off like a southern progressive rock band with some pretty intense visuals and long, drawn-out jam sessions. It was either that or Girl Talk, and to be honest, the novelty of mashing two genres of music together as a DJ wears off pretty quickly. The guy looks like sort of a douche, too, although I hear he spent his early career studying to be a bio-engineer or something pretty noteworthy like that.
Finally, I could dedicate the entire day to music worry-free. Bro Alley had been relatively tolerable the past few days due to the festival activities and spirits were high. The cloudy, overcast sky made the temperatures much milder and more enjoyable.
First up was New Sweden. Delaware’s “best Indie rock band” three years running did not disappoint. It was great to see Delaware making such a great representation in the festival. Their folky music was a perfect beginning to the day and the general atmosphere of the festival-goers was pleasant.
I made it over to catch Geographer as well. If you aren’t familiar with them, well neither was I. I decided to take a chance on a new band per a friend’s recommendation. As someone who uses a loop pedal and synthesizers, it was interesting to see how that would translate to a live show. It really didn’t. Their drummer kept up with the BPM structure really well (most drummers don’t sync up with a metronome during a live show, this guy did it on the fly), but there are better versions of this band. See Starfucker or Millionyoung.
After that was… get ready…. Third Eye Blind. I pretty much had to attend this show, mostly for nostalgia purposes. What I didn’t expect was that nearly 20,000 other people seemed to feel the same way. A lot of people. Young people. People that were 5 years old when “Graduate” was released.
The show was pretty much what I expected. His new songs were terrible, he was egotistical, he had a hard time hitting a lot of the notes, his band line-up had changed immensely, and it was corny. I felt corny, but as Sweede said during the concert, “There are a lot of happy white people right now!” True that, Sweede.
The most ridiculous thing from the show (aside from frontman Stephen Jenkins saying to the crowd, “Thank you for loving us!”) was that for the final song, Jenkins kept praising himself in the most egotistical, yet passive way. He would say things to come off humble, but still sound arrogant as hell. Literally, for their last song, Jenkins said, “We love you guys! We do this for the fans! We honestly come out here with no set list and just play what you guys want to hear!” He hadn’t played Jumper yet. He was also reaching for his acoustic guitar while saying this, and then asked, “So what do you guys want to hear? Huh? What’s that? Jumper? You want to hear Jumper? Wellllllllll, okkkaaaaaaaaaay… I wish youuuuu would step back from thaaaat ledge my friiiieeennddd” Like, yeah, no shit you were gonna play Jumper, guy.
What happened after the Third Eye Blind show was unexpected. The show let out and something turned. The atmosphere had gotten really aggressive and unpleasant. Something about Third Eye Blind had made every one in attendance almost mad with rage. Swarms of people were walking around, slamming into each other, snidely cursing and frantically rushing like ants on a hill. There was no order.
The large group people who decided to return to the campsite, including myself, were annoyed and uneasy. You could feel the agitation in the atmosphere. This year, unlike prior years, Firefly staff were tasked with the burden of scanning people out of the festival. Sure, this could help Red Frog track festival-goers behavioral patterns even more for marketing purposes, but it clearly should have been dismissed as a crazy notion from the start.
There were thousands of people trying to leave the festival and they were expected to wait and be scanned one at a time? A huge crowd gathered by the exit and drunken madness ensued. A few bold people started to rip down the fence and sneak through. Security guards were frantically yelling, the crowd was yelling, and all I could think was, “Damn you, Third Eye Blind.”
Naturally, once the organization broke down, security guards gauged the situation, and just gave up. Red Frog would be wise to eighty-six that idea next year.
After the much needed break, I headed back into to the Festival to catch Cage the Elephant. They put on a great show, and soon after I moved on to Tune Yards and Imagine Dragons. Both were also good shows.
Later that night I was able to catch Beck from the 3rd row. He put on an amazing show. I’m not going to lie, I don’t own many of his albums. I know a lot of his hits, I love his album Guero, but it easy to enjoy the show regardless. Beck was an amazing front man and it is easy to see why he earned the unique reputation of elite rock personnel.
Right after was Outkast. Another amazing show. It was pretty incredible to see Big Boi and Andre 3000 reunite, along with a special appearance from Sleepy Brown. They played a lot of their classics from Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik and Aquemini, as well as a lot of the big hits from the 2000’s.
I wanted to stay around for either Pretty Lights or White Panda, but by that point my body was just too sore. I had walked miles, pushed through crowds, and danced a ton. Some sleep was needed.
Unfortunately, I never got it. What I got was a restless night of heat, noise, and confusion. Bro Alley was in full force Saturday night. A lot of people decided to treat Saturday as the last night so everyone in the campsites around me were pretty much in full-party-mode.
I actually didn’t mind it too much. This sort of thing was expected and I had built a huge tolerance for human nature during this period, but it still was hard to sleep throughout the elements. What was worse is that eventually, a lot of people stopped partying after a while. Bro Alley did not. Bro Alley had a lot of molly and cocaine (which, I can confirm, thanks to their continual yelling of this).
Other campers were getting annoyed. Even the people parting til 4 in the morning were annoyed. I could hear a mutiny brewing. I had to make the trek to the portable restrooms a few times throughout the night, each time more unique as the night went on. A crowd kept lingering around the “King Bro’s” car, dancing to terrible EDM. They had glass eyes, glow sticks, and zombie dance moves. It was ugly, and it pushed on until the sun came up on –
The campers next to me had enough of Bro Alley and decided to complain. According to Red Frog, the campsite’s quiet hours were from 2am until 6am. It was about 5:30am and King Bro’s subwoofers were in full effect. A group of security guards came over, but they eventually ended up taking Fireball shots with the crew rather than quieting them.
The campers next to me were pretty pissed, but they just ended up loudly complaining on the outside of my tent for a few hours about respect and consideration after they had just finished partying until 4 in the morning at a music festival. Oh, the irony.
I think I slept from 8am til about 8:45. At this point, though, I didn’t care. Like I said, it was expected, and Sunday’s lineup was enough to keep my spirits high.
First up was Dan Croll. This was a great show that I had been looking forward to. His light surf-rock-esque music was a good fit for a day opener.
I moved on to NONONO which also didn’t disappoint. I had become familiar with them a few months ago (before the Garnier Fructise commercial, I swear).
I decided to take one last day break to pack up before the afternoon/evening shows began. Unfortunately, my Rastafarian friends would have to go alone in seeing Ziggy Marley this afternoon. Jah will provide.
I made my way back in to the festival to catch Washed Out. Sure, I discovered him through Portlandia just like everyone else, but I had gotten a few of his EPs and looked forward to the show. Nothing too impressive, but that sort of music doesn’t lend itself to a concert very well. Even the front row look sedated a bit.
The final two shows I decided to see were Phantogram and Childish Gambino. Phantogram was great. The duo did a great job performing.
So did Childish Gambino. I was able to get about 15 rows back for the show. I remember learning about Donald Glover’s rap career a few years ago during “Camp”, and I knew there was something talented about him as an artist in spite of the ridicule of my friends. No one really calls him “the guy from Community” anymore. Sure, I felt old with the congregate of under-age teens surrounding me (one girl announced it was her 19th birthday), but I still enjoyed it.
All and all, the experience was amazing. I met a lot of amazing people, the atmosphere was good, and I was able to cherish it with some of my closest friends. The summer music festival experience is so unique that it really has to be enjoyed at least once. Will I camp again? Maybe. When you live 30 minutes away it’s really hard to ration why one would deprive themselves of so much human decency.
And to you, Bro Alley – in the words of Silky Johnson – I hope all the bad things in life happen to you, and nobody else, but you.
This post was written by Randy Neil