Review | Photos | Firefly Music Festival | Dover

Words and Images by: Jake Krolick

Firefly Music Festival :: 07.20.12-07.22.12 :: Dover International Speedway :: Dover, DE

Full photo gallery below review!

It’s not easy birthing a new festival, but after months of labor, Dover, Delaware had a beautiful and lively Firefly Music Festival to call their own. For Erik Berry from Trampled by Turtles, the festival brought back memories of twilight summer evenings and catching fireflies. Reptar's Keyboard wiz William Kennedy said that it just made him feel nostalgic. Everyone had their own take on Firefly, but the overwhelming majority expressed a massive love for the setting and vibe, plus it was so much fun to poke fun at the little first state that could, Delaware. Ok Go's front man Damian Kulash asked “are any of you even from here?” Walk The Moon told us how Delaware was the home of Valerie Bertinelli and Judge Reinhold. Brandon Flowers from The Killers said “Delaware - who would have thought?" It’s true, no spin needed here. The inaugural Firefly festival was a pleasure to attend. Here's what worked:

Firefly Entrance by Jake Krolick
The Weather - No sun and some mist the first two days may not sound promising, but for the east setting heat records, the cool temps were wonderful.

The Layout - A four stage, easy to navigate circle with no sound bleed. The Firefly Stage represented our home base and main stage. Off around the bend to it’s right sat The Porch stage and fittingly off of our porch sat The Lawn stage. Both were significantly smaller than the Main stage, but well proportioned for the crowd. If you followed the flow around and though a wonderful section of well-maintained and enjoyably colored and decorated woods you reached The Backyard stage.

Libations/Food – With a Dogfish Head brewery basically erected on site, a massive outdoor wine garden and a tractor trailer load of whiskey, festival-goers had a great time. If you didn’t opt for glamping or VIP upgrades, festival fare was easy to find.

Bathrooms – Enough port-o-johns for a Bonnaroo sized crowd, even though Firefly was closer to 30,000 music fans.

Décor - It’s hard to argue with fields enclosed by woods that felt cozier than any festival on the east coast since the Mid-Atlantic Music Experience. Signs were everywhere, maintaining the neon green theme. Add in two hot-air balloons taking folks for quick rides, and Firefly was sure pretty to look at.

Non-Musical Activities – A free arcade that boosted every old-school game from Burger Time to Pac-Man where more than a few heated battles went down. Then there was the photo flipbook tent, a long row of Corn Hole games and a boatload of Hammocks nestled into the woods between everything.

Vending - An on-site screen printer and Toms ultra-comfy festival shoes and not much else, especially because the festival put a strict No on any outside vending.

Security – The staff working the event were used to a Nascar crowd, so other than some funny conversations about dudes in skirts, they were for the most part a pleasure.

The Vibe – Extremely chill, especially for an East Coast Festival. Not too crowded, not too empty with just the right amount of crazy when you went looking for it.

Firefly by Jake Krolick
Improvements Needed - Not many that were visible, perhaps a few more late-night shows in Dover Downs casino ballroom and somewhere to get wet once you got hot, but kudos to Red Frog Events for coming out of the gate and spending the money to make Firefly glow!

07.20.12 :: Dover, DE :: The Festival Builds

Jakob Dylan hid behind a large hat and some dark shades as he led The Wallflowers through a 90’s collection of sing-along songs and a few new songs from their scheduled comeback album Glad All Over. Hits like “6th Avenue Heartache” and “One Headlight” stood out between the VH1-friendly older songs. The band was in decent form as they set a tranquil tone for the cloudy afternoon. Dylan and company have a new album ready for release on October 2 and the few new songs that were exposed show the band discovering a darker road. “Hospital For Sinners” and “The Devil’s Waltz” proved to have a tougher rock edge and shed a little light on the next chapter in Dylan’s music career. They finished their set with an upbeat version of Elvis Costello’s “Peace, Love and Understanding” as the crowd retreated to the Lawn and backyard stages.

The Wallflowers by Jake Krolick

Over at OK GO, the group’s vocalist Damian Kulash said “This is our first time playing Delaware,” before he guided a fresh and spirited crowd through guitar heavy versions of “Do What You Want” and “Invincible.” With confetti canons blazing a precursor to Sunday’s The Flaming Lips show, Kulash and guitarist Andy Ross linked up frequently providing some solid segues and intricate moments that moved the masses.

John Legend unleashed a sweet pair of early covers on the main stage crowd. The R&B ace opened sitting pretty as he sang Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” Latter he put the bounce into Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground” as the highly danceable number moved bodies like dragonflies as far across the pasture as the eye could see.

Besides Jack White, the best set of Friday was Walk The Moon. “We’re beyond excited to be here,” said singer Nicholas Petricca. Their self-titled album’s notorious swirly pop and hook-laden choruses melted into oblivion as they tossed us a down and dirty dance party filled with faster beats and funky guitar riffs. Complete with face paint, these Ohio boys represented a version of Portugal. The Man on ecstasy. Bassist Kevin Ray was a superstar pounding our chests with his bombastic instrument as drummer Sean Waugaman filled in the gaps with a steady churn of snare and kick drum through “TightRope”, “I Can Lift A Car” and the set closing song “Anna Sun.”

Jack White by Jake Krolick
The woods served as a perfect sound buffer between the bands. While Bassnectar dropped a steady rain of bass bombs, Silversun Pickups Brian Aubert unleashed his band’s best howls. Between it all, you could never tell that both bands played simultaneously. The Firefly Festival ale was flowing strong by the time Jack White and his Third Man band grabbed the headlining spot as a steady mist blew in from the south. Some sound issues hurt the power of the opening song, “Dead Leaves On The Dirty Ground.” No matter, Jack White shook it off by kicking off his footwear. The guitar god refused to use a setlist, so his band had to be prepared for anything. The best moments were when White let the crowd slip away and he locked eyes with his drummer. He guided the band and jubilant crowd through energetic versions of The Dead Weather's “Cut Like A Buffalo” and The White Stripes' “Hotel Zorba” The evening mist played wonderful tricks on the eyes, but never brought the mood down. The Crowd raged out of the anthem closer “Seven Nation Army” only to ask what’s next. It’s too bad there wasn’t another option.

07.21.12 :: Dover, DE :: The Festival Stretches Its Legs

Ian Felice started our day letting us know that The Felice Brothers would be our substitute teachers for the day. Their set included rousing versions of “Cumberland Gap”, “Whiskey In My Whiskey” and “Frankie's Gun”, getting Saturday out of the gate in fine fashion. Polica has been blowing up in popularity. If you combined the precision of Battles with the floating vocals and vibes of Portishead, you end up with Polica. On the set opener “Amongster”, the band showed their prowess as Bassist Chris Bierden and double drumming machines Drew Christopherson and Ben Ivascu linked up to send the song into a mass of noise anchored with drum bashes and a meaty pocket. This four piece band from Minneapolis was led by the distinctive auto tuned vocals of singer Channy Leaneagh who melted the crowd’s heart with “Lay Your Cards Out.”

Grouplove by Jake Krolick
Michael Franti was his enthusiastic self, playing an armful of tunes that delighted the crowd. As he launched into his hit “Sound of Sunshine,” he was met with cries of joy from the crowd and these only increased as Franti jumped off the stage to sing among his fans. GroupLove's performance of "Lovely Cup" was absorbing as Hannah Hooper spun with her wild red hair and was met with Christian Zucconi’s guitar that matched with his equally wild hair and thrashing moves. Latter in the afternoon as Young the Giant was finishing up, GroupLove and some of Walk the Moon skipped up on stage to support their touring compadres. GroupLove and Franti could also be found backstage in a pick-up game of soccer demonstration in how to make the most of one’s time at a festival.

Cake by Jake Krolick
Cake played to the crowd in front of an optical illusion of mountains on a multicolored backdrop. The Lawn stage watched the Arty rockers unleash a catalogue of hits such as Prolonging the Magic’s “Sheep Go to Heaven” that saw John McCrea conduct the crowd. He was a wild man filled with arm waves and pleadings for louder chanting of the refrain before following up with a blazing version of “Rock n Roll Lifestyle.” McCrea had Perhaps one of the best quotes of the weekend when he said, “This doesn’t have to always be an aquisitional experience, you don’t have to post about this on Facebook for it to be real.” Before playing an angst-filled version of “Sick Of You,” McCrea addressed the Colorado shooting. He paused mid song to add a lighter note “This is a heavy situation to be thinking about, but I think the situation is softened a bit by the dancing inflatable banana in the middle of the crowd.”

Ever wonder why Trampled By Turtles’ bearded mandolin wiz Eric Berry wears that cowboy hat? Well, it started back at another festival you may have heard of called High Sierra to keep the sun out of his eyes on stage, and it stuck ever since. No sun to worry about on Saturday as Berry and Company put on a barn burner of a grand show at Firefly Festival. These Minnesota boys have heart and they wore it proudly on the Porch Stage as the majority of the crowd took in Modest Mouse a few thousand caught some honest, high quality bluegrass talent. They started with a shimmering rendition of “Midnight on the Interstate” followed by two foot stompers “Walt Whitman” and “Risk” all off their latest release Stars and Satellites. The highlight of their set saw them dig deep into their past catalog, playing one of the fastest renditions of “Arming of Infants” we had heard yet. Yeasayer’s set was short and sweet as they ran through an irie cool version of “Henrietta” off their self-titled album and the back to back Odd Blood danceable fun that was “Ambling Amp” into ”2080”. Even Chris Keating's late night gig as a DJ got us grooving to some clever mash-ups of old school meets new school with a wild mix of samples and beats in between.

07.22.12 :: Dover, DE :: The Festival Saves the Best For Last

J. Roddy Walston by Jake Krolick
J. Roddy Walston and the Business took the crowd and gave them a heavy dose of rock and roll. Where other festivals turn the party down on the last day, Firefly decided to crank the volume and pour some of the heaviest hitters into their last day. A persistent J. Roddy Walston had music bursting out of his body on Sunday afternoon, unleashing a gritty rock ‘n’ roll show that was the proverbial cup of black coffee we all needed. As the sunshine beat down, Walston proved that his live show was a force to behold. Walston delivered prime picks like “Don’t Break the Needle,” and a hopping cover of Little Richard’s “Lucille.” Now if this wasn’t enough energy drink, right on Walston’s heels came another wake-up party with everyone’s new favorite Athen’s Georgia band, Reptar. They are the love child of the Talking Heads and Man Man, but who cares when they move your body like they do. Opening with potentially the best opening number ever, “Blast Off” sent guitarist Jace Bartet pointing his axe skyward to the rock gods as singer Graham Ulicny jumped around and sang to the electroform afro-beat sounds. Granted the crowd was still waking, but they got into the groove as Reptar rocked the early afternoon. Talking with the guys later, they had found the festival to be a perfect mix of mellow and could be seen taking in most other bands set all afternoon.

The energy built from there as Awolnation led by the attention-grabbing front man Aaron Bruno, powered through “Guilty Filthy Souls”, “Sail,” and “Jump On My Shoulders”, all while hundreds of bodies surfed conveyor belt style through the crowd and over the barricade. At one point Bruno called for only women to crowd surf as he conducted the crowd masterfully through one of the day’s wildest mixes of music.

"Right here, right now. This is where the motherfucking dance party will begin” screamed Michael Fitzpatrick of Fitz and the Tantrums. Their punky Motown-style and lively blend included the radio hit “Moneygrabber.” It was a compelling show, climaxing when Fitz dove head first into the crowd during a cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)". By all accounts, The Black Keys set was splendid and minimal on the light show but thrived in the direction it normally does – the music. To put it simply, Firefly Music Festival was a huge success. With only some minor improvements next year, I have no doubt this Festival will thrive. Save the Date: June 21-23, 2013 for the next Firefly festival.

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[Published on: 8/3/12]

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