(DL) – I am from Delaware. If anyone knows, it's me – Delaware is not a destination. It's a starting point. Everywhere is within driving distance, mountains, beach, the nation's capital, Philly events, NYC entertainment. None of which are in Delaware. Enter, Firefly – a three day music festival. It includes big name bands to headline like 2012's Killers and The Black Keys to 2013's Tom Petty and Foster the People. Firefly has a genuine interest in bands about to break like 2013's Capital Cities or 2012's Fitz & the Tantrums and Modest Mouse. Passion Pit makes an encore performance to the festival's main stage.
EDM (Electronic Dance Music) makes a bigger play in 2013 at Firefly drawing not only the hipster crowd but more of the introverted at home closet dance hounds. Put them in front of Big Gigantic, Calvin Harris, Zed and White Panda and they too exploded in dance energy bouncing up and down along in a sea of people tossing beach balls, glow sticks and blow-up dolls. By the time Saturday hit MGMT's pop sound was bound to draw a huge crowd.
Sunday, Matt and Kim worked the crowd like any other Matt and Kim gig, tossing balloons into the crowd with Kim standing on her drum kit. Although she's chilled a bit after injuring herself previously. True story, they are as positive energy off stage as on. I met them last year in Philly at a gig at the Electric Factory. Kim gave me relationship advice I've used ever since. They are a high energy duo and the crowd fed off their energy on a hot Sunday afternoon.
The festival grounds known as The Woodlands is home to four stages separated by wood lined malls. It's got a somewhat cozy feel but the tall chain linked fences remind you of the business end of the festival experience. You won't be sneaking in to beat the $300 three day ticket price. You wear a bracelet that is digitally scanned for entry. Scratch the bar-code and management is relentless on this rule – you pay $20 to replace it after they confirm your original registration.
The fun starts at the gate. Everyone picks up the pace as the music nears. The huge banner, FIREFLY on a soft green backdrop with golden lights draws you in like a mindless bug. It's the same feeling you had as a child wanting to race in to be the first on the ride at an amusement park.
Firefly's unique appeal is its accessibility. An even better word may be inclusivity. Yes it draws college students that want to cut loose, but even the college students I came across kept the partying in check. It draws a young at heart crowd but regardless of age a noticeable thumbprint of the typical Firefly attendee is they are positive and kind. This is no loose observation.
I spent countless hours at Firefly interviewing people (see my channel playlist on youtube - channel DangerManXX). Almost everyone had to comment that there was a positive vibe at the festival. I personally never witnessed any argument. I saw one couple in the midst of a passionate break-up where she was hopeful in explaining her case. I didn't stick around, but I think they worked it out. While shooting one stand up in the grove lit with umbrellas two guys insisted on breaking a tree branch to obtain one. They were ceremoniously insulted in unison by thirty to fifty people calling them assholes. Running away they dropped the umbrella. This sums up the personality of the event. People cared. Not like tree hugging zealots, but as people that knew this was an event that needed to be nurtured and appreciated if it was to survive.
I served as a volunteer giving me a true close perspective. I traded for my time each day of the event for access. Some called this 'free' access. It's not free. You earn it. You work long shifts each day in return for a campsite, showers, and full access to the festival.
What I learned was that in Firefly's second year it still had plenty to get right. Both attendees and volunteers noticed. From bathrooms that needed more attention and water running out in the showers, to not feeding all the volunteers as originally represented at the time you signed up. It was a selling point and it was poorly handled. A bag of potatoes chips and a bottle of water is not breakfast. This isn't a complaint. It's constructive criticism because none of the issues I personally encountered would make me decide I won't participate the following year. The truth is it will get better every year. Red Frog, the organization based in Chicago that runs Firefly, will fine tune the event each year. After all Bonnaroo has been at it for eleven years, they've experimented with enough changes over time to perfect the experience. And Firefly has accomplished the most important requirement for success. It's a very cool venue, from the band line-up to the location and atmosphere. The word from regular summer festival goers like Emily from Ithaca New York says, "Of all the festivals I've been to, it's really hip."
In authoring this article as a Delawarean, I've waited a long time for Delaware to offer something to other states making it the destination for a change. As a Delawarean, it was amazing to not need to drive for hours to an event. My travel time was inside an hour.
In my interviews attendees had things they wanted to be heard too. On day one, it was common for anyone arriving to be aggravated by a five to ten hour wait in their car in an attempt to get to a camping spot. The lesson here is not so much for Red Frog, but to the people attending, you must arrive very early. Last year Firefly drew 30,000, this year it drew over 70,000. Travel won't be getting easier. The solution for those that are responsible enough to plan is keep an eye on the Firefly website for when the earliest you can arrive and that is the time to arrive.
Another thing to understand is once you are parked at a camp site, your car may not leave it otherwise IT will not regain entrance. The good news? Camping is backwards to what you'd expect. Instead of camping in the woods with a three mile walk to area stores, camping is based around the Dover Downs racetrack putting you right on top of places to eat and relax or buy groceries. A short walk over route 1 to the main gate leads to the Woodlands where Firefly warms your heart.
Growing pains may be the theme of Firefly 2013. For as much as it is about the music, Firefly had to be planned to the most careful of specifics so that that more smiles could exist. Take for instance the issue of hula-hoops. Some women make an art of expressing themselves in a gyrating dance to the bands as they play with lit hula hoops. Firefly would not allow them this year and a petition of over 600 names was disregarded. Ultimately some were allowed into the venue by Sunday. But I could understand why they were kept out in the first place. One person with a hula hoop toward the middle of a crowd commands a lot of open space. It seems only the person performing and a few friends appreciate the effort. To everyone else, it's the space of twenty patrons being used by one.
An average day at Firefly consists of a long morning with plenty of time to sleep in, stand in long lines for coffee at McDonald's if necessary or enjoy a seated breakfast with friends along one of a few restaurants fortunate enough to be in foot traffic to the festival. Or you can pay premium prices for food inside the festival. Ten dollars seemed to be the standard price for everything. The gates open an hour before concerts begin daily at noon. At this point you are enjoying sets no longer than an hour, with overlap due to four stages running all at once. Between the stages are malls, groves, thickets, artist signings, hangouts, arcades and more. Most everything is peaceful. From the hammock hangout, the the silent movie's hidden in the forest. There is even a silent disco known as The Thicket. I offer a complete overview of the fan experience in my accompanying video series found at my YouTube Channel, DangerManXX.
RF (radio frequency) is hard to come by at Firefly. If you had a cell phone at Firefly you had two concerns. Battery charge and WiFi. Thankfully this concern is addressed at a few locations in the Woodlands. A huge coffee house (more like a pavilion) was the main WiFi hotspot. Another hotspot sponsored by Heineken offered air conditioned WiFi.
If money isn't a concern in your life, there is 'glamping'. It's VIP camping for those that want to be catered to. It offers the closest on-site camping near the back of the Woodlands. Only the talent and media are better treated. They didn't run out of water in their showers.
With the continued success of Firefly, Red Frog has secured a ten year commitment to the venue. It will be back in 2014. Tickets went on sale immediately after 2013 ended. The only question now is will Red Frog be able to locate the bands that need breaking year after year? No one can possible know the answer but it will be loads of fun finding out.