It might not be Coachella or Bonnaroo, but the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Del., is kind of like the little engine that could. Want proof? Look no further than this year’s attendance, which reportedly doubled from its debut in 2012. By 2014’s iteration, the Firefly marquee will most likely be filled to the brim with superstars, rules will be set in stone, and it’ll be just as big as those other two summer soirees. That seems to be par for courses like these. It will eventually leave most of its rag-tag “We’re in this together!” magic behind. So consider yourself lucky to have caught Firefly while it was still figuring itself out. But till then, enjoy the spells it casts. I know I did. Here are 10 things your intrepid reporter saw, heard and learned while in the trenches of Dover.
1. Wearing a VIP wristband is kind of like a golden ticket. Each band had its limits, but no one actually knew what ours were, so it quickly became a free-for-all. Avoiding crowds by taking blocked-off paths and seeing most bands’ VIP areas were just some of the perks we may—or may not—have been entitled to.
2. The weekend’s accessible debauchery was ours to revel in, minus the hour and 45 minutes that Tom Petty played on Saturday night. The crowd very suddenly got a lot older, and the security got a lot stricter, putting up new checkpoints.
3. In the East Coast’s best attempt at mimicking our westward pals, there was an overabundance of happy-time drugs afoot. This included (but was not limited to) molly, Trinidad James’ recently championed poison. The first offer came not even five minutes into the parking lot; subsequent offers continued faithfully the rest of the weekend. Most other people probably weren’t quite as annoyed.
4. In one of the gutsier moves of the weekend, Red Bull decided to take its fully-opened-up MXT truck, complete with DJ PeeJay spinning tunes in the back, for its maiden voyage. Starting at the hub near the parking lot and cruising all the way up to the festival’s entrance, the vehicle’s badassery all but started a full-on riot. It actually got kids that stoked during the mile-long trek. After being shut down by the law a few minutes prior due to safety concerns, a lone officer approached, and, after admiring the military-style truck for a second, added, “I think you can declare that one a victory.” Word.
5. Scottish synth-poppers Chvrches used their second U.S. festival date wisely. They won their modest crowd over with a strong opener (the creepily pulsating “Lies”) and the undeniably infectious charm of Lauren Mayberry, the band’s self-proclaimed lead singer/hall monitor. She demonstrated the latter by being constantly worried about crowd surfers’ safety, relating her own horror story before pleading, “This is not a Limp Bizkit concert! We care!”
6. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Karen O dedicated the band’s well-known tune, “Maps,” to James Gandolfini, before screaming “New Jersey!” at the top of her lungs. As a frontwoman, her expressions matched the discordant music of the group, ranging from crying to laughing in a matter of seconds, gripping the crowd and not letting go.
7. People may have expected a lively, hit-clad set out of MGMT, but what they got could have been mistaken for an early Pink Floyd show. The big screens added to the trance, playing scenes from a digital acid trip instead of standard performance footage. “Electric Feel” came blaring halfway through and woke everyone up, only to have them lulled back immediately after.
8. On the flip side, Matt & Kim are happy—real happy. Like “won the lottery and slept with the person of your dreams in the same 24 hours” happy. Their set consisted largely of current rap songs woven into their own music, confetti and an abundance of balloons, culminating with the sheer top-wearing Kim ripping her bra off and dancing on the crowd’s hands right after a downpour.
9. Even Matt Barrick’s broken middle finger and some acoustic guitar difficulties couldn’t stop the always-dapper Walkmen from delivering a no-frills performance that should have closed Sunday night. Hamilton Leithauser’s signature thundering vocals reached mountain-moving proportions during “All Hands and the Cook,” begging the question, “Foster the who?”
10. The fact that London-based Django Django is returning to Europe is now even more of a bummer thanks to my car breaking down, leaving me to spend Friday afternoon 41 miles away in the Delaware Health and Social Services parking lot. People wouldn’t stop raving about them all weekend.
In Memoriam: Lou Reed