Unless you were battling a sasquatch all weekend for the last strip of beef jerky in your backpack, you probably already know that a shiny new mega-festival was born on Friday in a clump of woods next to the Dover Downs racetrack. Wait a minute - a rock festival in Delaware? There's nothing sexy about Delaware. But after the line-up for Firefly was posted this spring, we'd be fools to pass up an opportunity to see this much music, this close to DC. So Friday morning, we loaded the Chunky Mystery Machine with PB&Js and a weekend’s worth of D.C. Brau, and made the trek to what was being billed as “The East Coast’s Premiere Musical Experience.” And while Newport, R.I., may have something to say about that designation this weekend, we are absolutely sure of one thing: after three solid days of spectacular bands, delicious beer, and even a few fireworks, the First Annual Firefly Music Festival put all the other colonies on notice. Delaware, you’ve officially earned your RAWK merit badge.
Any festival is a series of choices and chances for redemption. Make a bad choice, you get the next time-slot to make up for it. Firefly set up essentially four widely-spaced main stages instead of a bunch of small ones grouped around two mains, with no more than two bands playing at any one time; it was ideal for anyone who wanted to listen to one band at a time rather than a mash-up of a bunch of bands playing over the top of each other. An amazing line up is always going to lead to conflicts, and the wide layout made you really think about what you are going to do, as it was difficult in the huge crowds to quickly drift from one stage to another. The organizers picked sound quality over convenience, which as a listener and a writer, I truly truly appreciate. It’s not for the commitment-phobic, and it did make for some conundrums, but here’s how it went down on Day One:
Friday gates opened at 2 p.m., but because of a loooooooong line of traffic getting into the camping area, we missed Turf War. Sorry, Turf War -- hope to catch you next time around.
Check out our play by play breakdown of DAY ONE of this epic festival. And don't forget to check out all of Joy's KILLER photos from day when you're done!
On the Road with Chunky Glasses: Firefly Music Festival
Dover, Delaware 7/20 - 7/22
Part One: Friday, July 20th
3:00 - 4:00 p.m. Heartless Bastards vs. Blind Pilot. Verdict: Heartless Bastards
If you’re not already familiar with this Austin, Texas quartet, you may be surprised that they are fronted not by a bastard, but by a smoky-voiced woman who’s as adept at walloping guitar solos as she is at belting out enough energy to get the early crowd off to a fist-pumping start. Those who arrived early were rewarded with an excellent sound system and an easy entry point into the weekend. After an over-exuberant rift led to an unplugged guitar, Erika Wennerstrom laughed it off with an “Oh, Shit!” and a throaty laugh, then seamlessly wove back into tracks from their new album Arrow.
4:00 - 5:00 p.m. Wallflowers vs. Matt Costa: Verdict: Bit of both
The first test of the track shoes was a dash back and forth for the third grouping of the day. Matt Costa started as soon as Heartless Bastards ended, and the stage was right next door, so who could resist? Costa and his music seem genetically engineered for a summer festival, and his voice cut through the potential gloom of an otherwise rainy day. He tossed out a few more vocal gymnastics than are probably warranted at an outdoor venue, but once he brought out his harmonica the rain-booted hipsters went wild. For “Deep River Blues” everyone gathered in the middle of what would otherwise be a mosh pit for a giant Matt Costa sway-along. With the hipsters all well-settled, we headed over to the main Firefly stage for the last half of the Wallflowers.
The Wallflowers have evolved veeeeeeery slowly over the past 20 years, and while they played a few tracks off of their upcoming album, which is alleged to have a Clash-like feel, the set came off as a bit tired. Not a lot of energy from the band or the crowd (although to be fair, it was raining by then), and Jakob Dylan forgot that most of the audience members with lady parts were there to see those blue, blue eyes - take off the sunglasses and step it up a notch next time, fellas. The highlight was when Dylan quipped, “There’s nothing worse than a band that comes out and says ‘we’ve got a new album,’” then he laughed and started “One Headlight.” So true.
5:00 - 6:30 p.m. OK Go vs. Mayer Hawthorne. Verdict: OK Go
OK Go is known as much for videos as for music, but the live performances of their songs are still pretty damn entertaining, even when saturated with soggy confetti. Possibly the winners of “best crowd interaction” for the weekend, lead singer Damian Kulash kept up non-stop hilarious banter, wherein he mocked Delaware, corporations, and the “astonishing whiteness” of the crowd in general, among other topics. He took time in between taunts to convince the rained-upon crowd to jump straight up and down for 90 minutes for favorites like “Get Over It” and “Needing/Getting.”
BEST MOMENT OF THE DAY: OK Go set up a table full of hand bells mid-set, and Kulash said “Delaware is the first state, so it’s the state God loves the most - but he’s pissing all over you so let’s try to appease him.” As they started ringing out the melody of “Return,” Kulash shouted, “Shut up, it’s church time!” and remarkably, thousands of festival goers got all quiet and gospelly, with lots of whispered, "Wait, are they playing HANDBELLS?” Screaming and cheering erupted when the crowd realized that OK Go were, in fact, playing the song entirely on hand bells. YouTube it, people, because it’s delightful, and not at all religious.
6:30 - 8:00 p.m. John Legend vs. Walk the Moon. Verdict: Bit of both
After OK Go, it was time to hit the beer tent and find food, and since Dogfish had an entire tent next to the main stage where John Legend was playing, in all honesty that was a major influence in the whatcomesnext selection. If Chunky Glasses didn’t promise “music and nothing but,” I might go on for a paragraph or two about how damn delicious Dogfish’s Namaste is when fresh out of a keg, or about the special pale ale they created just for the festival, but that’s for another site.
John Legend was as smooth as ever, dressed all in black and ably backed by a couple of fantastic back-up singers. He started out with a Bob Marley cover, and kept a jazzy vibe going throughout the set - a lot of people around me seemed genuinely surprised to like him as much as they did. As compelling as Legend was, I didn’t want to miss the opening lines of Bassnectar, so I pulled myself out of Legend’s tractor beam of suave and headed for the other side of the grounds to catch one of the up-and-coming acts of the festival.
Walk the Moon was SUPER glad to be at Firefly, and put up a grit-pop performance that wowed even those of us who weren’t able to get our faces painted by the band during the pre-game. Although they’ve only been around for about 10 minutes compared to other Firefly performers, WtM was unfazed by the enormous crowd and had everyone doing the Shiver dance and singing along to David Bowie covers, and basically wishing the band had been allotted a longer time slot. They’ve got a song called “I Can Lift a Car,” and how fun is that? Pretty. Damn. Fun.
8:00 - 9:30 p.m. Bassnectar vs. Silversun Pickups. Verdict: Bassnectar
Bassnectar emerged in a swirl of lights, images, and sounds that seemed more like an alien invasion than a music set, but frankly if aliens had landed we would have all happily gotten on board for a good probing so long as they played a Bassnectar soundtrack. Everybody went completely f*%king nuts as the Japanese seizure robot light show started, and when he launched in to “Bass Head” you’d better believe we all got our damn hands up. The weather could not have been better - the rain stopped, humidity fled in the face of all that bassieness, and a full-frontal dance party erupted at the Lawn Stage. Long known for his social and political statements, Bassnectar greeted the thousands of girls floating and dancing in the pit with a variety of backgrounds denouncing the media’s distortion of our views on beauty - he featured the Dove beauty ad, then stopped the music to comment that the visual was all for the girls out there who'd been brainwashed from birth. And while this was met with general silence, it was a nice moment of awareness for the power of venue nonetheless.
I’ve attended a lot of other festivals that put the dj-oriented sets off in their own tent, and it’s a disservice to the performers and to festival goers - you may bypass something that you’d truly love if you just jumped in with both flip flops. Bassnectar just announced a fall line-up of tour dates; the closest show to us is Pittsburgh, so tweet us if you’d like to get in the Mystery Machine and head on out.
I was fortunate enough to catch the last three songs of Silversun Pickups’ set, and although I’ve never been crazy about them, they played a full, pure show full of reverb and looping that was positively drenched in bass - teamed up with the Bassnectar set, it was a rib-crunching double bill for those who ran back and forth. They saved “Panic Switch” and “Lazy Eye” for the end of the set to reward those of us who didn't bail to grab a better piece of grass for Jack White, proving that festival pros spread their strongest stuff out like Easter eggs.
9:30 - 11:00 p.m. Jack White, and nothin’ but.
Without the onslaught of bass to hold it at bay, the rain started back up at the beginning of Jack White’s set, and although he ignored it and played on, there was nothing but silence coming off the main stage for what seemed like 10 minutes. We get that it’s the inaugural festival, but no sound for the first three songs of your headliner? The amusing thing was that it seemed like parts of the audio were given back to White as a reward for his disrobing. While he initially came out dressed for the elements in a coat, hat, and boots, he got sick of slipping on the wet stage, sat down and theatrically removed boots and socks, and suddenly the bass lines were restored. Then, as his hat was jettisoned to the back of the stage, his mike came on, and when he lost the coat the whole band could be heard. Coincidence? Hmmm.
At one point White shrieked, in that odd, odd voice of his, “You getting rained on? You love it!” even though he didn’t seem to love it. He then played “Hotel Yorba,” a White Stripes country affair that is so damn fun it should be illegal in Delaware. The Racounteurs’ “Steady as She Goes” turned it into a rain-drippy singalong, and “We are Going to be Friends” was spun out with a pedal steel guitar before getting turned on its ear into a quasi-rocker for a bar or two. The evening wound to a close with a country-fried “Carolina Drama” and a meld of White Stripes songs, including (of course) “Seven Nation Army,” and a wish from White that the rest of the weekend would go very well for everybody. Such a polite boy, that Jack White.
Next up: DAY TWO featuring unforgettable sets form Ra Ra Riot, Charles Bradley, Grouplove and MORE!