The third-annual Firefly Music Festival drew an estimated 80,000 people to an expanded four-day concert experience in nearby Dover, Del., June 19-22, boasting more than 125 artists over seven stages.
Although I arrived at the first day of the festival for a bit, let me stop and recount some of the figures from the festival distributed on the second day, when Del. Gov Jack Markell and Firefly Music Festival Director Greg Bostrom spoke about the scope of the festival.
The festival brought an estimated $12 million into Delaware with visitors from all 50 states (and the District of Columbia) as well as 17 countries. Two percent of overall ticket sales came from DC (not too shabby) while neighboring Maryland and Virginia accounted for 15 and 8 percent of sales respectively. (By contrast, Delawareans also accounted for 15 percent.) Firefly grew significantly from last year, when the three-day festival drew about 65,000 attendees.
With that dry economic report out of the way, was the festival any good? Is it worth traveling a little more than 100 miles each way from DC to attend?
As Firefly grows, the more crammed full of artists and opportunities it becomes. The festival may have boasted seven official stages, but sponsors crammed artists into smaller stages when available; artists signed autographs at an FYE tent that sold their music (including artists you’ve heard of like Sleigh Bells and MS MR); and food, sun and fun were easy to find across the entire landscape.
Let me emphasize as well that the bands seemed to have fun. One way that manifested itself was in the number of covers that bands played.
In no particular order, seven great covers performed at Firefly this year:
1. “Song 2” by Blur, performed by Weezer
2. “Do I Wanna Know” by the Arctic Monkeys, performed by MS MR
3. “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, performed by Beck
4. “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears, performed by Basic Vacation
5. “Like a Prayer” by Madonna, performed by Misterwives
6. “Warning Sign” by the Talking Heads, performed by Local Natives
7. “My Love” by Justin Timberlake, performed by New Politics
The first day of this year’s festival, Thursday, June 19, started much later than the other days and ended at midnight (as opposed to 2am) with a set by psychedelic folkers Local Natives from Los Angeles.
I took my time and arrived later in the day Thursday with the goal of getting the lay of the land. Having expanded again this year, the layout of Firefly was similar to last year’s but different (and bigger) enough to warrant a trek to familiarize yourself with all of its locations. Not all of the stages were being used on Thursday (the main stage notably was dark), but I trekked over to a larger stage called “the Backyard” to see a bit of Phosphorescent, aka Brooklyn-based Matthew Houck.
Phosphorescent had a good set time — the Thursday crowd was large; options were limited; and he played intellectual but easily digested folk pop. He started with songs like “A New Anhedionia” and “The Quotidian Beasts” and later played his popular “A Song for Zula,” but I had taken the opportunity to wander the festival to the smaller “forest stage” by this point to take in some of Brooklyn’s San Fermin.
Although I’m not traditionally someone who embraces chamber pop (for the amazingly fickle reason that too many musicians are on stage), my fellow blogger Rebecca is a big fan of San Fermin and for good reason it turns out. San Fermin offers a powerful male/female vocal combo with singers Allen Tate and Charlene Kaye (who joined the band only within the last few months). Add highly developed thematic concepts to the songs, and with those duo vocalists, I was quite taken with San Fermin’s reflections on love, life and loss. For being new to the lineup, the Hawaiian-born Ms. Kaye was confident and captivating. Band founder Ellis Ludwig-Leone, stationed behind the keyboards, was a quiet storm whose presence also was felt throughout the set.
The band strummed through much of its self-titled debut album from last year, including the well-regarded “Sonsick,” an ode to heartache typical of the band’s material, as well as some new songs from a forthcoming album.
Closing out the night, Local Natives opened with their song, “Wooly Mammoth,” from last year’s album, Hummingbird. Vocalist Taylor Rice led his band through a set drawn from their two albums to date, including their take on “Warning Sign” by the Talking Heads.
Catch up with more tomorrow for more reflections on the Firefly Music Festival.