Firefly Music Festival Brings Four Days of Music, Art and Heat to Thousands of Fans

One week ago music fans invaded The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway and turned the place into a four-day eccentric, sweaty dance party. The vibes were electric, the sun was blazing, and the music was explosive.

We were anticipating a rainy Firefly Music Festival weekend. Instead we all nearly melted. Thursday and Friday were breezy and bearable. A heavy downpour rolled in during the early morning hours of Saturday, but most of us had taken shelter for the night by that time. The rain did not cool things off as we’d hoped. On Saturday, the struggle was real. The forecast may have said 95 degrees, but the “RealFeel” temperature read 104 that day, which sounds far more accurate. Sunblock was no match for the vicious heat. I am still nursing the burn.

Praise the trees and Firefly’s beloved Hammock Hangout for the coveted shade they provided. I must give a shout out to the female staff member who walked around the Hangout tucking weary attendees into hammocks for a shady nap. It was rather heartwarming to watch.

Occasionally, l will have that moment or two of panic at the realization that I am unable to escape the harsh heat or get any sleep, with little chance of finding a bathroom that won’t induce nightmares, relying on water bottles to shower and tripping over sprawled out kids who had a little too much of… something that night. Images of my couch and my AC began to creep up on me. There was potential for plenty to go wrong, right? (I was once gifted with a surprise bout of pneumonia at Moe. Down, and let me tell you, suddenly falling ill at a festival is the scenario from hell.) But, truly all it takes to cleanse me of such lame, fun-killing thoughts is watching a lady in a uniform tuck a young man dressed as a banana into a hammock for nap time. It’s the little things.

The festival decided to make some changes this year and rolled out multiple experimental plans from the announcement of their fan-curated concept to going cashless. So, how did this all work out?

I had my concerns about this whole cashless business. While I didn’t mind forgoing paper for plastic myself, I was anxious to see how many other attendees would easily adapt… or not. Then there is always the unpredictable nature of technology to worry about. That spells disaster.

Besides noticing a few beer cart vendors struggling to accept mobile payments, we barely felt a difference in the process of paying. Lines moved just fine, attendees seemed to be prepared, tipping required no more than a tap on an iPad screen (tip jars were still available for cash tips), and systems remained up and running. I asked the opinion of a vendor at the ever-so-delicious Southern Soul food truck, while waiting for my heavenly BBQ Seitan Sandwich. He simply shrugged and replied, “Works for us.”

New features could be found all over the festival grounds. The Fort, a bar and elevated structure created from storage containers, was one of the results of fan voting. The colorfully painted Fort stood out at the Lawn and Porch stages and allowed attendees the opportunity for a raised view of the stage, crowd and festival grounds. Hanging around The Fort, we heard mixed reviews from “this is useless” to “this is the best view ever!” Can’t please ‘em all, but the extra shade that the structure provided was a major plus.

The continuous mural was a fun feature to watch as it developed. The artist began his spray-painting mission on a blank white canvas on day one. He barely seemed to leave his post until the project was complete at the end of the festival.

The Rambler was a great addition this year and we’d love to see it make a comeback. The traveling truck stage rolled around the festival grounds throughout the weekend, making stops in various locations. Whenever The Rambler pulled up, a kick-ass live show was about to go down.

Each year Dogfish Head partners with Firefly and sets up the The Brewery adjacent to the main stage. The signature Firefly Ale is lovely, but if you ask me, Sea Quench Ale is the most refreshing alcohol you can find at the festival.

Now on to the main attraction… the music. Over 140 bands joined thousands of fans for a non-stop lineup that began Thursday morning and didn’t quit until the clock struck midnight on Sunday.

Firefly’s lineup was a diverse one, to say the least. Where else are you going to catch Bob Dylan right before Kesha or listen to Hamilton Leithauser complain about noise bleeding from Waka Flocka Flame’s show across the way? It’s a circus of genres, and while it can be tempting for some of us to protest the growing trend of EDM and mainstream pop-heavy lineups, I find that oftentimes keeping an open mind and going with the flow allows me to appreciate almost anything for what it is. At Bob Dylan’s performance, I am there to close my eyes and listen to every superbly crafted lyric that rolls off of his wise and world-weary tongue. But, I can also switch gears to laugh and dance and be a little mindless with the Kesha crowd for the sake of simple fun. Nothing wrong with balance!


Some of the Thursday night standouts included the cinematic, indie-electro Crywolf; the undeniably talented newcomer Maggie Rogers; bluesy Icelandic band Kaleo; and OAR, who included a sweet, sing-along to “No Woman, No Cry” in their set. Gryffin took one of the late-night spots and had The Pavilion looking like a UFO.

The winning performance of opening night goes to Oxford natives Glass Animals. Yes, there were lights and special effects, but all Glass Animals really needed was the intensity with which they perform on stage. I couldn’t take my eyes off Dave Bayley. He is an incredibly passionate vocalist and slides around onstage so fluidly. I found myself unconsciously emulating his movements at times. The ground-shaking, skin-tingling bass didn’t hurt either. Glass Animals’ late-night show remains a favorite experience of the weekend.



When Firefly’s lineup dropped and I saw the name Barns Courtney listed, my first thought was, “Wait… did someone butcher Courtney Barnett’s name?” My subsequent Google search instead introduced me to the English bluesy alt-rock powerhouse that is Barnaby “Barns” Courtney. On Friday afternoon, his haunting track “Glitter & Gold” came rolling off the Porch Stage, calling to passersby who couldn’t help but stop and watch. Keep an eye out for this emerging artist.


Weezer and Miike Snow were high on my list of must-sees for Friday. Weezer was a blast, opening with “Hash Pipe” and diving next into “My Name is Jonas.” They kept the crowd pleased, playing just about every single since The Blue Album. I may not be the only Weezer fan who wasn’t particularly raving about their latest release, “Feels Like Summer,” but I’ll admit that when heard live it has its charm. Miike Snow took over the Backyard Stage after nightfall and turned it into an absolute party. They closed the show with an experimental, extended version of “Animal” that kept everyone hanging on until the last second.

The night’s headliner Twenty One Pilots had plenty of surprises for the crowd, from serenading us with a cover of “Fools Rush In” and ferociously dissing Coachella to breaking out into “Tubthumping” by Chumbawamba and inviting vocalist Tyler Joseph’s dad onstage in honor of Father’s Day. They also managed to remind us of the times we are living in when they had half the crowd momentarily ducking for cover with their resounding (and startling) gunshot effects.

Glow sticks were flying, and no one was showing any signs of slowing down during Flume’s closing set.  The Australian DJ and producer made it hard to leave the grounds and head back to camp after pumping so much energy into the audience.


Saturday’s schedule was stacked, and the crowds seemed significantly larger, indicating that many one-day passers may have opted for day three.

Rainbow Kitten Surprise, a recent personal obsession, did not disappoint. They started things off strong with “Cocaine Jesus,” and, despite Saturday’s heat assault, singer (and Caleb Followill’s vocal twin) Sam Melo did not stop moving at any point. Pouring out both their hearts and a few gallons of sweat, Melo and the band gave an unstoppable performance. Shortly after, we were drawn to the Porch Stage by the sound of an ethereal, calming voice that we soon found belonged to Kevin Garrett. Seriously, he’s like an angel. I almost forgot that I was frying in direct sunlight for a while there.


The fun and spirited California band Magic Giant had the crowd melting (and not because of the heat this time) when they brought a young couple, Scott and Sara, onstage for a “surprise.” Sara gave a gooey speech professing her undying love for Scott before getting down on one knee and “smashing the patriarchy” by proposing to her boyfriend. Scott said yes (phew!) followed by a chorus of “awww” and a lot of joyous, bouncy dancing onstage.

Sunflower Bean brought their dreamy-punk edginess to Firefly and announced an upcoming album to our delight. The young New Yorkers crash-landed on the indie scene in 2015 with the debut of their singles “Wall Watcher” and “Easier Said.” Based on the three new tracks they played, it appears that the only place they are headed is to a bigger stage.


The legendary Bob Dylan began as the sun was starting to go down. Dylan did not speak a single word between songs or acknowledge the crowd… at all. This is not too shocking for Bob, though. Firefly marks my fourth experience in the presence of the folk icon, and it was probably the most unenthusiastic I’ve seen him. But, if Dylan felt a little out of place at Firefly this year, that’s because he kind of was. Three quarters of the way through his set, much of the audience dispersed to make their way to either Kesha or Galantis, proving just how much of a Dylan crowd this was. Oh well, all the more room for me!

Closing things out for Saturday was headliner The Weeknd, followed by Chance the Rapper. The Weeknd gave a solid performance complete with moving ceiling platforms, fireworks and an encore of “The Hills,” which sent the crowd into a frenzy.


Busta Rhymes was one of Sunday’s first acts. He arrived onstage about twenty minutes late, but made up for it with a career-spanning show chock full of dirty grittiness or, as Busta called it, “Filthy under-the-nail hip hop.” Completely changing lanes, I caught The Strumbellas set next and opted to lie under the trees for the duration.  Their lighthearted, folksy charm and the sheer elation that their crowd displayed set me on the right path for the final day of Firefly. Nahko and Medicine for the People brought their message of peace to the Backyard Stage and further contributed to my sprightly mood that day. If you don’t leave their show wanting to hug somebody, you might be made of stone.


The award for crowd-pleaser of the weekend has to go to 30 Seconds to Mars. Not only did Jared Leto bring popsicles for the crowd, but he made audience participation a requirement. First he requested crowd-surfing, but that was not enough. When Leto spotted a man dressed as a seahorse, he insisted the fan get onstage and dance behind the band for the next song. Still not satisfied, he decided that the band wanted just about everyone to join them. Within seconds the main stage was overflowing with people, and I guarantee that 30 Seconds to Mars had just given countless fans the best moment of their summer.

Sarah Barthel sounded flawless during Phantogram’s sunset show, which served as a perfect primer for the remaining performances of the weekend. Muse was the final headliner, and, as anyone could guess, they were an intergalactic, rock & roll dream come true. Dillon Francis put an end to Firefly 2017 with the best DJ set of the festival. Francis was thrilled by the crowd’s synchronized glow-stick tossing and repeatedly praised the audience for being downright insane.

Firefly Music Festival 2017 is over. I’m sitting on my couch in a strongly air-conditioned room. I’ve taken not one but two showers today, and my clothes are clean and dry. Yet I miss my humid tent, the company of strangers, and dumping bottles full of cooler water on my head. Most of all I miss checking out of reality and moving into a makeshift “city” that runs on music, community, art and lowered inhibitions. The good news is, there’s always next year! Firefly returns to Dover DE from June 14 to June 17, 2018.  Who’s ready to do it all again?!


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