A happy last minute decision drove me to go to Firefly Festival, down in Dover, Delaware. Saturday boasted some of the better bands I wanted to see, and without a camping pass, we drove down with open minds, expecting an adventure. We felt like Bilbo Baggins bolting out of his house, without any knowledge of what was to come yet expecting nothing but adventures.
My personal expectations had a bunch of smelly hippies/hipsters/frat boys/biddies and generally naked people of all ages swaying to the music and maybe trying to avoid the heat. General rules you follow in the real world don’t totally apply to music festivals; you’re going to enjoy music, experience the space and enjoy the surrounding people. If you don’t like chatting with strangers, music festivals might not be for you. I knew it was going to be dirty, the lack of shade was evident and the porta-pottys started smelling worse as the day wore on, but that dampened no spirits.
I expected to see a lot of people; young, old, people tripping, others rocking “sober and proud” shirts, drunk people, hippies, frat guys, naked girls. The biggest surprises, however, came to me in small genuine moments I didn’t expect. Everyone contributed to that overall experience, and from the sweating bands to the drunken biddies to the chipper volunteers, all were happy and grateful to be around a wonderful community.
1. Big Gigantic (midnight, the backyard)
My friend Jenna introduced me to them, and Big Gigantic has achieved what Kenny G never could and what Clarence Clemons drank like water; Dominic Lalli made playing the saxophone look AND sound cool. Combining the best parts of jazz, hip hop, and livetronica, Big Gigantic has the beats and music that makes your body move regardless if you know the songs or not. Accompanied by Jeremey Salken on drums, the live set was more exciting than any recording could portray. The jam-band quality and vibe of the set allowed room for extended solos and extra added songs. Big Gigantic is known for their high-energy performances, and including a variety of improvised music and popular culture, if you haven’t heard of them check out high sky. A must for anyone into electronic jam-band type dancing sessions!
2. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (10:10, main stage)
I love Tom Petty, but I have to admit I didn’t have high expectations for him. I knew he played Bonnaroo, and some stinky hippies said they saw him there and couldn’t wait to see him at Firefly. Goosebumps ensued for a majority of his performance. I imagine they can rock any venue, but on a lawn with a full moon rising, the experience was magical. The first thing he said to the crowd was “Looks like there’s a full moon rising, I don’t know, but there’s just something about some rock and roll under a full moon.” He chatted with the crowd, shared some stories, played some hidden gems and slammed it with the classics. The Heartbreakers rocked it just as hard, and arguably Mike Campbell stole the show with some gut-wrenching and classic rock and roll solos. If you ever have the chance, see Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
3. The Food
From a Jack Daniels tent, to a Dogfish Head specially brewed beer for the Festival, I did not expect the wide variety of foods offered. The small stands lined almost every walkway or stage, and the (hopefully) local foods tasted and smelled great. With tons of vegetarian and healthier than fried food options, water was free (if you had a water bottle) or a water bottle was cheaper than soda. Ranging from Thai BBQ, a taco stand, an All-American Grille, and many more I missed I’m sure, we snagged some vegetarian chow-mein for only $6 a plate, where other options didn’t rise past $11 for half fried rice/half low mein and a teriyaki skewer of chicken. The festival kept peoples money in check for food, and everything seemed reasonably priced and reasonably healthy.
4 The physical layout of the festival
Walking around during the day, I couldn’t stop asking “What do they do with this space when people and a music festival is not occupying it?” We parked the Dover international speedway, walked maybe a mile to get to these gigantic fields, each maybe a quarter mile or half mile apart. It was difficult to judge the size of the fields when they were filled with hoards of people. There was a hammock lounge with festival-supplied hammocks, a full FREE arcade air conditioned tents, and Heineken DJ tents. The layout flowed in great ebbs and flows of people, and while people were everywhere it wasn’t as overwhelming as I thought it might be. If you wanted to be crushed against the stage, that was your prerogative, but if you preferred to have more room to move and dance without ten others pressing their sweaty bodies against you, the back had huge screens depicting the highlights onstage.
5. The signs
From Bob Saget to an umbrella jellyfish, perhaps it was a bit naive to be impressed by the time and effort people put into making these signs. I assumed after seeing a lot, this was their main form of communication to alert friends where they were as use of cell phones was basically nonexistent. It was so enjoyable seeing Kevin Bacon’s head stuck to a gigantic piece of paper bacon, or gigantic faces I didn’t recognize with contorted eyebrows and bug eyes. Stuffed animals lit up with battery operated Christmas lights, people wearing super tall hats, or just poles covered in glow sticks the signs inspired me to outdo someone at my next festival.