Nick Stetz’ Firefly Music Festival 2013 Report Card
The summer of 2013 has been bringing us spectacular festivals thus far, and the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware was no exception. I was lucky enough to attend the festival for all three days this past weekend. I thought my review of it would not solely be about the music, but the overall festival experience. My hope is for you to (step 1) read this article and to (step 2) be able to make a fairly educated decision on whether or not you’ll want to go to it next year (I probably will be). Let me preface though that this was my first TRUE festival experience. I had attended Governors Ball in NYC last summer, but only for a day. I was able to get a feel for the festival scene, but not the full-on experience. I may not have much to compare this festival to, but believe me, I know what I like and do not like. So without further ado…*drum roll*…I present to you, The Firefly Music Festival 2013 Report Card!
MUSIC (LINEUP & SCHEDULE): A-
Obviously, the main reason we head to festivals is because of the artists that are performing. Why exactly would you go to a bluegrass festival if you don’t enjoy bluegrass music…for the food? Probably not. The grades for this report card were not weighted, but you'd better believe that the music would be weighted the most if they were.
Overall I gave Firefly an A-. Some of you are probably scrolling through and looking at the lineup right now wondering why I wouldn’t give them an A+. Let’s start off with the headliners.
· Friday: Red Hot Chili Peppers
· Saturday: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
· Sunday: Vampire Weekend & Foster the People
Out of these three nights, I felt that the only hole-in-one was Sunday’s. Vampire Weekend & Foster the People are both fairly new, but extremely established groups. They both drew in massive crowds despite Foster the People trying to fend off the label “One Hit Wonder” (side note, they do have other great songs and I suggest you check out Houdini). From an individual standpoint, I enjoy the intimacy of personal concerts (not at festivals), but Vampire Weekend’s performance was by far one of the best I’ve seen in my life.
I am and have always been a huge Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, but at the same time I didn’t get that overwhelming excitement like I did when I saw that Vampire Weekend was playing. That’s what you should feel with each headliner. RHCP are great, but I personally feel like they’re in this limbo state of not producing any more timely classics, yet still not old enough for people to consider them true classics. I’d prefer some newer acts that are on the rise that I can get excited about seeing that other people probably haven’t seen, like Mumford & Sons.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers was probably my least favorite out of them all. I’m sorry for all those Petty die-hards out there, but I don’t know any other song besides Free Fallin'. You can get upset with me all you want, but I’d say about half of the people at Firefly were the same as most left after he played that song. Many performers like that could almost be considered “One Hit Wonders” to our generation and younger. Don’t get me wrong - he put on a good show, but not enough for me to stay past Free Fallin.
As far as the rest of the lineup goes, I’d say that they absolutely killed it. Their second tier performers were top-notch, with acts like Kendrick Lamar, Calvin Harris, Passion Pit, The Avett Brothers, Ellie Goulding, Dispatch, MGMT, and more. Pretty much every single one of their second tier performances killed it. You can tell from this video clip of MGMT performing Electric Feel. The bottom tier performers were just as exciting as the second tier, with acts like Krewella, Capital Cities, Haim, Django Django, and plenty more.
Due to the amazing second and third tier performers and the addition of Vampire Weekend and Foster the People as co-headliners, Firefly deserves an A-. If they want that A or A+ they’re going to have to work on all of their headliners in the future.
FOOD & BEVERAGES: A
You forget how important of a factor this is until you get to the festival and realize…you have to eat and hydrate. The food selections were great and if you’re a picky eater or have allergies, don’t’ worry, they cater to all. If you are an “all-in eat whatever is put in front of me” type of eater, then this will be your heaven. They have burger stands, Mexican food, noodles, falafel, chicken tenders and sandwiches, cheesecakes - the list goes on and on. My personal favorite was the grown-up grilled cheese with three different kinds of cheese, pickles, and tomatoes. MMMM.
If you are a picky eater or have allergies, don’t worry! They have food for vegetarians and vegans and cater to allergic needs such as dairy and nuts. If you can’t have a certain part of a meal, but want the rest of it, they’re very considerate of your needs. I personally am not a fan of BBQ sauce on my burgers, but I wasn’t sure if they would take it off just because I didn’t like it. So…I said I was allergic and they were completely okay with taking it off! Moral of the story is that they will look out for those needs.
For those of you who are 21+ they had a wide assortment of alcoholic beverages including a brewery and a vineyard. Dogfish Head beer is brewed close by, so every year they come out with a special Dogfish Head Firefly Ale, which is pretty cool. The “cheapest” beverage available was Heineken, which was a very nice change of pace from the usual subpar choices of Coors Light, Bud Light, and Miller Light.
The one thing they did wrong, though, that kept them from getting an A+ was not having enough water stations. The lines for water were always long - and sometimes absurdly long. In my opinion, they should have had a water refill station everywhere that alcohol was available as well.
Pricing was fairly good as they kept pretty much everything at $10 or less, which is to be expected at a festival.
EXTRA ACTIVITIES: B+
Obviously, when you go to a festival you’re there to enjoy the music. Let’s be honest though, you’re not going to be front and center jumping around for every performance. You may want to, but it’ll be too tiring and physically impossible, as you have to get to stages ahead of time to do so, thus missing other artists.
Lots of times it’s nice to enjoy the music while hanging out with some friends and doing some low key activities. Firefly did an okay job of this, but most of their activities required you to be away from the music. They did have some cool things, like the Hammock Hangout and the Arcade. The Hammock Hangout was great for nap breaks, but it was nearly impossible to find a free hammock. The arcade was a great time waster if you were waiting for an act to perform.
They didn’t have enough outdoor activities, though, that allowed you to enjoy the music at the same time. For example, at Governors Ball they had lots of outdoor games like Corn Hole and Ladder Ball where you could relax and play with friends while still having full view of the stages and being able to hear the performances perfectly. Firefly had none of this and definitely should have had more.
Firefly Music Festival: “The East Coast’s Premier Music Experience”. This is the festival’s tagline and I couldn’t agree more (for now). The east coast has really been lacking in the amount of festivals available. Firefly hit a target market that needed to be filled. Governor's Ball started a year before Firefly, but there isn’t any camping available as it’s in NYC. There isn’t a problem with that, but it isn’t the “traditional” festival experience. Besides Gov's Ball, the closest major music festivals to all of us on the east coast were Lollapalooza in Chicago, IL and Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN. Being from Baltimore, neither of these locations are easy trips by car and it’s even longer the further north you go. Dover, DE is a perfect location as it caters to the Mid-Atlantic region, which has extremely populated cities such as NYC, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C.
The physical location was the perfect atmosphere for a music festival. It was located in the woods of Dover near the raceway. It was tucked away almost like a fairytale forest. Sounds a bit much I know, but it’s true. The trees and hidden coves and pathways made the experience that much more magical.
Now, when I say timing I mean two things: the actual dates of the festival and the time of day the performances are held. Both aspects were spot on.
The festival this year took place over the second to last weekend of June: the 21st – 23rd. These dates are perfect for several reasons. It’s not too hot. Nothing kills a great performance more than being too hot, uncomfortable, and having to worry about applying lotion every hour. I’d personally rather be in the pouring rain because you’re at least cool and it puts everyone in this “we’re all in this together” state of mind. As far as its placement during the summer, it’s great for most students or recent college graduates. School has (usually) ended just long enough to enjoy a couple weeks of summer and for you to prepare for the festival. For recent college graduates, it’s early enough in the summer where you can go without having to worry about work on Monday, as your job hasn’t started yet. It also doesn’t conflict with the core week-long family vacation trips that tend to take place in July and August.
Actual timing during the day was perfect as well. Both Friday and Saturday started at noon and ended around 1 in the morning. This is perfect because it allows people to sleep in a little and recover from the previous day's festivities. You don’t have to worry about missing an act at 10 in the morning. Sunday started and ended a little earlier. It began at 11am and ended around 11pm. Why? Because they knew people had work the next day and they were nice enough to end early. How considerate!
This is where the festival got hurt the most on their report card. The size was a pretty big issue. I was not present for the festival’s first year in 2012, but I was told the size was perfect. The stages were not that far apart, the crowd sizes were great and it felt like a very intimate and enjoyable festival experience. Obviously people loved it and the word got out fast.
They expanded the land which made the stages farther apart, but since I wasn’t there last year, I didn’t notice. To be honest, though, the distance between the stages really wasn’t bad at all.
The main problem was the amount of people. Sure they offset it a little bit by increasing the land area, but not enough with the amount of tickets they sold. Every time people would move from one stage to another I would be squished in a crowd of people being funneled through a narrow pathway. The lines were extremely long at many food places and, like I said earlier, the water fill-up stations. Many times, the sheer mass of people ruined the experience of the performance.
In my opinion, expanding the land again is not the right decision, because the distances are perfect as is. They might want to consider selling fewer tickets. I know that really stinks for the rest of us, but if you get a ticket, it’ll make your experience that much better.
I personally did not experience the camping aspect of the festival. Notice I did not say unfortunately. I was able to stay with a friend in Rehoboth beach (50 minutes away) and commute each day. This also adds to the location of the festival because it’s not far from many well-known beaches. It was really nice being able to not wake up in a hot tent, but rather in a bed, go to the beach in the morning, and the festival in the afternoon. It was the best of both worlds.
I have never been much of a camper so I highly doubt I would ever do the true camping experience in a tent at a festival, but I did miss out on some things by not camping. It was harder to get us up and ready in the morning to get there in time for the early acts. I would’ve loved to see some of the acts before 3pm, and if we camped there it most likely would not have been an issue. If I go again (which I plan on doing) I will most definitely be looking into getting an RV. That way, I can camp, but also not have to be in a hot tent all weekend. Another bonus of camping (from what I was told) is that you do get the sensation of being in a community and you get really close with the people camping near you.
The atmosphere of the festival is the overall feeling in the air that comes from the fans, volunteers, performers, and any other intangible aspects.
It’s hard to put it into words, but I’ll try. The overall atmosphere could be described as a perfectly sunny Saturday afternoon in the summer. You’re hanging out with your best friends doing everything you love to do: shopping, swimming, relaxing, and taking in the perfectness of the day. The only issue is that there is an 80% chance of rain in the afternoon and you don’t know if it’ll be coming around 3pm or 6pm, but either way it looms over you. It won’t ruin your day, but it puts a damper on it (pun intended).
That’s kind of how it felt at Firefly. It did rain on Sunday, but that wasn’t supposed to be taken literally. The rain in my description represents the amount of people and how crowded it was. No matter the size of people, you were still going to enjoy your experience overall, but you knew the problem was always there. Once Passion Pit ended I was overjoyed to move on to see Vampire Weekend, but there was still that looming feeling of having to deal with the unnecessary amount of people funneling their way to the next stage.
OVERALL GRADE: A-
There was no guestimating for the overall grade, but an actual calculation from all the grades given. Keeping in mind that none of the categories were weighted, the calculation came out to be an A-. For a festival in its second year, I’d say that’s pretty darn good.
The weak points were the size, the extra activities, and most importantly the headliners. The first thing they should worry about is their size. Most people would say headliners, but people are going to come regardless so the size needs to be dealt with first. Then they should work on getting an A-list of headliners. Finally, the extra activities is just them having to pay a little bit more attention to detail and realize that the activities should coincide with the music.
Overall, though, the weekend was a success and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Depending on where I end up job-wise, I will most definitely be heading back next year and I suggest you look into it yourself. Firefly, it was a great weekend and I can’t wait to see you again!