I just got back from my second year at The Woodlands for Firefly 2017 — my 10th music festival in 10 weeks. I’m finally on my own couch after being on the road since April 29. It was an awesome four days at Firefly 2017, and I’m recapping what I considered the Best and Worst of the Dover, Delaware festival below.
BEST: Multiple sets and intimate secondary stages
One thing that sets Firefly apart is the number of intimate secondary stages it features — and also the ability to see certain bands on more than one occasion during the weekend. Between the Treehouse, Coffeehouse, and Toyota Music Den stages, there was almost always something worth catching in crowds that ranged from a few dozen people to a few hundred. Didn’t catch O.A.R.‘s set Thursday on one of the big stages? You got a chance to see them later in the night at the Coffeehouse.
While some people will certainly remember Bishop Briggs‘ main stage set Saturday where she drew a large crowd, those lucky enough to catch her Sunday set at the Treehouse will be able to talk about seeing her among a few hundred people when she’s headlining thousand-person venues in the not too distant future. It’s those kinds of memories that are really what music festivals are all about. Also, it doesn’t hurt that if you see someone’s name on the lineup multiple times, it can make your decisions easier when it comes to set time conflicts. Up-and-coming acts like Klangstof, DREAMERS, Rozes, and Jared & The Mill were just a few you got two opportunities to see perform. If you’re a band trying to make a name for yourself, playing a festival twice in one weekend is a pretty good way to catch people’s attention.
WORST: Twenty-one Pilots disparage Coachella during headline set
Twenty-one Pilots are some petty dudes, huh? During their headline set Friday night at Firefly 2017, their video package featured a Godzilla creature storming through “Coachella”. If that wasn’t enough, lead vocalist Tyler Joseph later said, “You know, we’ve been looking forward to this show for quite some time, my friends. And listen — it’s not that we don’t like Coachella, it’s just that we can’t stand it. When I hear about that festival, I always tell ‘em, ‘Have you ever been to Firefly, though?’ We would take you guys every single day.”
While the sentiment of how much they enjoy Firefly was good — was it really necessary to shit on Coachella? To me, it sounds like hurt feelings as if they were passed over by the festival. It’s also interesting because Goldenvoice — who put on Coachella — also have a hand in Firefly and Hangoout, two festivals Twenty-one Pilots headlined this year.
BEST: Bookings of rap nostalgia acts Busta Rhymes and T-Pain
Between this year and last, Firefly has made a concerted effort to book some nostalgic hip-hop acts and put them on the main stage early in the day. Last year, Ludacris was supposed to play a night-time set but a scheduling conflict forced him to play a Sunday early-afternoon set. The attendees crashed the gates early in order to see him, and the festival bookers must have seen this as a good way to bring crowds inside early in the day.
This year, T-Pain played an early-day set on Saturday and Busta Rhymes opened the main stage Sunday. T-Pain’s set was high energy. He went from giving an impassioned speech about how people should talk about all the good vibes music festivals bring, and how they bring them together — to after one song talking about signing women’s breasts with his jizz. I’d go see T-Pain do standup comedy. Busta Rhymes was 25 minutes late to the stage but still got the crowd going once he started to perform. These kinds of left-field bookings are smart and the kind of thing that separates Firefly from the rest of the pack.
WORST: Campsites left trashed on the way out
I left Sunday night after Muse, but I had a number of friends tell me the campgrounds Monday morning, there was just garbage EVERYWHERE. Threads have also popped up on Reddit about the massive amounts of trash left behind by campers. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s blatant disrespect for the earth — yes you paid to camp at the festival but that doesn’t give you the right to turn it into your personal dumpster. The festival provides you with both garbage and recycling bags, the least you could do is clean up after yourselves.
At least Firefly partnered with Camp Purple, an organization that collects all the camping and other equipment left behind by assholes and distributes it to the homeless in Dover.
BEST: Surprise collabs, awesome covers highlight Firefly 2017
The element of surprise is one thing that makes music festivals special. Firefly 2017 had quite a few curveballs to throw at this year’s attendees. Chance the Rapper brought out Francis and the Lights for “May I Have This Dance” during his Saturday closing set. Flume brought out Andrew Wyatt of Miike Snow for their collaboration “Some Minds”, and SOFI TUKKER were joined unexpectedly on stage by Maggie Rogers for the duo’s song “Awoo”. Twenty-one Pilots also brought out Judah and the Lion.
Aside from those surprises, a few memorable covers were played. Weezer played a killer version of OutKast’s “Hey Ya”. British singer-songwriter James TW‘s cover of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn” sent me running towards the stage singing along to the ’90s hit. Perhaps the best cover of the weekend came from synthpop trio MUNA — who covered Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” on Saturday.
Andy Frasco and The U.N. covered Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing In The Name Of” (see above). There was also Mondo Cozmo delivering their smashing cover of The Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” and Maggie Rogers covering “Wannabe” by the Spice Girls with FLETCHER on Thursday. Overall, there were plenty of surprises that helped make Firefly 2017 special.
WORST: Overserving of drunk people
At least a half-dozen times, I saw people who were clearly fucked up beyond their own recognizance walking around with the bags of Bud Lights that the festival was selling. There seemed to be a lot of people who were overserved alcohol, and the amount of passed out people face down in the ground in the heat was as high as any festival I attended this year. Most festivals only allow you a two-drink maximum per person — at Firefly 2017 I saw plenty of people walking around with backpacks full of beers. Sure, it’s nice not to have to leave the crowd to get round two — but when your backpack is stuffed with six servings of alcohol, it doesn’t always end well.
Responsible drinkers will cry foul that I’m suggesting a drink maximum, but even they have to agree that there were a lot of completely shitfaced people stumbling around. The heat was muggy as hell, and it was taxing to me personally even though I drank between six and eight bottles of water today and drank very little alcohol. I can only imagine how sapping it was for people who were on a mixed-drink diet.
Five Favorite Sets of Firefly 2017:
- Muse — I never considered myself the biggest fan of the longtime English rockers, but shit do they ever put on a show. I actually skipped seeing them as headliners at my first Coachella in 2014 — and now I really regret it. Their visuals were pretty awesome, and they make sounds with guitars I didn’t know were possible. Also, who knew I knew so many Muse songs? I watched this set from VIP and it was easily the most crowded the section was all weekend.
- Phantogram — Was my 12th time seeing the electro-rock duo, and my fifth time on the festival circuit this year. They never bring less than 110% to their shows, and their Sunday sunset slot was no different. It’s also the perfect time of day to see them play — as they’ve got a mix of upbeat jams to go with some melancholy powerful tracks. Sarah Barthel is a fucking goddess and rocked with the crowd pretty hard. I REALLY regret not seeing Muse and Phantogram when they played the STAPLES Center together.
- BANKS — The talented Los Angeles-based alt-pop star has really come into her own with the release of her second album The Altar. Her showmanship is top notch and the choreography between her and her two dancers really adds another dimension to her show. She knows how to mix up her setlist, striking the right balance between new and old songs. It was also her birthday, and she brought in the start of the last year of her twenties with style and swagger.
- Sir Sly — Going head-to-head on the small Porch stage against 30 Seconds to Mars on the main stage could be a bit intimidating, but this Los Angeles group brought their A-game. It was their second trip to Firefly and you could tell they relished playing the festival. It was my first time seeing them play and I was pleasantly surprised at how multi-dimensional their show was. There was a very poignant moment where lead singer Landon Jacobs sang a new song and then had to turn away and broke down a bit at the end of it, and related it to his mother before continuing to slay their set. The crowdsurf by Jacobs was another nice touch. Don’t miss their show at the El Rey on June 29 if you’re in Los Angeles.
- Maggie Rogers — Breakthrough pop singer Maggie Rogers noted at the start of her set it was her first ever festival performance, and she smashed it. Her excitement was so palpable — she was all smiles and disbelief at how many people turned out — that it rubbed off on the crowd for her Thursday show. She’s got next-level talent and is already extremely capable as a performer. Her cover of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe” caught the crowd off guard and the oldies in VIP next to me really got into it. Don’t miss her — she’ll be playing massive venues pretty soon.
Overall, Firefly 2017 ranks pretty high on my favorite festivals of 2017 so far. The crowd was a nice mix of people of all age ranges and walks of life and people were for the most part kind and decent to each other. I recommend checking out the festival if you’re searching for a camping fest whose conditions are slightly less harsh than Coachella and Bonnaroo.