For the rest of us — and there were approximately 80,000 music fans in attendance, according to Billboard — the four-day music festival that took place from Thursday to Sunday in Dover, Del., was an unofficial kickoff to summer celebration that was thrilling and — if we’re being honest — draining. A friend said her pedometer read more than 25,000 steps on Friday night.
Yes, Firefly — like Bonnaroo, Coachella, Lollapalooza and the numerous other American music festivals that continue to thrive each year — was a party. But music was the driving force for most here, and festival producers Red Frog Events once again booked a solid, mainstream-heavy lineup that aimed to please the majority.
Due to scheduling and the sheer size of the 154-acre Woodlands festival grounds (which is located next to the Dover International Speedway), it is impossible to see even most of the music acts. I tried to see what I could — from sets I refused to miss to following friends to acts I was unsure of — and took away some observations:
The wait was worth it for Outkast. In April, the reunion I thought I’d never see opened its highly anticipated summer run to tepid Coachella reviews. At Firefly, Big Boi and Andre 3000 — who hadn’t performed together live in years before this spring — were completely locked in as performers and partners. Andre, in a white wig and black jumpsuit that read “Children of the Cornbread,” appeared fully engaged and happy to be there during a set that included hits (“Hey Ya,” “The Way You Move,” “Rosa Parks”) and favorites for long-time fans (“Hootie Hoo,” “SpottieOttieDopaliscious”). Big Boi remains a dexterous MC, and an live performer with incredible breathing control. The duo’s wide appeal was on display clearest during a spirited singalong of “Roses,” which I always found silly until Saturday night’s headlining set. There was a palpable sense of community and togetherness as thousands sang the chorus in exuberant unison.
Dave Grohl relishes A-list rock stardom. The Foo Fighters are one of the few arena rock bands built for a festival like Firefly, and the band’s lead singer was happy to play ringleader. He knew his audience (extra points for a Grotto Pizza shoutout), and how to appease them. That meant a set that spanned the Foo’s 20-year existence, from “Big Me” (which was prefaced with a funny anecdote about the band being pelted with Mentos because of the memorable music video parody) to arena standards (“The Pretender,” “My Hero”). There was an appealing looseness to it all, too, especially when the band ran through a 20-minute mini-set of covers (Van Halen, Alice Cooper, Van Halen and David Bowie/Queen were all represented).
Girl Talk is still a party worth attending. The luster of Gregg Gillis’ mashup music has noticeably rusted since his 2006 peak (the year he released his best collection of songs, “Night Ripper”) but his live show is still pleasure-seeking joy. What can sound cheesy and artless on record takes on a new form when thousands want to carelessly dance until 1 a.m.
Local Natives stood out Thursday night. The California quintet’s psych-folk lacked the bombast of other nights’ headliners, but the band’s intricate composition and rich harmonies reached surprising heights.
Arctic Monkeys remained tight, but slower songs were lost in translation. “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” the English quartet’s first hit from 2006, injected a shot of adrenaline, but things got a tad lethargic when lead singer Alex Turner picked up the acoustic guitar for a run of ballads soon after. Even one of my favorite songs, “Cornerstone,” sounded like a lullaby in a setting so large. But up-and-down set list aside, the Monkeys were still one of most talented acts of the weekend.
People really like Imagine Dragons, a band whose appeal still remains lost on me. As I left their set to see the exponentially more enjoyable Tegan and Sara, I weaved in and out of fans earnestly singing the chorus of Imagine Dragons’ bloated single “Radioactive.” This was a reminder that Firefly does not aim for niche audiences, but for fans who like a little bit of everything, including Top 40.
Sky Ferriera canceled due to sickness. It was a shame because her confident Virgin Mobile FreeFest from last year shot her near the top of acts I wanted to see.
Other scribblings: Walk off the Earth’s hammy performance at the Porch once again proved the market for YouTube gimmick acts is still ripe, Pretty Lights fans show no regard for their shoulders when throwing handfuls of glow sticks, Chance the Rapper is a star in the making, A-Trak’s tasteful DJ set was an unhyped triumph and everyone still knows the words to Third Eye Blind’s “Jumper.”