Firefly Festival Director: 'We Want It to Be Talked About 50 Years From Now'
The organizers of the fast-growing Firefly Music Festival have some pretty lofty goals. Ahead of the fourth annual Firefly in Dover, Delaware, festival director Greg Bostrom expressed his desire to eventually see the event reach the status of a “mega cultural institution.”
“We want to be an unforgettable weekend experience that they’re talking about 50 years now when their grandkids are going to festivals,” Bostrom tells Billboard. “We hope for Firefly to be almost a rite of passage for the United States.”
Bostrom’s dream might come true sooner than expected. Since launching in 2012, Firefly -- held in the beautiful 154-acre Woodlands behind the Dover International Speedway -- has tripled its attendance. The event sold 30,000 tickets in its debut year, 65,000 in 2013, 80,000 last year, and has sold out this year with 90,000 attendees.
This year’s Firefly, produced by Red Frog Events and Goldenvoice, will take place June 18-21 with headliners Paul McCartney, Kings of Leon and the Killers. Other artists on the 100-plus-act lineup include Snoop Dogg, Bastille, Foster the People, Morrissey, Zedd, Modest Mouse, Hozier and Kid Cudi.
As in years past, Firefly will also feature air-conditioned vintage arcades, a coffee house featuring board games and stripped-down performances by big-stage acts, a brewery run by Dogfish Head and vast campgrounds that include amenities like a farmers market, morning yoga sessions and more.
Bostrom spoke with Billboard ahead of Firefly 2015 to discuss his goal of becoming the Coachella of the East Coast, why Paul McCartney’s name was initially blurred out on this year’s lineup poster, the event’s new Treehouse stage, beercade, and why he’s a strong believer in the “weekend experience” of a music festival.
Last year you told Billboard that Firefly’s theme was “bigger and better.” Do you have a theme for 2015?
Greg Bostrom: I don’t know if I have quite as good of a catch phrase, but generally we’re taking what we did well last year and expanding on it a little bit. We have two new stages -- the Pavilion stage, which will be our first tented stage, and the Treehouse stage, where we’ll finally get a stage back in the woods. We’re also adding a beercade, which will be an upgrade on our arcade concept. The attendance will grow a little bit and we’re going to welcome more campers as well. We’re also following up Firefly with the Big Barrel country music festival.
You’ve also said that you’d like Firefly to become the Coachella, Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza of the East Coast. How close are you to realizing that goal?
We got to learn from the growth of those festivals. Over the course of the past year, we partnered with (Coachella producer) Goldenvoice. So we have the direct contact now where we can say, “When you guys made this jump, you had challenges XYZ -- how did you overcome those?” That partnership has been huge for us to exponentially accelerate our growth. It’s year four now and if you’re looking at sheer attendance, we’re in that threshold we always set as our goal. At this point we just want to continually improve every year.
Paul McCartney’s name was blurred out on Firefly 2015 lineup poster when the bill was announced in February. Was there a strategy behind that?
Honestly, the Paul McCartney thing just wasn’t finalized by the time the lineup came out. It got out before we wanted it to … and we weren’t quite prepared to announce Paul, so we went with the blurred name. We certainly learned some things, in terms of keeping the lineup close to our vest so we can control the buzz and the announcement ourselves.
Firefly is debuting the Treehouse Sessions this year. What’s the concept behind that?
The woods are really the star player out here. We’ve done a lot to try and pull forward the woods, like the hammock hangout areas, the wooded pastures and the lighting element on the trees. We thought the ultimate manifestation of that would be getting some music back in the woods. But there were logistical challenges, so we hadn’t been able to pull off getting back there.
Can you elaborate on what festival-goers can expect from Treehouse stage?
It’s five or six feet off the ground. It’s going to be artists that are already playing at the festival. You might watch someone on the main stage playing in front of 40,000 people, and then a few hundred lucky fans will see them in a smaller, stripped-down setting. It will be about four or five shows per day. There will be opportunities to win passes through our social media and our partners. People will also have the opportunity to line up for first come, first served.
Another new addition is beer being available at the on-site arcade.
It’s a pretty simple concept when you get down to it. A national trend over the past few years has been beercades or barcades. It’s a bar within an arcade. We’re going to be creating more of a lounge-y feel.
What other investments have you made to the Woodlands site this year?
There will be paved areas in a few places. Fans will notice that the brewery is paved for the first time this year. We’ve also done a lot of work to eliminate the well-known dust of 2014, in terms of making sure the grass is ready for masses of people. We’re doing a lot of natural solutions on the roads to suppress the dust and we’re confident it’s going to be a substantial improvement. Another thing is that the Wednesday premiere camping lot has expanded.
Firefly attendance has tripled since launching in 2012. This year is sold out with about 90,000 attendees. How do you explain the rapid growth?
It’s been a wild ride, man. From day one we knew we wanted to be more than just a bunch of great bands. Music was always the key factor and motivation for us to get into the business, but we felt like our success was going to hinge on what else we were bringing to the table. Even since our launch, the industry has sprouted up new festival after new festival and the fan has so many choices of places to go to see music. I credit a lot of our success to our commitment of making Firefly the best experience for the fan.
In March, you told Billboard that Firefly eliminated single-day tickets this year to provide festival-goers with a “weekend experience.” Why is attending all four days more important than coming one or two days?
One of the great things about Firefly is the community it brings together. It’s a year 'round community with 30,000 or 40,000 people chatting on our message boards. There was a WinterFly this year that some of our fans organized. That sense of community comes from the on-site experience. Not to say that the single-day fans can’t fit into that equation, but we’ve always had this vision of the weekend experience being the way to fully experience Firefly. The single-day thing almost seems like a watered down experience. Based on the growth, we’re finally in a position to have it as a sustainable business model.
Firefly added a fourth day in 2014. How’d that go?
We were thrilled with the results. It had a dual purpose: One, the fans always wanted more music. That whole idea of the weekend experience only gets stronger by adding an extra day. And with traffic, we thought we could spread out people’s arrivals by adding an extra day and selling Wednesday-specific loading packages. We’re going back to the well and keeping that model and making minor adjustments to it. In fact, we’re loading more people on Wednesday this year.
Red Frog Events and Goldenvoice announced a partnership earlier this year. What influence did the GV team have on Firefly 2015, if any?
They definitely played a big role in this year’s festival. In terms of the lineup, we were pretty far along by the time they got involved. But we’d expect to see more of that for next year. They’ve been helpful with all things operation. They’ve been at it for 15 years and they’re at the top of the industry. They’ve been a great resource for us with any questions we’ve had and helping to manage our growth. At the same time, they’ve been very careful that the magic that got us to this point maintains. They haven’t inserted themselves too far into the picture, but they’re always available as a resource. Expect them to continue to help on the talent end and certainly with some of the partnerships.
Has Red Frog and Goldenvoice discussed launching any other music-related events, besides the upcoming Big Barrel country music festival?
Our companies are always eager to look for the next opportunity. We showed with Big Barrel that we’re ready and willing to pounce when we do think there’s a great opportunity. Right now there’s nothing imminent but we definitely have our eye on the future.
Are you fearful that the East Coast is becoming oversaturated with music festivals?
Fans might have four different options to see their favorite band in the festival setting. The festivals that are focusing on the fans’ experience, and why they should come to see their favorite band at their festival, are the ones that will survive. The saturation -- or competition -- is going to bring out the best in the festivals that will be around for a long time. It’s a benefit to music fans.