When the Firefly Music Festival held its inaugural event in Delaware in 2012, it was a charming, almost intimate event that drew 30,000 nearby music lovers and 47 bands to an 87 acre plot of wooded land behind the Dover International Speedway. But three on, the Firely festival has ballooned into an altogether different beast.
Now boasting 80,000 attendees and 124 acts across its seven stages, Firefly 2014 has matured into an A-class international music event on par with prized U.S. festivals like Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza. Fans from all 50 U.S states hit the Firefly site Thursday evening (June 19) and made their way across the new and improved festival grounds that features an expanded main stage area, 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.
But of course, what drew the masses to the First State was the music. Including a diverse array of artists, including chart-topping rock bands like Foo Fighters and Arctic Monkeys, buzzed-about rappers such as Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper and booty-shaking DJs like A-Trak and Girl Talk, there was a flavor to meet just about everyone’s specific taste on Friday’s Firely bill. Here’s a selection of particularly delicious highlights we saw on day 2:
2:18pm: South Africa’s Kongos warm up the Firefly crowd as the first act to play the main stage Friday. The band ends their sun-soaked set with their breakaway hit “Come With Me Now.” The song’s extended accordion solo drives the growing masses wild.
2:50pm: At the Porch Stage, Chance the Rapper and members of his Social Experiment band rush the stage to bring the energy of fellow Chicago native Vic Mensa up even higher, while members Young the Giant look on from backstage. The entire crowd is jumping, the entire stage is shaking.
3:13pm: “Where’d the Bob Saget sign go?” Says Bleachers frontman Jack Antonoff as he scopes the crowd, looking for a placard depicting the comic that one festivalgoer has been waving at shows. Antonoff is reassured when the Saget sign reappears. “Don’t get tired on me. The whole set. We’re in this together.” Later, the ecstatic singer says that the Firefly audience is “the best crowd we’ve ever played to.”
3:23pm: Members of Young the Giant prep for their second Firefly appearance by playing leisurely games of pool and frisbee in the artist compound. YTG is in good spirits despite the fact that guitarist Jake Tilley won’t be joining them onstage after breaking his arm during a video shoot last week. “Jake’s a little bummed out; he wanted to be here for all these shows,” says frontman Sameer Gadhia. “But the good news is his fracture isn’t that bad and he’s going to be back on the road with us in a few weeks.” The Jake-less show rolls on a few hours later, as the band plays back-to-back hits to a packed crowd on the Backyard stage.
3:55pm: A shirtless Chance the Rapper breaks free from the pair of giddy female fans he plucked out of the crowd during Vic Mensa’s set long enough to snap a pic for our cameras in the artist lounge.
4:45pm: “It’s toasty out there,” says Iron & Wine’s Samuel Beam as he takes the sun-drenched main stage. Noting that they only have an hour, the band rolls through its set with little banter, delivering one dusty indie-folk tune after the next. The crowd eats up favorites like “Freedom Hangs Like Heaven,” “God Made the Automobile” and “Rabbit Will Run.” “Thank you for sticking with us,” says Beam near the end of the set. “I know it’s hot out there. Some days, you have to work for your fun.”
5:55pm: Airborne Toxic Event frontman Mikel Jollett makes a special request of Firefly fans hailing from nearby Philadelphia. “Whenever we play Philly, fans always hiss after our songs. It’s like an inside joke we have with them.” After the crowd replies with an almost collective “Huh?,” Jollett replies, “I didn’t say we were a particularly intelligent band.” ATE is met with far more cheers than hisses for the remainder of their Porch Stage set.
6:45pm: A male fan in the crowd waiting for Arctic Monkeys raises a sign that says “Show me your nips!” To his dismay, only dudes oblige the raunchy request.
6:50pm: On the Lawn Stage, Chance the Rapper tells the crowd to jump on the count of four as he drops “Favorite Song,” a standout from his ‘Acid Rap’ mixtape. They happily oblige, even though Childish Gambino, who’s playing Firefly on Sunday, doesn’t come out to do his guest verse. Later in the set, Chance leads the crowd in a smile-inducing “Happy Birthday” sing-along for his keyboardist.
7:18pm: “This song’s dedicated to that booty call you might make later on,” says Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner before launching into “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” Turner grows sexier by the song as the band struts through its main stage set, rolling from swaggering ‘AM’ material like “Fireside,” “Arabella” and “One for the Road” into teenage classics like “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor.” The packed crowd responds feverishly to both old and new gems.
9:50pm: The long-awaited Foo Fighters hit the Firefly main stage and begin rocking the entire crowd of 80,000 attendes (they’re literally the only band performing during their headlining timeset.) Grohl, who famously vacations at Delaware’s Rehobeth Beach, immediately shares his affinity for the First State. “Let me tell you, it’s good to be back. I spend a lot of time around these parts. Every time I smell Grotto’s Pizza … damn.”
10:28pm: During the obligatory band-member intros, Grohl calls out guitarist Chris Shiflett, who has played the entire show sitting in an office chair on the side of the stage “Chris broke his foot, or his ankle or something, but he came out here to play for you guys anyway,” Dave says as the crowd roars. “You know how you did it?” Grohl continues. “By being fucking old.”
10:37pm: “So we’ve got a new record done,” Dave Grohl says, explaining that the next Foo Fighters album will feature eight songs recorded in eight different cities. “But right now, we’re going to play an old one for you.” The band slowly breaks into a stripped-down version of “Big Me,” which they pluck from the vault after a long hiatus.
11:45pm: Foo Fighters extend their scheduled set time and return to the stage for an encore. Against a stage backdrop that reads “The Holy Shits,” the band tears through a quartet of rockin’ cover tunes that includes Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talkin’ Bout Love” and David Bowie & Queen’s “Under Pressure.” The band concludes their set with a fierce version of their own “Everlong,” which concludes with a fireworks display over the main stage.
11:50pm: It’s nearly midnight, but the fun’s far from over. Girl Talk keeps the party going on the Backyard Stage with a collection of bottom-heavy mashups that keep the crowd grooving well past 1am. Highlights of the set include a wicked mix of Lorde’s “Royals” and M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes,” yet another rendition of Bowie & Queen’s “Under Pressure,” and an appearance by rapper Freeway, who joins to perform hits from the pair’s collaborative “Broken Ankles” EP.
Additional reporting by Frank DiGiacomo