The Firefly Music Festival returned to Delaware’s capital city from June 14-17. Now in its seventh year, Firefly continues to be the largest open-air festival in the Northeast, with 2018’s attendance numbers expected to fall between 60,000 and 90,000. While the official numbers aren’t yet in, this year brought enough people that headliner Eminem commented about how he’d never seen a crowd so big.
By some miracle, it didn’t rain a drop, and festival-goers milled around the sun-baked fields at The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway to catch acts like Foster The People, Portugal. The Man and SZA before Slim Shady and fellow headliners Kendrick Lamar, The Killers and Arctic Monkeys.
Here are some highlights from the weekend.
Female Acts Kick Ass, Arctic Monkeys Have Questions on Friday
The Regrettes drew a small but loyal crowd of fans for their 1:45 PM set. “Let’s fucking dance,” frontwoman Lydia Night declared, and a mini mosh pit formed as the band tore through pop-punk favorites like “Hey Now,” “Come Through” and “Seashore.” Later, at their Toyota Music Den set, multiple crowdsurfers were spotted — an impressive feat, considering how tiny that tent was.
Pop singer-songwriter LIGHTS mostly drew from her excellent 2017 album Skin & Earth for her turn on the Backyard Stage, though she did throw in “Up We Go” and a cover of “Believe” by Cher, bringing out the acoustic guitar for the latter.
Jimmy Eat World frontman Jim Adkins was covered in sweat by two songs into the band’s early evening gig on the main (Firefly) stage, but you could tell he was having the time of his life — as was the crowd, especially when set closer “The Middle” came around. “Bleed American,” “Big Casino” and “Get Right” all went over well, too.
Over on the Backyard Stage, Marian Hill’s Steve Davit stole the show with his epic saxophone skills. Singer Samantha Gongol admitted as much to the audience, but held her own by delivering sultry vocals on hits like “One Time” alongside master beatmaker Jeremy Lloyd
Lizzo was flanked by backup dancers on the Lawn Stage, and joked that she thinks of her sexy outfit, which consisted of tiny jean shorts and a silky lavender robe, as her “festival bitch look.” This statement inspired almost as much screaming and applause as her confident performances of “Fitness,” “Phone” and “Worship” did.
Foster The People drew a massive crowd at the Firefly Stage, opening with “Pay The Man.” Their set was Sacred Hearts Club-heavy, but they were sure to throw in classics like “Don’t Stop (Color on the Walls)” and “Pumped Up Kicks,” as well as the uber-jam “Sit Next To Me.”
Meanwhile, NYC indie rockers We Are Scientists played the intimate stage known as The Treehouse, which is one of the festival’s best-kept secrets due to the beloved shade that the surrounding trees afford. As Foster The People’s coinciding set blared in the background, lead singer Keith Murray deadpanned that he’d tried to tell the festival to “turn it down,” while bassist Chris Cain joked that he’d accidentally left his stereo playing in the backstage green room.
Finally, Arctic Monkeys took to the Firefly Stage. Back when their headlining set at the festival was announced, it was their first confirmed live appearance in four years, and the field was just as packed as you’d expect. The band brought great energy to songs from Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, but it was obvious that tracks from 2013’s AM that got the best response. Toward the end, Alex Turner told the audience that the band “had a lot of questions” that night (“R U Mine?” and “Why’d You Only Call Me When You’re High?” both were major hits with the Firefly crowd), but still intended to leave us with another. He was referring, of course, to “Do I Wanna Know?”
The Killers Go Overtime, Eminem Wishes Tupac a “Happy Birthday” on Saturday
By the time The Aces came out on the Lawn Stage at 1:00 PM, the sun was high in the sky, but even as temps reached the 80s, the audience wasn’t deterred from bopping in time to tracks like “Lovin’ Is Bible” and “Volcanic Love,” as well as a serviceable acoustic cover of “Hey Ya!” Later at their second set at The Treehouse, frontwoman Cristal Ramirez told everyone, “Stay hydrated. Vodka soda doesn’t count.” Then she amended: “Stay safe, but definitely get wasted.”
Australian alt-rockers Middle Kids also played two sets on Saturday, first on the Firefly Stage, and then at the Toyota Music Den. “Bought It,” “Edge of Town” and “Mistake” were all in the rotation, and at the Den, a superfan from Philly carrying a huge Dwight Schrute sign earned a special shout-out from singer/guitarist Hannah Joy.
Middle Kids’ set sadly conflicted with another incredibly talented Aussie’s; back at the Lawn Stage, Alex Lahey was shredding her way through bangers like “Perth Traumatic Stress Disorder” and “I Haven’t Been Taking Care of Myself.” Lahey’s show was stolen by a 6-year-old boy — her bus driver’s son — who came out during the last song to show off his own guitar skills. To top it all off, free t-shirts were thrown into the crowd.
Oddly, The Killers weren’t the final act of Saturday night — that honor went to Eminem — but they treated their 8:45 PM Firefly Stage set like it was the last concert anyone would ever see. One of the most interesting moments came during “The Way It Was,” when Brandon Flowers missed the cue for the bridge; a rare misstep for the impossibly tight band. He turned it into an opportunity to banter with the crowd, mentioning that the band has played the fest three times in six years, and promising to “seduce” those in the VIP crowd who looked…a little less than excited. Regarding the snafu in the song, Flowers quoted Evel Knievel: “[He] used to say before events how people pay their hard-earned money to see the attempt, not the perfect landing. We’re going to try our best to do this for you tonight.” Luckily, “Somebody Told Me,” “Human” and closer “Mr. Brightside” had just about everyone in the crowd, which seemed to push to the festival’s outer limits, screaming the words. Oh, and there was confetti.
The Killers went a bit overtime, which was allowed because you can’t tell The Killers not to play “Mr. Brightside,” and then there was a mad dash over to the Lawn Stage for Portugal. The Man. The band brought an epic laser show and provocative visuals as they played hits like “Purple Yellow Red and Blue,” “Creep in a T-Shirt” and “Feel It Still,” and the crowd was so jazzed that each song received a glow stick toss during the choruses, a move that’s typically only reserved for dance acts.
Then it was time to rush back to the Firefly Stage, where Eminem came out at 11:15 PM on the dot. Amidst controversy that his show’s “boom” effects sound like gunshots, the rapper issued a warning from signs on the jumbo screens before he took the stage: “If you are easily frightened by loud noises or offended by explicit lyrics you shouldn’t be here.” Whichever side of that you stand on, Slim Shady put on as amazing a live show as ever, bringing out touring vocalist Skylar Grey and rapper Royce da 5’9″ when the situation called for it. Em also commented that it was the most amount of people he’s ever seen, and offered inspirational affirmations here and there (“Our country’s been going through some bullshit lately, but we’re still here together, right now”). Once the midnight bell tolled, Eminem and his hype man Mr. Porter had everyone yell “Happy Father’s Day,” and a collective “Happy Birthday” to Tupac Shakur, who would have turned 47.
Indie Rop Reigns Supreme, SZA Makes Her Comeback on Sunday
L.A. synth pop duo courtship. admitted to the devoted Lawn Stage crowd that they “make music in their bedroom with $200 speakers,” so it was an “insane” experience to be playing Firefly. “Sunroof” and “Perfect People” snapped hard, and they even played one of the only encores at the festival after fans chanted for one more song once they left the stage. Wishes were granted as the band returned for a fun cover of “Hey Ya!” — a popular choice for a cover this weekend — and while the sound was off at first, they kept going until it returned during the chorus.
Morgxn faced some tech difficulties due to the heat, but the alt-pop singer took it in stride and went more acoustic as a result. “me without you” had him sitting on the edge of the stage in order to be closer to the audience, while “home” had everyone enthusiastically singing along. An emotional cover of The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry” served as a tribute to Morgxn’s father, who passed away around two years ago.
There was a burning question among festival-goers all weekend, up until around 5 p.m. on Sunday: Would SZA, who had to cancel tour dates in May due to swollen vocal cords, be performing? Fortunately, the singer updated fans just in time, confirming that she’s on the mend and would be taking the stage after all. Her comeback performance on the Backyard Stage was simply incredible — she sang her heart out on tracks like “Supermodel” as colorful lights washed over her and exploded across the field, and cheekily told fans that she “failed out” of Delaware State University.