Firefly Music Festival brings the music back to Delaware

Date:

This year’s edition of Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware was this month’s latest entry into a packed festival season. Featuring headliners Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Tame Impala, and The Killers, the East Coast’s premier camping festival packed in a ton of acts over the course of four days, offering one of the best festival experiences we’ve ever been to. Even with a rain-soaked first day that eliminated some of the early acts, the festival regrouped in an incredible (and muddy) fashion for a weekend of perfect weather and even better music.

In its tenth year, Firefly is building its identity as the answer to the controlled chaos of bigger festivals like Bonnaroo or Governor’s Ball, which happened on the same weekend. The crowd felt extremely manageable and friendly, the food was omnipresent with small lines (an impressive feat given the staffing crises of the festival scene), and the production on each stage and throughout the festival was unmatched by anything we’d ever seen. Each stage had its own personality: the Backyard hosted most of the rap acts over the weekend on a stage outfitted with massive LED screens that offered a view from the very back of the park, The Pavillion (which hosted most of the electronic acts) had intricate square-framed lighting that lined the outside of the stage in perfect coordination with whatever artist was playing, and smaller areas like the Treehouse and The Nest offered festivalgoers an escape from the massive size of the Woodlands to an area where they could see their favorite small artists in an intimate setting. There’s a lot of uncertainty in the festival world at the moment because of COVID-19, but if Firefly continues along this path, there’s no doubt that it can eventually be recognized as the best American music festival. Check out photo coverage and reviews of the sets that blew us away below, and stay tuned for more interviews and content with Firefly artists in the coming week:

 

Billie Eilish

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After the logistical delays on Thursday due to the heavy rain that led to the cancellation of some sets, the Woodlands were primed and ready for Billie Eilish to take the stage late into Thursday night. With this set being one of her first live shows since truly rising to “festival headlining status”, there was great anticipation throughout the festival about what her set would be — Eilish’s merch was spotted everywhere on the campgrounds, and the crowd was tightly packed up to the barricade to catch a glimpse of the 19-year-old superstar.

 

 

At approximately 11pm, the lights went down and the crowd roared. Billie, joined (as always) by her brother Finneas and drummer Andrew Marshall launched into “bury a friend” with a ferocious intensity and never let up off the gas for the entire 90-minute set. The show was equal parts a spotlight of this year’s Happier Than Ever and a victory lap for When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, featuring staging that made it seem like Billie was constantly levitating over the crowd. Newer songs like “Billie Bossa Nova” and “Oxytocin” slotted in perfectly alongside slower, more vibe-heavy tracks like “Ocean Eyes”, and all the while Billie kept her energy and intensity up through the entire set. She frequently referenced how gratifying it was to take a year off due to COVID and return to a set like this, where the screaming of fans frequently overwhelmed the sound and could be heard through the microphones on stage. If there was any doubt as to whether the young superstar was ready for the moment, that was dismissed as soon as the second song — Eilish is here to stay, and we should all be ready for the decades of world domination that seem to be ahead for her.

 

TURNSTILE

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Having their set delayed could have been something that harmed TURNSTILE — initially, they were scheduled for an early evening set on the larger Firefly Stage, and the rain caused both a stage shift to the smaller Pavillion opposite the world-conquering Phoebe Bridgers on the Firefly Stage across the park. However, this band was a part of our Ones to Watch for a reason; they took the stage and immediately owned it. Unintimidated by any conflict or delay, the Baltimore hardcore band’s set was revelatory. Despite the exhaustion felt by everyone in the crowd as a result of the long day, as soon as the first song hit, moshers and crowd-surfers went absolutely wild as the band played through most of their recent masterpiece GLOW ON. Lead singer Brendan Yates was a whirlwind on stage, whether it be his Ian Curtis-esque dance moves or the sprints from front to back, to the crowd, around the photo pit, and so much more. TURNSTILE is pushing hardcore into new and unexpected directions on record, but their live show is a pummeling force that is unmissable if they’re coming to your city on the Grey Day tour with $uicideboys.

 

Pom Pom Squad

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Slotted for early Friday morning on the Wonder Stage, Pom Pom Squad mastermind Mia Berrin expressed excitement early on that this was PPS’s first time ever playing a festival, asking that the crowd excuse any “nervous jitters or fuck-ups.” That request was sort of hilarious because Pom Pom Squad looked the part of seasoned veterans on stage as they made their way through this year’s fantastic Death of a Cheerleader. Berrin was effervescent in a bright white dress and red fishnet leggings, and for thirty minutes we were gleefully transported into her and her band’s world; this was an excellent way to start the true festival weekend and a reminder that Death of a Cheerleader is one of the best debuts of 2021.

 

Peach Pit

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Peach Pit had one of the most unfortunate album release timings of last year with You And Your Friends releasing in April after everything had shut down. However, they’re back this year with the promise of new music, and their set at the Wonder Stage on Friday was a reminder of how unique and fun the Vancouver-based band can be. Lead singer Neil Smith launched himself into the crowd before the first song even started, stealing a fan’s cowboy hat and crowdsurfing his way around while the band came on to play. From there, it was a rapid-fire run through their greatest hits, with the new material receiving a raucous reception from the dedicated crowd. However, it was the sentimental favorites of Being So Normal that received the greatest feedback, with songs like “Tommy’s Party” and “Peach Pit” launching the crowd into a frenzied sing-a-long. With this being their second (and as of writing, last) show of 2021, their performance at Firefly laid the groundwork for the band to have a rejuvenated year in 2022.

 

almost monday

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As you all know, we’ve been pretty big supporters of almost monday from the start. Their infectious blend of indie-pop has been taking the world by storm, and Firefly was the last stop of their festival season that included Lollapalooza among others. Their set at the intimate Treehouse stage was a fun-filled event that had every person in the crowd dancing and singing along. Lead singer Dawson Daugherty was an incredible presence on stage, spinning and dancing as they worked their way through this year’s til the end of time EP and even sprinkling in some new, unreleased material. Daugherty and co. were frequently in awe of the large crowd that had gathered at the Treehouse, and they delivered on their big moment with a tight set that seemed to reflect the big couple of years that they’ve had, pandemic be damned.

 

Arlo Parks

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Coming off of this month’s Mercury Prize win for this year’s Collapsed in Sunbeams, the London songwriter Arlo Parks captivated the crowd at the Wonder Stage with her style of understated, relaxed indie music. As chilled out as her record might be, Arlo is an entrancing presence on stage, and this set was one of the best-mixed of the weekend with her silky voice cutting through the din of the festival grounds. Similarly to Pom Pom Squad (and many other bands on the bill), she referenced how this was her first festival — this was shocking given how tightly-wound her and the band sounded on tracks like “Cola” and “Eugene”. With an opening spot on Clairo’s upcoming 2022 tour, expect Arlo Parks’ star to rise even bigger than it already is, as her live show matches the impressive songwriting ability exhibited on her debut.

 

Cage the Elephant

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Cage the Elephant’s crowd on Friday night at the Firefly Stage might have been the biggest crowd of the weekend. The Nashville band has slowly grown to a monumental size over the past decade anchored by lead singer Matt Shultz’s captivating (and sometimes overwhelming) stage presence. The stage was set for the show to start right on time…

 


And then, somewhat confusingly, the band took the stage without Shultz to play their Social Cues track “Broken Boy”. There was a palpable confusion in the crowd, with some wondering if we were about to fall victim to a serious bout of performance art. Lo and behold, midway through the second song, Shultz came flying out of the rafters wearing a brightly sequined full bodysuit, taking the stage with a ferocity akin to the Tasmanian Devil. From there, the show was an absolute marathon with the band touching every single point in their discography. Words were few and far between, with Shultz and co. choosing to instead give their all to the dedicated crowd, some of which had waited eight hours to be close to their idol. Shultz was a mad man the entire set — stripping down, putting clothes on, wearing masks, wearing a glittery visor — and it became apparent (if it hadn’t been already) that Cage could be the heir to The Rolling Stones’ bombastic arena rock. With a few headlining sets under their belt already, expect Cage the Elephant to fully graduate into festival headlining status as soon as next year; they are more than ready for their moment.

 

Sylvan Esso

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This was another surprisingly pleasant booking at Firefly — after the tragic cancellation of their Bonnaroo Superjam set, all eyes were on the married North Carolina duo of Sylvan Esso as they closed out the Wonder Stage on Friday night. Sylvan Essos’ live presence is utterly intoxicating; with only the two of them on stage, a minimal light display, and the generally sparse nature of their electronic sound, every cog in the machine has to turn perfectly to win over the festival crowd, and it did in a big way on Friday. Amelia Meath, wearing a leather strappy bodysuit, projected a kind of cocky confidence throughout the entire set that carried over to the rest of the audience. This was a set to dance your ass off to, and Sylvan Esso continues to get better and better with every live show and every release. 

 

The Killers

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With this year’s headliners skewing towards newer acts that were having their first opportunities to prove their size in the festival scene, Firefly house band The Killers (no joke – this was the fourth time they’ve headlined the festival in its ten year existence) were seemingly a strange fit. These guys have been at it for decades, headlined every festival under the sun, and they keep going no matter what changes around them. However, The Killers approached their headlining set like it was the last set they were going to play, taking listeners on a 90-minute journey over the past twenty years of hits — of which they had MANY.

 

 

“It gives me such a thrill to be able to say this”, Brandon Flowers began, “and we are The Killers from the fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada,” as the set began with “Spaceman” off of 2008’s Day & Age. From there, it was the kind of set where you know every word to every song. The band largely eschewed material from this year’s stripped-down Pressure Machine and instead elected to play every single song that’s been on rock radio for the past twenty years. The highlight of the set came midway through when, before “For Reasons Unknown”, the band invited a fan on the stage to take the place of Ronnie Vanucci Jr. on drums. We’ve all seen this gimmick before, sure, but the fan (named Caden) absolutely crushed it, prompting Flowers to exclaim “Caden’s got ice water in his veins!” For 90 minutes, we were able to forget about the past year, embrace each other in musical community, and sing along at the top of our lungs with arguably the greatest modern American rock band. The set predictably closed with “When You Were Young”, the anthem written into our brains with shouts of “He doesn’t look a thing like Jesus”, with fiery sparks raining down on stage as Flowers surveyed the crowd, a smile on his face. The Killers still have it, and they’re still just as essential as they were ten years ago.

 

Des Rocs

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Opening up the Firefly Stage on Saturday morning, the project of New York native Daniel Rocco was a shot in the arm to festivalgoers who were already worn out by the third day of Firefly. Rocco brings a jolt of old fashioned rock and roll to his music, and the songs from his latest record A Real Good Person in a Real Bad Place (released on the Friday of Firefly) won over fans in the early day that might not have known what they were getting into.

 

ELOHIM

Over at the Pavillion, listeners got to take in the stunning sound of ELOHIM, the Los Angeles-based electronic artist who has chameleonically evolved her sound from her origins earlier in the 2010s. Armed with two keyboards and a brilliant visual display behind her, ELOHIM had fans wrapped around her finger as she took listeners through the songs of her recent EP project Journey to the Center of Myself.

 

Dominic Fike

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Holding down the sunset slot on the Firefly Stage on Saturday, the Floridian Dominic Fike invited listeners into his world of rock while maintaining a consistently entertaining and lax presence throughout his set. Last year’s What Could Possibly Go Wrong was a huge hit amidst the pandemic, and Fike and his backing band have a remarkable ability to remake these songs into a tight, punchy live set that plays to his strengths as a songwriter. His voice sounded great, a raspy growl that overtook songs like “Chicken Tenders” and “Babydoll”, and he frequently dove into the crowd to get up close and personal with his fans. This set was a surprise for the weekend in both its lightheartedness and emotion.

 

Caroline Polachek

When we covered Caroline Polachek at Pitchfork two weeks ago, we noted that her set suffered slightly due to the lack of production and airy nature of her songs in the middle of the bright summer day. Called in to pinch-hit for Still Woozy who regrettably caught COVID and had to cancel, Polachek’s nighttime set at the Wonder Stage was like catching a whole new artist entirely. Even though the crowd was smaller (she had the unfortunate distinction of playing against blackbear who commanded the adjacent Backyard Stage,) Polachek’s voice and band sounded heaven-sent after the long festival day, with throngs of committed fans up against the barricade to sing along with their star. She had a swagger that was missed the first time we saw her, and her stage presence was incredibly comfortable as she worked her way through Pang and the one-off singles she’s released as a solo artist. Pitchfork might have been an aberration — this set was phenomenal, and you should grab tickets to her tour this fall.

 

Glass Animals

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The rise of Glass Animals has been stunning to watch — what started as a cult favorite band has now turned into a proper festival dominator, as the crowd for this set rivaled any other crowd over the weekend. Riding the success of Dreamland and “Heat Waves”, Dave Bayley and his band took the stage (outfitted with bright neon lights and a diving board to mimic the Dreamland aesthetic) and kept the energy up for the entirety of their hour-long set. You could tell just how happy Dave was to be playing — he humorously added that he “thought the whole state of Delaware was at my set”, and you couldn’t help but believe him as the crowd roared back.

 

 

The instant highlight of this set came at the end with the inaugural performance of “Tokyo Drifting” with Denzel Curry, who was playing the festival the next day. This song in particular took off like a rocket, creating an intense mosh pit when Curry launched into his verse that kept up for the rest of the set. It was a monumental moment for Glass Animals, and they continue to prove that their live set can’t be beaten.

 

Tame Impala

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Similar to a few other major sets on the bill, Tame Impala’s headlining set on Saturday was a salve for those who planned on catching their tour at Bonnaroo (of which there were many). After a trippy intro inspired by Rushium, the “time-altering chemical” at the center of their album The Slow Rush, Kevin Parker’s project took the stage to “One More Year” and gave the crowd what they’d been waiting all day for. As usual with a Tame Impala show, the lighting and production took center stage, with what looked like a choir of LED lights behind them, lasers that went absolutely insane during “Elephant” and the harder-rocking songs of the set, and a massive LED light ring that descended from the top of the stage during the eight minute freakout of “Let It Happen”. It was a dream set for any fans of the Australian band who have quickly become one of the most in-demand bands of modern music. 

 

Claud

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On the final day of Firefly, Saddest Factory Records signee Claud opened up the Wonder Stage with their dreamy blend of indie-pop. Armed with an uber-talented multi-instrumentalist and drummer, the young singer-songwriter took listeners through their entire debut, Super Monster, and frequently expressed amazement at the crowd that had gathered for their set. The set’s laid-back nature shouldn’t have worked in the very beginning of the day, but Claud’s songwriting is unparalleled in the way that it can both mine nostalgia and emotion for the coming-of-age stories of our lives. Currently on tour with Bleachers this year, you ought to check them out if they’re coming to your area.


Middle Kids

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Middle Kids delivered a show-stopping set at the Wonder Stage as they played through highlights of this year’s Today We’re the Greatest. Hannah Joy’s voice rang out perfectly over the festival grounds, and they rocked out hard in extended jam sessions on songs like “Mistake” and “R U 4 Me?” — to be perfectly honest, we didn’t know they had that in them until we saw them, but the Australian quartet put on one of the best sets of the entire festival with their tenacity and tightness. It’s clear they’ve been playing these songs together for a long time, and one can only hope that the reception to this set and this year’s album will propel them to greater heights.

 

Grandson

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Holy hell, Grandson. After a brief dalliance with Nelly at the Backyard Stage, we were wholly unprepared for the might and power that Grandson brought to the Wonder Stage on Sunday afternoon. The project of Jordan Benjamin took the stage with a fiery fury, jumping into the crowd and encouraging more audience participation than we saw at the entire festival. Known for his potent political stances that make his way into his music, Grandson powerfully relayed what he and his audience stood for — that “Black lives matter, climate change is real and must be fought against, and fuck all Nazis”. This force was replicated in his music with this set being one of the most immensely entertaining of the entire weekend.

 

Portugal. The Man

Despite pulling one of the smaller crowds of the weekend at the Firefly Stage, Portugal. The Man proved with their sunset Firefly performance that they are more than a one-hit-wonder: instead, they’re one of the greatest rock bands in music today. After opening their set with a tribal land recognition from a local Native American tribe and a Beavis and Butthead intro proclaiming them as “the greatest band ever to exist,”, the band launched into “Live in the Moment” from 2017’s star-making Woodstock and didn’t let up. We don’t think they took a single breath during their performance — it was song-after-song, with medleys of classic rock staples like “Gimme Shelter” and “In Bloom” appearing in between their own hits. I feel foolish to address “Feel It Still”, their number one hit that launched them to this fame, because the rest of their set was such a powerful exhibition of their rock and roll might that it’d be a disservice to limit them to that one song; they’re touring with Alt-J next year and playing arenas, which might seem like it’s too big until you see them live — they’re ready for this.

 

Machine Gun Kelly

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Machine Gun Kelly is a fascinating character — it’s easy for his antics and beefs to overshadow the relatively fun record that he put out last year. His set at Firefly came immediately after he punched a heckling fan at Kentucky’s Louder than Life Festival, so we had no idea if we were going to get the cocky MGK or the straightforward rock-and-roller MGK. We got a little of both in a fun set that closed out the Wonder Stage for the weekend. Emerging at the top of a giant imitation pill bottle, MGK and his band worked through all of Tickets to My Downfall for the largest crowd at the Wonder Stage all weekend. He was shockingly gracious and grateful for the crowd to show up, humorously remarking “The security have missed you guys over the past two years, so I need you crowdsurfing.” With a cover of Paramore’s “Misery Business” punctuating the set, his performance gave hope that when he can set aside the bullshit, he’s a pretty fantastic performer.

 

Lizzo

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Firefly concluded with a headlining set from Lizzo’s first time headlining a major American festival. After a slight fifteen-minute delay, Lizzo and an army of backup dancers took the stage to her recent single “Rumors”, and the party began. With an incredible stage design mimicking Greek and Roman architecture (like seen in the music video for “Rumors”), Lizzo deftly worked her way through her breakthrough album Cuz I Love You with songs like “Jerome” and “Tempo” receiving outrageous responses from the crowd. There were laughs as she responded from the stage to a TikTok from fellow superstar Selena Gomez, or when she offered to “sign the tits” of a guy with a massive totem in the front row, and she proved to be an engaging, hilarious presence throughout the set. While we don’t know what’s next for Lizzo (so far, “Rumors” is her only new single and she played no other new material at Firefly), her set still remained remarkably potent as she ascended to headliner status and provided listeners the perfect close to their festival weekend.

 

Photo Gallery of All Artists:

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(All photos courtesy of Jones Willingham unless otherwise noted, additional coverage provided by Rachel Parrish and Rowan Rosewarne)

Keep up with Firefly Music Festival: Twitter / Instagram /Facebook

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hello. I live in a 55+ community directly across from the Firefly site. This is a great article. I have forwarded it to our community leaders who always trash it. My wife & I went in 2018. After the 5 years of crazyness, it’s nice to know the thousands of people can still get together and have a fun time..
    Stay Safe
    Dennis Krepil

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