From the outset, getting to Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware is a surreal, massive experience. There’s no good way to fly into Delaware proper — instead, you fly into DC/Baltimore/Philadelphia, battle the big city, and drive into the first state of the union. From that point, Delaware is relatively unassuming; farmland and small towns make way to larger interstates and flyover country, and then you wind up in Dover, the capital city. Dover pops up as a major city in the middle of hardly anything, and within the confines of the Dover Downs Casino and racetrack lies the mythical Woodlands — a massive, shady grove where thousands of festivalgoers landed last weekend for the tenth anniversary of the east coast’s premier camping festival.
I go long on the mundane details above to illustrate that Firefly has created something special out of nothing. In a crowded festival landscape where everything is generally the same, the producers behind this festival have curated a top-notch experience that is exhibited by the longevity of the festival. That’s not even considering the insane lineups that the festival continually curates — where else can you see the reunited My Chemical Romance opposite indie upstarts like Indigo de Souza and Sheer Mag? There’s something for everyone here, and the draw of Firefly lies within its comfortability and homeliness; over time, it’s slowly curated a vibe that’s unmatched among camping festivals.
That’s not to say that the festival didn’t have some drawbacks. Like most festivals this season, staffing was an issue and it showed in the infrastructure of the festival on its first day, where an issue with the City of Dover’s water supply caused concern among attendees. However, leave it to the festival, in this age of low-transparency and expanded criticisms, to answer concerns immediately and publically on their social media and work for the safety of venue patrons. Even in the low points, like Sunday’s weather evacuation for sunny skies (lightning was in the area, for what it’s worth), we found campers throwing karaoke parties and beer pong tournaments as we waited for the doors to reopen. Maybe that’s the brightest part of Firefly — like predecessors Bonnaroo and Hulaween before it, the northeast has a camping festival that’s created an attitude among attendees that’s generally unbeatable. Keep reading for our favorite sets of the weekend and a full photo gallery of photos taken by Jones Willingham:
Thursday at Firefly served as the warm-up day for the festivities, with generally low attendance and a sparse collective of people across the grounds. However, the people who showed up to the Pavillion opposite Thursday headliner Halsey’s set caught one of the greatest electronic sets of the weekend from XX mastermind Jamie XX. Armed with unreleased material and an incredible strobe light show, the producer put listeners in a trance that served as a surefire way to kick the weekend off right.
The Backseat Lovers
In years past, the Backyard stage has largely catered to rap and EDM acts. This year, with the elimination of the Wonder stage, more genres were represented at the high-level production of the Backyard — The Backseat Lovers took full advantage of this with a blistering show that highlighted how far they’ve come from their DIY roots. With their new album Waiting to Spill existing alongside live staples like “Kilby Girl” in their catalog, this band feels like one that will be unstoppable once they hit the road this fall.
We’ve seen Dayglow at a handful of festivals this summer, and it feels like he gets better and better with every show under his belt. The 80s-tinged alternative is perfectly suited for a festival set, and songs from Fuzzybrain and Harmony House take off alongside tracks from the forthcoming People in Motion, illustrating how meaningful Sloan Struble and co. have become to the festival landscape.
I admittedly didn’t know what to expect from Ashnikko‘s set. I initially viewed her as a TikTok flash-in-the-pan, but facts are facts: this girl can rap her ass off like the best of them. Her set brought fire and fury with bright blue hair, and the fans at the front of the Backyard stage picked up on every word and dance move that she brought.
My Chemical Romance
If you were looking across the festival grounds and seeing band merch, facepaint, and the sheer number of people onsite, it was clear there was one big priority for fans on day two of Firefly: the reunited My Chemical Romance. After announcing their reunion in 2020, seeing it delayed because of the pandemic, and then finally kicking off this summer to much fanfare, the anticipation among the crowd reached a fever pitch right before the band took their set to a desolate city backdrop.
Perhaps the most surprising part about this set was how unassuming the band was — they didn’t march on stage with any ego (which they’ve damn well earned at this point). Instead, they sauntered into “The Foundations of Decay”, the one-off track released before the tour began, and it started a set that was the greatest moment of so many festival-goers’ lives. It’s so easy to get cynical about reunions, especially in this era of grand farewells and money spent to reunite bands for festivals (looking at you, LCD Soundsystem). MCR’s reunion date felt like a homecoming — Mikey Way prowled the stage like a fiend, Frank Iero brought the headbanging energy, and at the center of it all was Gerard Way, commanding the show as if it hadn’t been ten years since the band last took the stage. A deep dive through their discography was in order, but it was simply stunning seeing how cleanly and perfectly this reunion works — these guys played as if they’d never left, and we were all left better off for it.
All hail our new rock overlords. Wolf Alice’s star-making set on the Firefly stage was somewhat expected, but even we couldn’t fully comprehend the might that they put into their hour-long performance. Ellie Rowsell is our generation’s iconic frontwoman, and the recent stadium run opening for Harry Styles has seemingly only intensified her electric stage presence. Theo Ellis remains one of the most intensely-watchable musicians in rock music, and the crowd ate up every second with circle pits, crowdsurfing, and a fire burning through them as the band tore through the majority of last year’s Blue Weekend.
In the first two minutes of Yungblud’s set, he tore open his knee, dove into the crowd, and flung a full beer across the photo pit. That’s it for us here.
In all actuality, the energy that Yungblud brings is unmatched — it makes sense how rock legends like Mick Jagger have called him the next face of rock and roll, and it feels like the sky is the limit for the UK-born rocker. This was one of the serious highlights of the weekend, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him at the top of festival bills very soon.
Saturday night’s set with HAIM marked a special occasion: it was the trio’s last set of the year, and according to Alana Haim, everyone needed to “fucking rage”. Rage we did, as the band put on one of the more fiery sets of the weekend to close out the Backyard stage, with each sister picking up a different instrument on every song as they worked their way through the Grammy-nominated Women in Music Pt. III. The crowd lost it when Este made her way into the crowd for a soulful rendition of “3 AM”, accompanied by a ripping guitar solo from Danielle Haim that placed everyone in an awestruck state.
Here, we have the festival’s rock god performance of the weekend: this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Green Day have been doing this for thirty years, after all — even at this year’s Shaky Knees, we noted how impressive it was for the band to have existed for this long with seemingly no fall-off from their electric live show. The set had everything you wanted to see from an arena-level rock band — intense pyro, two instances of fans joining the band to play along, and Billie Joe Armstrong running like a crazed animal with the energy of someone twenty years younger. What more do you need? They opened with “American Idiot” into “Holiday” — if you were in the ages of 24-45, odds were high this was the set of your weekend.
Sunday opened up with an iconic performance from Dorian Electra, as the genre-bending shapeshifter put on a clinic in performance at the Backyard stage. Taking the stage among plumes of billowing smoke in a nylon trench coat and glove set, the singer brought their experimental pop stylings to adoring fans that made the early trek. It would be worth it, as due to the weather delays that were forthcoming on Sunday, this was one of the most visually impressive shows we caught all day on Firefly’s final day.
We would follow Lydia Night into battle if she asked us to. The Regrettes were yet another band closing out their 2022 touring at Firefly, and their lively set over at the Backyard Stage whipped the massive crowd into a frenzy as they played toned-up versions of their power-pop. Night is an incredibly compelling frontperson, and her ability to control the crowd was marked by the consistent demand for circle pits and crowdsurfing. Regretfully, the band was only able to make it through twenty minutes of their set before the weather hit, but their incredibly memorable set served as a reminder that this band absolutely wrecks the festival circuit when given the opportunity.
Atlanta’s finest rock band had the unenviable position of being both the first act up post-rain delay, and against a rescheduled T-Pain that drew an enormous crowd to the main stage. However, the band went up undeterred and put forth one of the most sonically stunning sets of the festival. Andy Hull and co. have a monstrous live presence, and the heavy blasts of “Bed Head” and “Pride” gave us our cathartic festival moment as Sunday wound to a close.
The Brook and the Bluff
In a similar position as Manchester Orchestra, the rain delay help create a logjam of conflicts between The Brook and the Bluff, The Kid Laroi, and Charli XCX. With that in mind, the soulful quintet out of Birmingham, AL drew the largest crowd to the Treehouse all weekend, with listeners packed in to catch an auditory glimpse of the harmonies that would make The Beach Boys pause. The band seemed blown away by the reception — we saw signs requesting songs, crying fans, and people generally losing their mind amidst the shaded trees of the treehouse. Look out for The Brook and the Bluff to make their way up festival lineups in the near future — after star-making turns at Bonnaroo and a national tour in the past, this band should get really big really quickly.
Check out our full festival gallery below featuring photos captured by Jones Willingham (@jonestakesyourphotos), and be on the lookout for our portrait gallery and interviews of the weekend: