For the last decade the Firefly Music Festival has been one of the most popular music festivals on the East Coast. Located at The Woodlands in Dover, DE, just across the road from the Dover International Speedway, people from all over the mid-atlantic, northeast, and beyond hustle down to a rather small city to enjoy the amazing performances, energetic atmosphere, and this year to spot THE LEG!
It is safe to say a lot of punk nostalgia was destined to be felt with this line-up, as many popular 2000s artists (My Chemical Romance, Green Day, Avril Lavigne, All Time Low, and Manchester Orchestra; to name a few) would be performing at this year’s celebration. Of course, Firefly has still maintained a solid electronic music audience as well with performances from Zedd, Gryffin, Porter Robinson, Zingara, LSDream, and more.
The day before the festival even gets started, crowds gather in the North Campgrounds to meet new friends, get the party started, and watch a blank field turn into their tent-ridden home. My NJ-based group was neighboured by a lovely family from Los Angeles, CA on one side and a couple from Salisbury, MD on the other. As I said, this festival does an excellent job of pulling in an audience from all over the country. As everyone set up their tents, the North Hub was the hotspot for seeing the shops and getting some food in the system. The layout had changed from the previous year to more of a strip mall instead of the more open, court shaped hub. They no longer had a roller rink at the hub, so all activities outside the festival grounds typically took place at the tents or a ranger station (besides morning yoga, of course).
Thursday rolled around and despite the cloudy and occasionally rainy weather, it seemed everyone was excited and ready for the party to begin. “Ready Set”… Go: Joey Valence & Brae were one of the early performances to get the crowd moving at the mainstage with their modern version of the old school 80s rap/hip-hop. At the Treehouse, The Unlikely Candidates rocked the stage and even took the show into the crowd, with what was the most animated set of the entire festival—right out of the gate!
GAYLE rocked a “Bans Off Our Bodies” T-Shirt while rocking to her recent hit single “abcdefu” and showing off her new music “fmk” ft. Blackbear (a firefly alumni, not in attendance). Willow rose to the challenge of following this act, pulling one of the largest crowds for the day. After jokingly humoring the audience with a short snippet of “whip my hair” for nostalgia, Willow quickly moved onto her more mature era with “Wait a Minute!” and “Meet Me At Our Spot”, as they too joined the many artists who took their performance into the crowd.
San Holo was my first visit to the Pavilion stage for an EDM show to remember with fantastic lighting and visuals along with beautiful songs such as “We Rise” and “Lights”. This was followed by a trip into the nonstop EDM rave known as The Nest. Zingara gave endless life to the crowd as everybody danced the night away to “Space Candy” and “Astra”. Her bubbly personality was felt in the pit below and left smiles on every face. Halsey would headline the night with countless powerful songs accentuated by edgy, sometimes gory visuals and ending in a beautiful fireworks display to close her performance of “Without Me”. Shortly after midnight everyone returned to the campgrounds, but if you still had energy to burn, a DJ was outside of one of the ranger stations having a small EDM rave that launched far into the night. The people were ready to dance.
Friday was widely remarked as the most anticipated and jam packed day of the festival. Artists included My Chemical Romance, Zedd, Weezer, Cordae, Avril Lavigne, LSDream, Ashnikko, All Time Low, Cold War Kids, The Backseat Lovers, Dayglow, Mod Sun, Anna of the North, and many more. Unfortunately Big Sean had to cancel his set due to a respiratory infection. With such a short notice many festival goers were unaware of the change until LSDream took the stage at Sean’s original time that night. Still, other fans embraced this as a Godsend, as the festival saw this as an opportunity to correct one of the toughest conflicts of the festival: LSDream vs My Chemical Romance. Dedicated fans of both artists no longer had to summon all their willpower to split their time.
Aside from this plot twist, Friday consisted of sunny skies and talented performers. Norwegian artist Anna of the North kicked off the day with some blissful and otherworldly dream pop. Mod Sun turned up the heat shortly after as he mixed post-hardcore, pop punk, hip hop and rap to light up the crowd. He would reappear later in the night to perform with his fiance Avril Lavigne. Indie/Alt band Dayglow would ask an important question with their hit “Can I Call You Tonight?”; complete with buzzy synths.
All Time Low would be the next of the Firefly performers to interact with the fans during a set, and had everyone shouting as nobody can resist the intro and chorus of “Dear Maria, Count Me In”. And they signed the leg! However, there was a conflicting performance splitting the crowd during All Time Low. The energetic bubblegum pop/electro pop artist Ashnikko led an equally impressive performance at the Backyard stage. Rising to blue-haired stardom through her hits “STUPID” and “Working Bitch”, she showed her high energy and even higher leg kicks during the set. Watching her feels like watching an anime or video game character with a futuristic fantasy persona.
Pop punk princess Avril Lavigne would arrive on the mainstage ready to kick you back to 2003. “Complicated” and “Sk8er Boi” were some of the most hyped songs, but the result of the set had mixed reactions. While nostalgic, many fans were left wanting more energy from Avril. I had multiple people ask me if “she seemed bored”. Overall it was still a solid performance but it wasn’t quite at the energy level we expected. The main event was approaching but not before we got to enjoy “Island in the Sun” by the alt rock stars from Weezer. The longtime legends had a little bit of music for every type of fan, including a cover of Teenage Dirtbag.
At this point, some fans headed over to LSDream at the Backyard stage. While he put on an energetic and trippy journey of a performance, with blockbuster movie-quality visuals complete with their own unique plotline, the crowd was reduced as many fans chose to stake out the mainstage in preparation for perhaps the most anticipated performer of the festival: My Chemical Romance. The emo kids in everyone went full force for the headliner of the day, as they performed “Welcome to the Black Parade”, “Teenagers” and many more angsty anthems. And they signed the leg! As the night came to a close, and many returned to the campgrounds, a large crowd made their way to the Backyard for Zedd. In the last decade, he has had so many beloved songs; in part due to his amazing ability as a producer, as well as the showstopper features on his tracks. The performance had amazing lights and pyrotechnics with tracks featuring Hayley Williams, Maren Morris, Alessia Cara, and Jon Bellion. In addition to the incredible set, the crowd gathered thousands of glowsticks in preparation of throwing them into the sky every time the beat dropped!
As far as talent, Saturday continued the fantastic performances from the noon time slot with SEB, Matt Maeson, Princess Nokia, and Wolf Alice, among others. However, with two consecutive 12+ hour days behind us, many chose to just relax outside of the venue during the early performances to recharge, perhaps with a Ramen-fried hot dog. I took some time to enjoy the Firefly community at the north camp grounds during the early hours, meeting many new friends, a giant skeleton, and enjoying a self proclaimed “giant” slice of pizza. After this recharge, it was time for some music!
The high energy EDM team known as Ship Wrek would ignite the day. The signature sailor caps are a nice touch to the duo’s electric dance moves and the extravagant lights. The indie folk band Head and The Heart followed up on the mainstage with a change of pace. The crowd sang their hearts out to the hits such as “Honeybee” and “Rivers and Roads”. A truly unifying moment among Firefly’s shows.
Next, we were encouraged to “take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night” with the indie pop/rock band Bleachers. Their 80s and 90s style with blaring saxophone solos gives you waves of nostalgia, and Jersey Shore ocean breeze. “I Wanna Get Better” created one of the loudest shouting moments during the entire festival—reaching well beyond their fan base and warming the crowd into a dancing frenzy. Just when the night seemed to have reached a peak, headliner Green Day took the stage. The rebellious rock band has dominated the music scene for decades and with so many spectacular tracks, it was a wonder as to what they would play. Classics such as “Holiday”, “Wake Me Up When September Ends” and “Good Riddance” were among a multitude of fan favorite songs nested in a setlist that was stacked with sing along anthems. Their showmanship, chemistry as a band, and technical talent after all these years showed Firefly what a Hall of Fame band’s performance looks like. And they signed the leg! The finale included a large confetti blast that showered over the festival as the night closed out.
…Unless you love electronic music, as Porter Robinson would take the Backyard stage after midnight to put on the most touching, anime-infused, philosophical, intimate show. These rather sentimental feelings grew steadily throughout the set, as Robinson showed us his childhood home movies and even took to the crowd to let an audience member play his beatpad for the iconic motif from “Sad Machine”. The crowd expressed their love by raining waves of endless glow sticks onto the stage as an emotional Porter kneeled in acceptance. I spoke with fan Julianna who said “I’ll never get over Porter Robinson. I sobbed the whole time”.
The fourth and final day rolled in with clear skies and warm weather. At least at first. Hyperpop music agitator Dorian Electra took the backyard stage with an appropriately electric set. The experimental artist dressed in a gothic, black leather outfit that fit their angsty style. Clouds started to gather at the Backyard as The Regrettes took the stage. The punk rock/pop punk band is coming off the release of their most recent album “Further Joy”. The crowd danced to the badass girl band, with mosh pit energy brought to the stage by lead singer Lydia Knight. However, the set ended with a whimper as a storm warning cut the set short. Boos erupted as a screen turned yellow requesting everyone to promptly exit the grounds.
The delay lasted around 45 minutes as people continued the party outside of the festival grounds. The festival took a nice safety precaution by clearing the grounds early, but the storm never did arrive as the skies cleared rather quickly and the festival resumed. There was only one question now. What about T-Pain!? The delay had gone completely over his time. Shortly after reopening Firefly released a new schedule on their handy app which squeezed together the rest of the night—and T-Pain would be going on immediately. He was absolutely worth the wait. After Big Sean canceled his set, the festival began to lack a hype Rap/Hip-Hop/R&B performance. T-Pain was the solution! “Buy U a Drank” was near perfection as festival goers continued streaming in and singing along at the top of their lungs.
As people settled back in for the home stretch, YouTube-sensation-turned-musician Conan Gray took the stage. Fresh off releasing “Superache”, Gray’s dream pop sound allows for listeners to fall into a serene romantic daze. “Maniac” and “Family” line stood out as two of the more powerful tracks during his performance. To follow would be the conflict of the night. At the Mainstage was Charli XCX, while The Kid Laroi was starting at the Backyard stage, both with severely shortened sets due to the delays. If you preferred a pop/experimental sound, Charli was your spot. She stuck to a rather conservative pop approach with her setlist, not featuring too much from the hyperpop era and more of a “Boom Clap” mainstream vibe. However it was still very much loved by the audience (though they chanted and demanded “Vroom Vroom” after her abrupt ending). Meanwhile, The Kid Laroi paid homage to an idol and friend JuiceWRLD, who passed away in 2019. After a sweet speech from Laroi, he told the audience to essentially go crazy as the Backyard rocked to songs from the “F*CK LOVE” era. And he signed the leg!
With only two performances left for the festival, Gryffin would close out the Backyard stage. The EDM artist blends organic and electronic, incorporating pianos and guitars with melodic house and future bass tracks. This, along with a beautiful light show, create a magical scene which could not have been a better finale for the Backyard stage.
Now let’s talk about the true closing act for the entire festival. Dua Lipa (and her crew) came ready to put on the most stadium-ready performance of all acts at the festival. Whether it was the intro video for “Future Nostalgia”, the countless backup dancers, the additional lighting and pyrotechnics, or even the LED moon beach balls, nobody came as prepared as Dua Lipa. “One Kiss”, “Levitating”, and “New Rules’ ‘ are among the many, and I mean many, hits from the English singer-songwriter. The performance stuck you right into Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” music video from the 80s. While this was not quite my favorite performance musically, it was definitely the best as far as choreography and production was concerned. The price of admission for Sunday would have been worth it if Dua Lipa was the only performance you saw.
At the end of the night, confetti once again rained down over the crowd with a joyous, yet appropriately tired feeling in the air. Overall, the 10th anniversary of the Firefly Music Festival was a success. I would recommend it to anyone interested in trying out festivals, regardless of genre preferences. Upon writing this, the festival has unfortunately announced they will be taking a year off to recharge their lights. So… Firefly 2024, see you soon!