Talk about sensory overload. The sights, sounds, activities and distractions at Firefly Music Festival are enough to make your head spin – a sure sign that they’re doing it right. To coincide with the highly anticipated Best Of issue, here’s the short list of the must-do, -see and –taste experiences at the Woodlands in Dover. If you didn’t get to catch them this year, you won’t want to miss them in 2014.
Best Bands You Haven’t Heard Yet: Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds, ZZ Ward
For music that hums along to the heat of summer, look no further than these two groups. Bluesy and funky with a sharp edge, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds are a Brooklyn-based ensemble with a Southern-rock twang and ‘tude backed up by Arleigh Kincheloe’s powerful vocals and catchy harmonies that won’t soon leave your head. Blues and soul-soaked ZZ Ward already has one radio hit under her belt in “Put the Gun Down,” but this burgeoning Etta-James-by-way-of-hip-hop is sure to claim more mainstream success. sistersparrow.com, zzward.com
Best Beer: Dogfish Head’s Firefly Ale
We shouldn’t be surprised that the alchemists at Dogfish Head have churned out yet another delightful brew for a seasonal bacchanalia. We also shouldn’t be surprised that it’s delicious to boot. Not too heavy and not too sweet, it’s the Goldilocks choice of a summer session beer that’s just right. The citrusy hop aroma is nicely balanced by bready malts in this English-style pale ale, which clocks in at 5 percent ABV. Translation: You can down more than one. dogfish.com
Best Healthy Start: Green Man Juice Bar & Bistro
There’s no shortage of delicious dining options at Firefly for carnivores and vegans alike. But shoveling down the healthy bits under the hot sun can seem like work, not to mention staying hydrated. Enter Dewey Beach’s Green Man Juice Bar & Bistro. Take your pick from brilliantly colored fresh juices on the rocks, in a variety of selections that include not only fruit, but kale, carrot and other veggies as well. In an environment where questionable choices are part of the experience, this is at least one thing you can feel good about. greenmanjuicebar.com
Best Nostalgia: The Arcade
Need a break from the heat? Chill out in the Arcade, where vintage arcade games reign supreme. Test your skills at games like pinball, skeeball, foosball and other childhood favorites without lugging around a pocketful of quarters. That’s right, all the throwback charm you can handle is completely free of charge.
Best Place to Cut a Rug: The Thicket
Though the spread of artists touches multiple genres, house and electronic dance music aren’t completely represented in the lineup. Not so in The Thicket’s Silent Rave, a small hideaway at the other end of the Main Stage where a set of headphones grants access to two DJs spinning house, dubstep, mashup and other infectious beats right in front of you. Take the headphones off and it’s a relatively quiet group of dance enthusiasts. Pop the headphones on, let the beats dig into your ears and sure enough, you’ll be shaking and dancing it out along with the rest of the crowd.
Best Place to Snooze: Hammock Hangout
Feeling a little run down after traversing the Woodlands? Head over to the Hammock Hangout, where cloth and rope cocoons adorn the trees, providing shade and rest for Firefly’s attendees. Though the area serves as a passageway into the main festival area, it would be hard not to feel more than a little Zen while you’re swaying under the branches.
Best Shopping: TOMS Style Your Sole
Are those flip flops not really working out by day three? Head over to the TOMS tent and purchase a pair of neutral or white shoes, then plop down and work with one of the on-site expert artists to customize your kicks. Best part? For every pair of shoes purchased at Firefly, TOMS will donate a pair of shoes to a child in need as part of their One For One Movement. toms.com
Best Tattoo Alternative: Pashur Body Art and FX
Body paint is to festivals like white is to rice, but that doesn’t mean you’ve got to settle for a splatter here and there. Los Angeles-based body-paint artist Pashur will set you up with some seriously enviable art, whether it’s a personal request for something specific or a unique creation on the fly. It does take a little paperwork with Toyota, who partnered with the festival to bring charging stations, plus other artivities, to the Woodlands, but it’s well worth it to walk out of the tent with your own personal conversation-starter for the rest of the day. canvasalive.com
Best Vegetarian/Vegan: Southernmost Falafel
When you and 50,000 of your close friends are enjoying the 80-plus-degree weather together and hunger hits (and hits hard), you want something hearty. You also want something that won’t raise your internal temperature. The fix? Southernmost Falafel’s combination of everything you’re craving, all tucked into one chewy pita. Cool tzatziki and hummus counteract the savory, Sriracha-spiked falafel for a must-have-seconds midday treat. For a dairy-free option, snag a Jimmy Roll. The oversized egg roll is stuffed with shredded fresh veggies, complimented my sweet and tangy duck sauce and Sriracha upon request. Though these dudes are Florida-based, their festival and concert schedule is most righteous, so it’s likely you’ll see them again this year.
And the wildcard winner…
Best Thing to Bring With You: Common Sense.
Comfortable shoes trump any style statement, including and especially flip-flops. Eat food and drink water, it’s easy to forget both when the heat gets brutal. Bring cash, unless you don’t mind a $4 on-site ATM surcharge. Get in all the activities early in the day, before hour-long lines start to form (we’re looking in your direction, TOMS). Be safe, be courteous and look out for your friends. You heard it here first.