Good spirits returned to the Woodlands on Thursday night, Sept. 23, after campers endured hours of muddy traffic and finally planted tent spikes into the soft ground.
But the morning and afternoon was gloomy.
The big story of the first night of Firefly Music Festival in two years was the rainy weather that delayed the start of the festival by about four hours.
Thunderstorms forced Firefly entrances to close most of the afternoon, essentially washing out the first scheduled slate of acts. That included the only Delaware band on the bill—Eyebawl.
The festival’s new COVID-19 precautions, including mandatory health checks, became relegated to side-stage status.
“It wasn’t really even a factor,” says Ethan Davis, 18. “Getting in here was fine, the line moved pretty fast, our camping site got set up fine. It wasn’t until the line for the front entrance got crunched at 6:30–7 p.m. Some performances like Girl in Red or Hippie Sabotage were already halfway done.”
Headliner Billie Eilish acknowledged the long day many of her fans endured to see her (and the long wait for live music due to COVID-19 shutdowns).
“You guys have been through a lot today,” she says, calling it a “dream” to be performing in front of screaming fans again.
“Billie was awesome,” Davis adds. “Very energetic.”
“The mud was awful. Food prices are outrageous. The shower was a freezing cold trickle. The rain was really the only thing that made a dent in our moods.”
“Other than falling in the mud once, the only bummer was not being able to start the day when we wanted to. Having to wait to get in was hard,” says Taylor Willmot, 30, from Philadelphia , who waited out the storm at Dover’s Celtic Pub. “I don’t care about stomping around in the mud; I overpacked and have plenty of rain attire.”
Though plenty of mud remained on Friday morning, at least the sun was shining. And the Firefly organizers noticed. The Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun” piped over the loudspeakers as fans streamed into the festival grounds at noon.
A sunny Friday, headlined by The Killers, Wiz Khalifa, and many more, was just beginning.
Thousands of happy revelers screaming “Mr. Brightside” in unison felt like a perfect cap to (a sunnier, dryer) second day of Firefly.
Frontman Brandon Flowers showered the crowd in an early lather during the Killers’ headlining slot—band’s fourth appearance at Firefly.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last year and a half is that being together is a hell of a lot better than being apart,” he opined— before philosophizing further: “Are we human, or are we dancer?”
John McDonald, 75, from West Berlin, Maryland, was perhaps the ultimate Killers fan. The grandfather, who has yet to miss a Firefly fest, had just seen the band a week prior in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “They crushed it,” he says.
McDonald, a two-time “Faces of Firefly” alumni, is typically one of the best-dressed among the Woodlands, set apart by his trademark Panama hat and custom Brandon Flowers tee.
But not everyone can pull off a Panama hat like McDonald. In a post-rain festival, the biggest fashion trend appears to be rave-inspired face jewelry: sparkly specks and gemstones epoxy’d around the eyes.
Saturday, Sept. 25, ushered in the largest crowds and nicest weather of the Firefly weekend in the lead-up to headliners Tame Impala, the psychedelic powerhouses from Perth, Australia led by multi-instrumentalist Kevin Parker.
Accessories and accouterments were the fashion choice of the day for attendees, with the sunny autumn afternoon bringing out hula hoops, folding fans and the popular devil sticks which consists of someone using two sticks to “juggle” a third in between.
The third day of the festival also included some familiar faces.
Two of Delaware’s outré hip-hop—and beyond—artists were spotted Saturday, Sept. 25, in the Woodlands. Emcee and artist Rakeem Miles, who performed at Firefly in 2019, and Aaron Fisher (who performs as DIY electro-wizard No Sir E) first met at a show held at a First State barbershop in 2014.
Today, the friends continue to make waves on opposite coasts with their art and genre-bending music.
Delaware Today caught up with the artists while they attended the festival.
Rakeem Miles: I just did a theme song for Gemusetto Machu Picchu on Adult Swim. It came out late last year. I developed a relationship with Adult Swim back in 2018 when I pitched my Action Miles show. The show didn’t pan out, but they liked my art and gave me the opportunity to perform live on-air. They’ve been calling me back ever since.
I do a little voiceover work for another show and I appeared in a General Motors commercial.
Aaron Fisher: The pandemic has been very useful to make good use of my time doing creative things. Last year I started doing some live-streamed shows where I just had visuals in the background, a camera fixed at the [drum machines] and 80s and 90s movies clips playing. It’s led me to do some cool things with really cool people…soon I will be performing at a conference for [software developers] GitHub. I never thought I could do for such a large company. A lot of cool things have been popping up.
Playing at Firefly eventually would be a dream, but until then I have to put in the work and get my numbers up.
AF: I sent you a beat already but you didn’t use it [laughs].
RM: It was a minute ago and I haven’t gotten to it.
RM: I’ve been working with some members of Gorillaz, as well as, Chad Hugo and Pharrell Williams’ engineer Mike Larson on the next Rakeem Miles album. It was really dope to see how they could shape the music I was trying to make. The album should be out next year around March and it has some really sick features. That’s all I’m going to say for now.
Just as the crowds began to flood into the Woodlands on Sunday, Sept. 26, for the final day of Firefly, lead singer Erin Silva and Eyebawl finally got to unleash their Delaware grunge fury.
The Wilmington-based rockers—whose original Thursday side-stage slot got bumped due to bad weather—instead took to the main Firefly Stage, the biggest and loudest at the festival.
Spotted in the VIP crowd for Nelly’s 5:30 p.m. set, Silva says she relished the opportunity to perform on the main stage—and the afterglow of being recognized around the festival by newly converted Eyebawl fans.
As for the country grammarian himself, the 46-year-old Nelly played to a packed house as dusk arrived. Beyond his handful of smash hip-hop singles from over the years, Nelly treated the crowd to songs from his new country-rap hybrid album, Heartland.
It’s not unusual to spot strollers bumping through the grass on Sunday afternoons, which historically tends to bring out the most families and kids.
The final night of this year’s festival closed out with a performance by headliner Lizzo.
While PG-13 sets by Nelly, Sofi Tukker and others were a perfect fit for family fun–few youngins, if any, stuck around by sunset for the explosive and X-rated heat wrought by Megan Thee Stallion.
The hip-hop titan (and one of Time magazine’s one of the 100 most influential people in the world) cycled a fresh set of “thotties” from the audience onto and off the stage throughout her show, and brought the crowd to a boil with her signature hits “WAP,” “Thot Shit,” and “Savage.”