Best Bets: Delaware music fans lament the loss of 2020 Firefly Music Festival

Kid Quill entertains fans at The Hideaway stage at the Firefly Music Festival last year in Dover. This weekend marks the first year since Firefly started in 2012 that the mega music festival will not be held, due to concerns over the coronavirue. (Delaware State News file photo)

This will be a Father’s Day weekend unlike any other in recent years around Dover. The city will be without the sights and sounds (and traffic) of the Firefly Music Festival.

The mega event, which has annually brought tens of thousands of people to the area around this time, was canceled back in March due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

A statement from Firefly said in part, “We are deeply disappointed by this difficult decision, one that impacts our fans and our incredible team of performers, crew, vendors & our community in Dover, Delaware.

“In these unprecedented times, we send you our love. Thank you for your support and we look forward to welcoming you in the Woodlands in June 2021 where we will dance, sing and celebrate live music together.”

This year’s festival was to include headliners Billie Eilish, Rage Against the Machine, Halsey, Blink-182, David Lee Roth and the Eastern Shore’s own Maggie Rogers.

The event was to have been four days this year, back from its three-day schedule last year, lasting from Thursday to Sunday.

For those such as Sarah Sadlowski of South Dover, attending Firefly with her family has become an annual tradition. She has gone every year since the beginning.

“It’s always part of my Father’s Day gift to my husband,” she said.

“We go out there and each of the kids picks something out for him, like maybe a hat or a shirt and we have to hurry up and sneak it back to the lockers so he can’t see it and then when we’re at Firefly on Sunday, it’s like ‘Here’s your Father’s Day stuff.

“It’s kind of a mini vacation because you get some time off of work and we’re out there having fun.”

Mrs. Sadlowski calls it “a family affair” as she and her husband Casey, 13-year-old son Emory and 8-year-old daughter Cassie head out every year.

“In the beginning, we would only have (the kids) go like one day. And then as they got older, they went more and now we just tell my son ‘Hey if you want to go all four days, that’s fine.’ And usually about three days in, he’s exhausted and he doesn’t want to go back on Sunday. My daughter, she’s ready to go every day and we’re like, ‘Whoa, let’s have one day that we can have an adult day,’” she said.

Of all the years the family has gone, one day has stood out among all the rest.

It came in 2017 when the band Thirty Seconds to Mars appeared and Mrs. Sadlowski got to go on stage with her family as lead singer and Oscar-winning actor Jared Leto sang directly to her daughter, Cassie.

Mrs. Sadlowski jokes she has “a huge problem” when it comes to the Los Angeles-based rock group.

“In the past 10 years, I’ve probably seen them 10 times. There was one year that I missed seeing them and that was because I was pregnant with my daughter. But the following year, we went twice,” she said.

“That day, I literally stood against the front fence for like three hours straight with her while my husband went off and did his own thing. When he came back over to us, they were passing out these flags and gave one to him said since you’re gonna hold the flags for us, come get on stage,” she recalled.

“So we got up there and they were kind of getting toward capacity where they didn’t know if they were going to be able to get anybody else up there. So they literally grabbed her from us and she’s only like 5 or 6 at the time. They took her to the front of the stage, and then we got in the middle of standing next to Shannon (Leto), the drummer. And we had no idea (Jared Leto) had sang to her because we couldn’t see over in the corner where she was at.

Singer and actor Jared Leto, lead vocalist for the band Thirty Seconds to Mars, interacts with Cassie Sadlowski, of South Dover during the band’s 2017 appearance at the Firefly Music Festival. (Submitted photo)

“And then all of a sudden, all my friends are out there taking pictures and all these texts are surfacing with these videos and she’s just like ‘Yeah he came up to me and touched my face.’ Like it was everyday, normal to her.”

Over the years, the Firefly Music Festival has hosted a who’s who of musical talent. The first year in 2012 the headliners were Jack White, The Black Keys and The Killers.

The number of bands, the number of stages and the acreage of the festival have all expanded over the years.

Acts have included Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foo Fighters, Florence + The Machine, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Mumford and Sons, The Weeknd, Muse, Bob Dylan, Eminem and last year’s headliners Panic at the Disco!, Travis Scott and Post Malone.

No act was bigger of course than the one who stepped on the main stage exactly five years ago tonight — Paul McCartney.

The former Beatle delighted an overflow crowd of more than 60,000 people with songs from his days with the Fab Four, Wings and his solo career. Even he, at times, seemed a little overwhelmed by the large crowd and its excitement to see him.

The night kicked off with The Beatles’ classic “Birthday” coming the day after his own birthday and ended 33 songs later with, fittingly, “The End.”

It was a night that no music fan will ever forget and it was a night that introduced local singer-songwriter Jim Rezac to Firefly Nation.

“I was one of those older baby boomers who always said, ‘Oh, who wants to do that?’ And here I am a musician. And a friend of mine, Leo McDermott, called me up the day before and said ‘Hey Rezac, you’re a musician. You’re one of the biggest Paul McCartney fans I know. You went to Wings Over America in ’76. No one likes Paul McCartney like you. He said, I bought you a ticket,” Mr. Rezac recalled this week.

“I said “What? You can’t.’ He said ‘No I bought your ticket. I’m only going to go one day, but you’re going. He’s playing four miles from your house practically.’ So he got me going and I was hooked. I loved the whole experience, getting there early, walking around, smoking a cigar, the whole bit.

Area singer/songwriter Jim Rezac, right, waits for another act to play with Hunter Collins during last year’s Firefly Music Festival.

“My kids aren’t the best for remembering when your birthday is or when Mother’s Day is but they know when Father’s Day is because they know that’s when we get a quick Father’s Day breakfast at the Hollywood Diner and Dad’s off for his third or fourth day at Firefly.”

Although he may not be in the target demographic for Firefly, Mr. Rezac said he’s in his element when he’s at The Woodlands where he’s been for the last five years.

“I went all four days (in 2015). I went to the whole thing and it was quite a workout. But I absolutely loved it. I’m not like a lot of people in my age category who say ‘I saw the lineup and I don’t recognize anybody.’ I’m in the business but I try to listen to newer stuff. I never want to be that guy who always has his radio on the classic rock station,” he said.

He said people his age are always surprised when he tells them they should go to Firefly.

“They shake their head and close your eyes and say ‘I would never go to something like that.’ I always say ‘It’s not what you think it is.’ It’s fun. People are well behaved. You can find what you’re looking for if you go looking for it. But it’s not like what people make it out to be. It’s not like people going around going nuts. It’s like going to an Eagles game. People are beautiful out there,” he said.

He teaches music in his personal studio and sometimes gets himself into trouble by preaching the gospel of Firefly.

“A student will be here with me in my studio. Maybe they’re 16 and Firefly would come up they say ‘I really want to go’ And I’ll say ‘You should go someday’ and the parents will give a look they say ‘I’m not gonna let them go.’ And then I’d have to plead the case for Firefly. It’s safer than you know. Especially with people my age that have kids, I’m not saying I would let your kids go by themselves.

“I had a bad image of it but it was totally the opposite. I actually heard one guy once say ‘If another person comes up to me and gives me a high five, I’m gonna lose my mind. And I’m thinking, ‘Why? Because it was too friendly?’”

Jessica Moyer of Magnolia started going as a way of keeping an eye on her teenage kids. She quickly found out that she actually enjoyed it and has also gone for the past four years.

“I would go just in case they needed me, but my husband and I love it. We look forward to it. He takes days off to go. It’s like a staycation. We just enjoy the vibe, we love the music and love seeing people coming together. It’s a good cause for something happy,” she said.

Her daughter Isobel, who has gone five years in a row, is now 20 and son Blaise will be 17 in a few weeks.

“I told my kids they had to be in least high school to go,” she said, adding that’s it’s fun family weekend.

Magnolia’s Jason and Jessica Moyer take in a recent Firefly Music Festival in Dover.

“We all like listening to music. I’m really into like the reggae beats, and because I’m a dancer, I like EDM. We love going into the Silent Disco. That’s probably where my son spent most of his time last year. It’s just like a safe place for him to be with his friends and dance,” she said.

“We just love the whole thing. There’s nothing I don’t like about it. As a parent, it just makes me feel more comfortable that I’m there if there are any issues that we can kind of just be the responsible ones and know that if someone needs us, we’re there.”

All say that discovering new bands is part of the fun.

Ms. Sadlowski remembers the first day of the first Firefly when they hit the grounds on what was a drizzly Friday afternoon.

“We had seen a few bands like The Wallflowers and then we saw John Legend. Oh my God. That man has a voice,” she said.

“I was thinking that it would be a perfect first date experience with somebody. Maybe it’s an anniversary, or something you know with your significant other. He would be the one you want to go see – and Bruno Mars.”

Another artist who wasn’t as well known as she is now who played Firefly was top-selling musician Lizzo, who performed at Firefly in 2018.

“We had gone over and gotten food and we were just sitting there and eating and heard this voice and then as we got closer it was like ‘Wow.’ She’s a really good performer and we became big fans of her after that just because we stumbled across her.”

Mr. Rezac said that the first year he went to Firefly, he was “hooked on the whole idea of discovery.”

“There was this band Royal Blood. Oh my god, a duo with just a bass player and a drummer — amazing. If I was just listening to stuff that I would listen to in high school, what a shame that would be — the stuff that you would miss. Nathaniel Ratliff, Lukas Nelson, Benjamin Booker. I had never heard of Benjamin Booker and I heard him at 2:30 in the afternoon or something like that,” he said.

“Yeah, they got the rap, they got the EDM. But there’s also this other cool stuff. I love anybody that plays. I don’t care what kind of music they’re playing.”

Mrs. Moyer said she discovered the band OAR through Firefly and even appreciated Eminem.

“I really enjoyed his show. We sat way in the back because I did not want to be with all the youngsters. But there’s so many bands that we now listen to because of Firefly.”

And so this brings us back to this very strange year and the lack of the festival on the calendar for those who have made it a yearly tradition.

“I knew I would miss it but I realized how much I am really, really going to miss this (recently) and even as one of the oldest guys floating around. There was some lady one time who said “Hi Grandpa’ But we’re the ones who can afford the VIP seats,” he joked.

“I’m just always intrigued by it. I have my favorite type of music but I always go. So I’m really gonna miss it. But for like the last month, I’ve been secretly hoping that the weekend weather was going to be crummy so I wouldn’t miss it as much. I think I created the weather this weekend because it’s supposed to start raining all the way to Sunday.

“I don’t wish bad things to happen but I want to be sitting here thinking, ‘Oh, you know, we would be out there in the rain getting drenched or being canceled or whatever.”

For the Moyers, they are getting out of town.

“We’re going to Chincoteague so we don’t even have to think about it. We’re going to miss it a lot,” Mrs. Moyer said.

For the Sadlowskis, they will take this weekend to get some home improvement projects done. But then next weekend they are off to North Carolina to take in some drag racing.

“But we’ll back to Firefly again next year. We wouldn’t miss it,” Mrs. Sadlowski said.