Best Bets: Firefly, festivals helped light up year in local entertainment

This year’s Firefly Music Festival brought headliners Arctic Monkeys, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar to the Woodlands of Dover. 2018 also saw Firefly change hands from Chicago-based Red Frog Events to AEG Presents in Los Angeles. (Delaware State News file photo)

As we get set to say goodbye to 2018, it’s time to take one last look at the fun we had this year in the local entertainment world.

•For starters, the seventh annual Firefly Music Festival took place June 14-17 at the Woodlands of Dover.

Arctic Monkeys, in their first show in three years, headlined this year’s event on Friday, Eminem Saturday and Kendrick Lamar Sunday.

Other acts on the bill included The Killers, Lil Wayne, Big Gigantic, Logic, Odesza, SZA and Jimmy Eat World.

Dover hip-hop artist Amillion the Poet also appeared as the only local act on the 95-act bill.

Although Firefly officials don’t comment on attendance, festivalgoer Mardu Celli felt this year was one of the biggest crowds yet.

“This year it seemed like it was more packed than it’s ever been,” said the Pennsylvania resident. “It just felt different than what it did last year.”

While the footprint was essentially the same around the 850-acre complex, there were a few changes that Firefly goers noticed this year.

Gone was the Beercade, which in past years incorporated brew and arcade games. The games moved to the air-conditioned Brewery run by Dogfish Head Brewery near the main stage.

Newark-based Rainbow Records, for the first time, had a pop-up shop next to The Brewery.

Formerly the Hammock Hangout, The Nook featured a giving library, encouraging folks to bring a book and take a book with them.

There were eight stages with some also set up in the camping area.

The biggest change to them was a new location for the Porch stage around the middle of the grounds at the site of the old Coffehouse stage.

The Coffeehouse was moved to where the Beercade used to be in the southwest corner of the grounds.

This year, the Pathway portion of the festival had a constellation theme.

One downside to the event was the death of a 20-year-old Philadelphia woman who was found unconscious at her campsite in cardiac arrest on the final day before she passed away.

This was the final year that Firefly was produced by Chicago-based Red Frog Events.

In July it was announced that AEG Presents, already a majority holder in Firefly, acquired the remaining ownership shares of the festival.

AEG Presents is the concert promoter behind events such as Coachella and Stagecoach in Southern California, Panorama Festival in New York City and 8,000 concerts a year.

It was also announced that next year’s festival will go back to a three-day format. More on what to expect in 2019 in next week’s Best Bets column.

Ladybug a smash

•The Ladybug Music Festival made a migration south this year to Milford.

The festival, held on Sept. 22, was a first-time event for Sussex County, although The Ladybug Festival has been presented in Wilmington for the past seven years.

Over 40 female artists and female-led bands performed in 15 different venues and a main outdoor stage. The festival brought close to 3,000 visitors to downtown Milford. It is estimated that over half were first-time visitors to the city, coming from as far away as Norway as well as the surrounding states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Sharon Bousquet sings at the Mispillion Art League during the first Ladybug Music Festival in Milford. The all-female day of music was a big hit in September. (Delaware State News file photo)

Performers included internationally known blues rock singer and saxophone player Vanessa Collier; the New Jersey pop, rock and soul duo Nalani & Sarina; the Dover-based indie blues band Hoochi Coochi; Philadelphia’s Joy Ike; Lewes country singer Sara Ann Garrison and more.

The Ladybug Music Festival was created by Gayle Dillman and Jeremy Hebbel, principles of Gable Music Ventures, as an alternative to the male-dominated Firefly Festival to showcase talented local and regional female artists.

It was quite the coincidence that they landed in Milford. Forty-two years ago, a group of Milford elementary students researched and recommended the ladybug become Delaware’s state bug.

Earlier this month, the festival received the Southern Delaware Tourism’s 2018 Best New Event Award.

Smyrna celebrations

•Speaking of Gable Ventures, this year’s Smyrna at Night was bigger than ever with 26 musical artists performing on 13 stages in 10 venues.

Headlining the event was Adam Wakefield, a rock-country singer/songwriter, who was the Season 10 runner-up on the hit NBC talent show “The Voice”

Performers also included country band Highway 309, Americana duo Scot Sax and Suzie Brown and popular party band Best Kept Secret.

Romford Drum and Trumpet Corps Marching Band performed on Market Street in front of Smyrna Town Hall during Smyrna at Night. They traveled to Delaware from Romford, England to help Smyrna celebrate its 250th birthday. (Delaware State News file photo)

Local acts included Ms. Garrison, Judy Sings the Blues, Single Origin, The Blues Reincarnation Project and Dayne Melvin.

Eventgoers also saw an expanded list of 18 food trucks.

•The expansion was in commemoration of Smyrna’s 250th anniversary. This year saw celebrations, concerts and events all year long.

Chief among them was the Smyrna Summer Concert Series produced by Gable and presented by the town of Smyrna.

All performances, with the exception of the first one, was at George C. Wright Jr. Municipal Park. The series opened with Wilmington reggae band Spokey Speakey on the beach at Lake Como.

Other performers included The Rock Orchestra performing the music of The Beatles, Smyrna favorite Lovebettie, local band Country by Night and Beatles reggae group Yellow Dubmarine.

Fair fodder

•The 99th Delaware State Fair both increased its total attendance from last year and broke its record for highest single-day attendance, according to fair management. This while suffering both oppressive heat and intermittently heavy rain.

The record-breaking attendance day on the final day of the fair attracted 48,653 patrons, surpassing the previous record set in 2015 by 79 attendees. Similarly, the carnival recorded its best single-day receipts in carnival-related ride activity. The number of corporate sponsors for the year — 69 — was also a record breaker.

Alexis Littleton, of Dover, carries a big teddy bear that she won at the Delaware State Fair this summer. Despite poor weather, the fair rose 2 percent in attendance in 2018 over the previous year. (Delaware State News file photo)

Total attendance over the 10-day fair rung in at 291,316 attendees — constituting a 2 percent increase from last year’s figures.

Musical acts like Toby Keith, Brett Eldredge, Chris Young, Lauren Daigle, the Outlaws, Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels Band and Travis Tritt drew fans to the M&T Bank Grandstand.

Entertainment features like the Craft Beer Festival, comedian/ventriloquist Jeff Dunham, a Monster Truck & FMX Show and the demolition derby also drew big crowds.

The Plaza and the Free Entertainment Tent were merged this year to create the new Hertrich Plaza. The upgraded entertainment stage with new sound and lights was designed to showcase free nightly performances by bands Redhead Express and Vocal Trash.

Yoga with Goats, where dozens of pygmy goats and yoga participants interact during an exercise session, also made its debut at the state fair this year.

Also on the Delaware State Fairgrounds were the debuts of a few other events.

•The Quillen Arena, now known as The Q, saw the first in its new concert series with a sold-out June show by rising country music singer Kane Brown.

The series plans to host a spring and fall event in the arena each year. This year’s attraction in the fall was the first Bourbon, Beer & Butts festival. It was supposed to be held in the Quillen Arena but was moved to Exhibit Hall on the fairgrounds.

It featured the music of Rare Earth and the Atlanta Rhythm Section.

As part of September event, bourbon tastings and barbecue dinners were also on the menu.

•Another first for Quillen Arena was the inaugural two-day Great Delaware Pumpkin Carve in October.

Attendees got to test their skills during a pumpkin carving contest, receive professional tips from an expert, navigate a hay maze, check out a sandcastle being built, sample from food trucks and more.

Hometown heroes

Two country music stars with local ties made appearances in our area this year.

•Smyrna’s Chuck Wicks played a sold-out show in August at the Smyrna Opera House to benefit the Smyrna Boys & Girls Club.

He released a new single called “Better than Flowers,” in late September.

•Milton’s own Jimmie Allen performed in Delaware a few times this year.

He opened for Toby Keith at the Delaware State Fair, played a free concert before the fall NASCAR race at Dover International Speedway and last weekend played two sold-out shows at the Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach to benefit Rehoboth Elementary School.

He’s also set to play Harrington’s Exhibit Hall in February but that show is already sold out.

It was a breakout year for him as his debut album, “Mercury Lane,” named after the Milton street where he grew up, was released in October.

His first single off “Mercury Lane,” “Best Shot,” debuted as the second-most added on country radio.

Casino concerts

Dover Downs’ Rollins Center and Harrington Raceway and Casino’s Exhibit Hall saw national acts come through for concerts this year.

Jefferson Starship performed a sold out show at Dover Downs in June. (Submitted photo)

•Dover shows included comedian Billy Gardell, classic rock bands Jefferson Starship, Grand Funk Railroad and Blue Oyster Cult, country singer Sara Evans and R&B artists The Whispers and Joe.

Exhibit Hall welcomed the likes of country acts Lonestar, The Oak Ridge Boys and Wynonna Judd and classic rock groups Little River Band and Blood, Sweat and Tears featuring Bo Bice.

Sussex stages

•Down at the beach, the Freeman Stage near Fenwick Island hosted over 70 programs this summer.

The season was highlighted by music legend Smokey Robinson, Chris Janson, Cheap Trick, Jeff Foxworthy, Boyz II Men, Pat Benatar and Rick Springfield, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Gin Blossoms, The Beach Boys, Vince Gill and Michael Bolton.

•Staying at the beach, the Bottle & Cork in Dewey Beach hosted a lineup that included Brothers Osborne, Aaron Lewis, Matthew Sweet, Frankie Ballard, Chris Lane, Maxi Priest, Granger Smith, The White Panda, Scotty McCreery, Chase Rice and The Struts

•Two shows, both with country artists, hit Hudson Fields, near Milton, along Del. 1: singer Jake Owen and Old Dominion.

•The Big Chill Beach Club, at Delaware Seashore State Park, started a summer concert series.

It was highlighted by an appearance by longtime Bruce Springsteen drummer Max Weinberg with a show he calls “Max Weinberg’s Jukebox”.

During the sold-out show, Mr. Weinberg, who also was the bandleader for Conan O’Brien for 17 years, invited the audience to create, in real time by request, the set list he and his four-piece group played that night from a list of 200 songs.

Other shows on the schedule included beach rockers The Wheeland Brothers, country’s Eric Paslay and reggae group Pepper.

Festival fervor

•The 85th annual Dover Days Festival stepped off with a new footprint.

This year’s event brought a bigger emphasis on downtown Dover businesses and to open more parking. The new layout moved most of the festival’s vendors and entertainers to State Street, The Green and then continued down to Legislative Mall.

Festivalgoers found it easier to park this year with the back end of Legislative Mall and areas around Water Street more accessible.

The entertainment stage, food court, car show, moon bounce and new this year, a hot air balloon, were all on Legislative Mall.

This year’s parade remained on State Street, turned left onto Loockerman Street and dispersed onto Federal Street. In the past, the parade had gone around The Green.

One new twist this year was that Dover Days weekend coincided with NASCAR weekend at Dover International Speedway. One casualty of that was the loss of activities on Friday night due to a lack of volunteers.

One benefit was a video montage of Dover Days events was shown on the Fox TV network prior to the race, hosted by announcer and former driver Kenny Wallace, which brought national exposure to what we already have come to know and love.

Anne Duckett Wagner performed on the main stage for the first time at this year’s 27th annual Delmarva Folk Festival. (Delaware State News file photo)

•Another Downstate festival staple, June Jam, celebrated its 40th year in June in Houston.

To mark that milestone, “Best of June Jam” featured bands that were a fan favorite or had a member that was a longtime favorite.

The groups Hyde Park and Furious George reunited, along with 1980s favorite Tommy Conwell and Johnny Neel.

Local bands lower case blues, Shades of August and Triple Rail Turn also performed.

•The Central Delaware Blues Society held its annual Roadhouse Bluesfest in July at Jonathan’s Landing in Magnolia.

This year’s event was headlined by Washington D.C.-based blues band The Nighthawks. It also featured Harper and the Midwest Kind, Sean Chambers, Skyla Burrell, Barrelhouse and The Jon Hay Band.

•Fordham and Dominion Brewing in Dover held its two annual big festivals, R2Hop2 in April, and Cheesetoberfest in October.

•Destination Downtown Dover continued to bring folks to Loockerman Street for its History, Heritage and Hops and OktDoverFest mega block parties.

•The Delaware Friends of Folk’s Delmarva Folk Festival held its two-day affair in September.

It featured Pennsylvania trio Katherine Rondeau and The Show, Chris English, well-known Smyrna singer-songwriter Sol Knopf, the Megan Cary Trio and old-time and bluegrass band Cold Chocolate.

And finally …

•The Dover Air Force Base thanked its hard-working men and women Labor Day weekend with an End of the Summer Music Festival.

Base personnel, retirees, Reservists and their families enjoyed a day that featured concerts by national recording artists X Ambassadors and We The Kings along with games, open pool time, food and beverages.

•The Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover celebrated its 25th anniversary all year long.

Memorable exhibits included “Rembrandt Etchings: States, Fakes and Restrikes,” which showcased a traveling exhibit of 40 Rembrandt etchings from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, joined by Rembrandt’s etchings from University of Arizona Museum of Art.

Another popular exhibit was “John James Audubon and His Influence Today.” It included more than 50 original etchings and lithographs by Mr. Audubon along with other pieces inspired by the famed naturalist.

Rock band X Ambassadors performed at the End of the Summer Festival at Dover Air Force Base along with We the Kings. (Submitted photo)

•The ninth annual Dancing with the Delaware Stars took place in January at Dover Downs Hotel and Casino’s Rollins Center, seeing James Collins, Delaware chief information officer, and Brittany Faulkingham, owner of the School of Ballet and artistic director of the Delaware Ballet, take home the coveted prize.

The pair beat out 10 other couples to win the mirror ball trophy. Proceeds raised from the competition, which is much like the hit television show where local celebrities are paired with professional dancers, go toward Mom’s House of Dover and the Greater Dover Boys and Girls Club.

A four-digit black tag — 3943 — was also auctioned off at the event.

•Dover Public Library’s Comic Con, held this past summer, continued to draw thousands for costume contests, anime programs, discussions and more.

• The Manhattans, featuring Gerald Alston, headlined the Delaware State University President’s Scholarship Ball at Dover Downs in December.

That’s a wrap on 2018. See what’s in store for 2019 next week.

Now showing

New in theaters this weekend is the Will Ferrell-John C. Reilly comedy “Holmes and Watson” and the Dick Cheney biopic “Vice.”

On DVD and download starting Tuesday is the Kevin Hart comedy “Night School” and Chris Hemsworth and Jeff Bridges in “Bad Times at the El Royale.”

To share news of your entertainment event, venue or group, contact Craig Horleman at 741-8224 or

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