Bob Dylan, Muse, The Weeknd to headline 2017 Firefly Music Festival

The British rock trio Muse will be one of the headliners for this year’s Firefly Music Festival. (Warner Bros photo/Gavin Bond)


DOVER — Bob Dylan and His Band, R&B star The Weeknd, British rock trio Muse, Firefly veterans Twenty One Pilots and Chance the Rapper will headline this year’s Firefly Music Festival at The Woodlands June 15-18, officials announced on Friday.

Along with the headliners, the lineup for the sixth annual festival also features Flume, Weezer, The Shins and actor Jared Leto’s Thirty Seconds to Mars.

As in prior years, the festival will make use of seven primary stages, but there will also be additional sponsor stages, two stages in the campground and others that will potentially be added as products of fan surveys.

Last year, the event drew around 90,000 fans, and that total is what they’re expecting again this year, said Christiane Pheil, director of creative programming at Firefly Music Festival.

“It’s a number where we’re comfortable and we feel it maintains a comfort level for the fans who attend,” she said.

General admission and VIP pass options went on sale Friday at 1 p.m. through General admission passes start at $289. Camping packages are also be available for purchase. Currently, the tickets are only available as a package encompassing all four days, but Ms. Pheil says there is a chance this may change.

“Last year we saw a demand from our local and regional guests that wanted single-day tickets,” she said. “But we’re still discussing that for 2017. If we do release that as an option, it would be later this spring.”

The full performance schedule will be released in May, but Ms. Pheil noted that headliners will be clustered toward the weekend. Since there are now five of them, this will mean some doubling up.

“Last year was the first year we did a double headliner night with Florence and the Machine playing first and then Deadmau5 after,” she said. “You’ll see that come back this year. It was a really popular programming technique.”

The fruits of fan curation

Although Red Frog Events, the production company responsible for Firefly, has always leaned heavily on surveys, they started circulating among their fans in 2013 to guide their choices concerning the lineup. Last year, they decided to make the music festival officially fan-curated, said Ms. Pheil.

“What we launched in December turned Firefly into a fully fan curated festival from the talent side to the experiential side to literally every corner of the festival space,” she said.

Red Frog was surprised by how many fans have already taken the opportunity to participate in their first round of surveys. Cumulatively, they’ve received well over 100,000 survey responses and are averaging between 20,000 and 30,000 responses per survey item, said Ms. Pheil.

By December, much of the lineup had already been booked, but most of these choices were based on surveys from previous years, Ms. Pheil said. She feels Firefly has become a reflection of its fans.

“Some of our fans are diehard festival goers who go to multiple festivals every year, and they have a certain taste in music,” she said.

“Some of our fans are just people who like to listen to the radio and want to have a great weekend with their friends — that’s why you see a huge diversity in our lineup.”

Although by tradition, Firefly has been a rock festival since it’s inception, by popular demand, it appears to be hybridizing.

“Over the past four years or so, we’ve seen a trend toward more electronic and hip-hop,” Ms. Pheil said, “We’ve tried to bring that into the festival while staying faithful to our core rock fans.”

Ms. Pheil said the democratic selection process has brought particular energy to the lineup further down the list.

“The under card is where the guts and hearts of festivals shine though,” she said. “We have some repeat acts and a lot of new ones.”

Alternative pop band Weezer, who Ms. Pheil says is an annual fan favorite, will return. They originally played to a crowd of 40,000 people in 2014 on the main stage. She also noted that Thirty Seconds to Mars, who has never played the festival, recently shot up on their fan surveys.

“I also think Flume is going to be a great act for us to have,” she said. “He definitely crosses over and has something new — it’s sort of an indy/electronic sound that appeals to a wide variety of music fans.”

Last year’s Firefly Music Festival drew 90,000 people to The Woodlands. The same number of music fans is expected this year. (Submitted photo/aLive Coverage)

Star-studded billing

Over it five years in existence, Firefly has played host to some top shelf acts such as Tom Petty, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jack Johnson and Jack White — this year adds to that theme.

After 2017, they will have had performances by a knight (Sir Paul McCartney in 2015), a recent Nobel Prize laureate (Mr. Dylan) and an Oscar winner (Thirty Seconds to Mars frontman Mr. Leto, who won the Academy Award in 2014 for his performance in “The Dallas Buyers Club”).

Tyler Joseph of Twenty One Pilots performs during the 2014 Firefly Music Festival. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Courting an appearance by the legendary Mr. Dylan was no easy feat, said Ms. Pheil. He has been in the top 10 desired artists by fans since Red Frog Events started taking surveys in 2013.

“For an artist as big as Bob Dylan, it takes a lot of stars to align for that to happen,” she said. “It’s a comfort level thing, it took building a lot of trust and making them comfortable with what the festival is. They’ve known about us though. We’ve been a little bug in their ear for quite a while.”

It’s one thing for a music festival to attract stars, but quite another to have them grow from within. Being such a young music festival, it seems unusual for this to happen, but an example that Ms. Pheil points to is one of this year’s headliners — Twenty One Pilots. 2017 will be the third year the genre-bending duo appears at Firefly, having performed in 2013 and 2014. They may be a headliner this year, but in 2013, they started at the bottom.

“It was the first major festival that they played,” she said. “It was to a crowd of just a few thousand people, most probably had never heard of them. But they put on an amazing performance. The lead singer (Tyler Joseph) actually climbed the stage at one point and sang a song from the top of it. In 2014, they played for 40,000 people. They were instantly a Firefly favorite. We’ve been watching them grow too, they’re all over the radio now and everyone knows who they are. They are extremely high on our surveys every year.”

Big Break

A component Firefly added several years ago to their festival is the Big Break contest by which “unsigned” bands have an opportunity to earn a place on the lineup.

It’s a nationwide contest. Bands submit themselves to be a part of the contest, Red Frog Events selects 10 finalists from the pool of applicants and they are subjected to an online vote by fans. Every day, the band with the lowest amount of votes is dropped until one remains, and then one is then invited to perform at the festival. Ms. Pheil says this iteration of the contest will remain the same this year, but they are introducing an additional, similar contest.

“We’ll have Big Break Global, the original contest, and Big Break Live, the new one,” she said.

Two notable differences about the Big Break Live contest will be that it will have a more regional focus. Only bands 150 miles from Dover will be able to compete, and the winner will be decided based on a live performance in a “battle of the bands” format.

“The live performance will likely be available to anyone and hopefully be free — first come first serve,” said Ms. Pheil. “We’re looking at it as kind of a pre-party going into the festival.”

Partly as a nod to regional acts and partly as another avenue to engage their fan base, Ms. Pheil said that more detail information about the planned Big Break Live contest will be released in the coming weeks.

“It’s really important for us to support musical talent local to the festival,” she said. “There are already a lot of regional acts on the lineup, but this contest will be a nice feature for our fans too.”

Trio representing Dover

One musical act making an appearance at Firefly this year actually hails from Dover. The local hip-hop act Trio consists of Matthieu Howe, who performs under the stage name Tribe Beats, Matt “Meeze” Coston and Samuel “SAM” Carter III. The three performers met serendipitously several years ago, but realized they had potential as a group when they collaborated on Tribe Beats’s latest solo project “Law of Attraction” — released last May. In July, the formed the group they call Trio.

“Trio is a group that bridges the gap between the mumble rap and hip-hop,” said Trio’s manager Shaun Beastley. “They have a very eclectic sound with hip-hop melodies, hooks and delivery.”

Trio has had its eye on Firefly as a possible venue for their music for the last several years. A co-manager for the group, Erik Donaldson, said that progress toward that goal was made after last year’s Firefly festival.

“Matt, or Tribe Beats, was affiliated with (2015) performer Cypher Clique who is also from Dover,” he said. “They made an appearance at the Afterfly show, one of the city area sponsor shows outside the festival grounds.”

The offer to be added to the 2017 lineup came after Mr. Howe’s sister, Leslie Mairs, who’d done some photography work for various bands at Firefly, sent some of Trio’s music to Red Frog Events.

“They just instantly loved the music and they offered them a spot in this year’s festival,” she said.

Mr. Donaldson says the group is excited to perform in a show alongside so many artists they admire.

“It’s an amazing opportunity for the guys,” he said. “The exposure is going to be great. They’re prepared for it because they’ve been working hard for opportunities like this. They feel blessed to be a part of it.”

More to come

Now that the festival has its “feet in the ground,” Ms. Pheil says Red Frog Events is excited to start getting creative with what additional attractions they’ll add.

“We’re asking ourselves how can we maximize the things that are happening on the festival grounds,” she said.

To get those answers, Firefly will be looking to their fans once again. Several new surveys covering additional attractions for Firefly will be released for fans to weigh in on in the coming months, said Ms. Pheil.

“Back in December, one of the biggest surveys was about bringing a new bar attraction,” she said. “Fans had four choices: a ping-pong bar, a multi-level container bar, a dueling piano bar and a globetrotter’s cocktail bar where they could try cocktails from all over the world. Those results will be released soon.”

Between now and June, fans will weigh in on many more festival particulars.

“We’re doing it all the way down to the types of food and drink options we’re going to have,” said Ms. Pheil.

“What do you want for morning camping activities? Yoga? An organized 5K? What do you want on the camping stages at night? Karaoke? An open mic? Bands? A DJ? All of that will be rolled out over the next few months leading up to the festival.”

One question seems to be off the table though, and that is: should the event stay in Dover? Ms. Pheil says the answer to that is, most certainly, yes.

“We’re so grateful to host Firefly in The Woodlands specifically, it’s such a beautiful site — we love the ability to nestle our stages in nooks of trees,” she said.

“But also, Dover is great for accessibility, it’s an easy drive for people who live in Philadelphia, New York, D.C., Baltimore, as far north as Boston and as far south as North Carolina. We feel like a little bit of a getaway from all of the metro areas around the region.

“Dover is a great spot that we’ve decided to call home and we’ll be there a long, long time.”

The full lineup

Alan Walker
Alex Wiley
Andy Frasco & The U.N.
Animal Years
Anna Lunoe
Anna Shoemaker
Armani Lee
Astro 8000
Barns Courtney
Benny Benassi
Big Wild
Bishop Briggs
Bob Dylan and His Band
Bob Moses
Busta Rhymes
Capital Cities
Cashmere Cat
Chance the Rapper
Chill Moody
Cold Roses
Dead Man Fall
Deal Casino
Dillon Francis
DJ Jazzy Jeff
Dude Ranch & The Girl At the Rock Show
Fickle Friends
Foreign Air
Francis & The Lights
Franz Ferdinand
Future Generations
Glass Animals
Goody Grace
Hamilton Leithauser
Hamish Anderson
Handsome Ghost
Hardwork Movement
Ill Fated Natives
Jacob Banks
James TW
Jared & The Mill
Joie Kathos
Jonas Blue
Judah & The Lion
K. Flay
Kevin Garrett
Lewis Del Mar
Lil Dicky
Louie Louie
Luke O’Brien
Maggie Rogers
Magic Giant
Meg Mac
Michael Blume
Miike Snow
Miles Chancellor
Mir Fontane
Mondo Cozmo
Nahko and Medicine for the People
New Madrid
Pardison Fontaine
Quinn XCII
Rainbow Kitten Surprise
repeat repeat
Roadkill Ghost Choir
Saint Wknd
Salt Cathedral
Savoir Adore
Secret Weapons
Shizz lo
Short Sleeve Heart
Sir Sly
Sir The Baptist
Sofi Tukker
Spiritual Rez
Steve James
Stick Figure
Sunflower Bean
Taylor Bennett
The Lawsuits
The Naked and Famous
The Orphan The Poet
The Shins
The Social Animals
The Steppin Stones
The Strumbellas
The Weeknd
Thirty Seconds to Mars
Tory Lanez
Twenty One Pilots
Vita and the Woolf
Walker Lukens
Warm Brew
White Panda
Win & Woo
Young Bombs

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