Getting ready for Firefly Music Festival: Staff prepares for big weekend

DOVER — As Dover recovers from the temporary population explosion it saw over NASCAR race weekend it’s already steeling itself for the next giant wave of event-goers coming to town.

The Firefly Music Festival will kick off at The Woodlands near Dover International Speedway starting Thursday through June 19.

If, as organizers hope, the attendance reaches last year’s total, an expected 90,000 fans will pack the outdoor venue with some coming in as soon as Wednesday.

For Chicago-based Red Frog Events, producing Firefly for the past six years has always proven to be a “colossal undertaking.”

Planning the following year’s Firefly often begins as soon as the current year’s ends.

Workers put the finishing touches on The Main Stage VIP Viewing Area in the Woodlands at Firefly Music Festival at Dover International Speedway, (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“We’ve been recruiting staff for Firefly this year since shortly after last Firefly — it takes an enormous amount of people to run this thing,” said Michael Coco, senior director of operations with Red Frog Events.

During the music festival, now in its sixth year, Mr. Coco said approximately 1,000 people arrive on show days to help out — volunteers, temporary employees and event vendors among them.

Although Firefly draws a little over half of their manpower from out of state, Mr. Coco said they do place an emphasis on pulling from the local labor pool as much as possible.

“We put out a general posting to hire local people interested in helping, but we also offer opportunities to groups trying to fund raise like local high school athletic clubs, community organizations and local churches,” he said. “A lot of folks come over from the Dover Air Force Base booster club to help out every year.”

Hard at work

Firefly ‘s ‘Glamping” tents have portable Air Conditioning units located in the infield at Dover Downs International Speedway, (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The majority of staff don’t fully mobilize until a few days before the event, but key teams have already been hard at work on the site for weeks. Mr. Coco said they started a few smaller projects as early as May 3.

“There are parts of the site that NASCAR doesn’t use like the north campgrounds and some parts of our main stage field that we’re able to work on in advance,” he said.

“Since May, we’ve been putting in fencing and doing some other prep work. We had a ton of equipment and supplies delivered so we could get started right away once NASCAR weekend was over.”

Red Frog Events officially got the run of the site last Monday after race weekend. This year, the schedule is pinching Firefly staff a bit more than last year.
“It was a bit later than usual because NASCAR was pushed back a week(than it’s been scheduled in the past),” said Mr. Coco. “We’re on a tighter timeline than we have been in the past, which has put us to the test a bit, but so far so good. We officially took over on Monday and have been moving quickly since.”

Gary Camp, spokesman for Dover International Speedway, which rents The Woodlands venue to Red Frog Events — said this year will be the shortest turnaround between NASCAR and Firefly.

A food vendor kiosk being set up in the Woodlands at Firefly Music Festival at Dover International Speedway, (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“To only have two weeks to set up is the tightest it’s ever been, but they’re moving really fast and appear to be on schedule,” he said.

Rain leading up to June has also made the festival ground prone to ruts and potholes. Organizers have leveled off gravel roads, and put in extra flooring in certain low spots to help address potential mud issues though, Mr. Coco noted.

Lighting, fencing, tent and construction teams were all on site going into this weekend, laying all the requisite infrastructure for the event. As of Thursday, Red Frog Events had 17 of their full-time staff members on site and 28 contractors working on site assembly.

New features

As the venue begins to take shape, some of the new features this year are starting to show.

Firefly will have the most stages in its short history this year — 11 total — but several key ones have received a makeover.

“We’re actually doing a lot of really cool things with the Backyard Stage this year that our design teams worked on that’ll add a really unique feel to it,” said Mr. Coco.

A igloo styled tent is a new feature in the Firefly ‘Glamping” area at Dover Downs International Speedway, (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

“We’ll also have a Rambler stage this year, which is essentially a mobile stage that we’re putting on the back of a Humvee. It’ll move around and do some really cool pop-up performances.”

Late last year, Red Frog Events announced that they’d be allowing fans of the festival to have a hand in deciding on what new attractions would be on display this year.

The fruits of this fan-curated festival theme has helped guide the aesthetics and some of the features via online fan votes. Two notable examples are that the event’s annual art installation that will be adhering to a “jellyfish” motif and a new bar called The Fort.

“Our lighting and design teams are working on the jellyfish installation now and we’re excited to see how it turns out,” said Mr. Coco. “They’re also just finishing the construction and welding rails on The Fort. It should be completed in a few days.”

Firefly will also offer something they call a “Spruce Up” pass this year for $79. Visitors will be able to rent access to private showers, lounges and air-conditioned bathrooms for the duration of the festival to refresh and get out of the heat.

Safety first

Infrastructure assembly is only one component of preparing for the festival. Jim Hosfelt, director of public safety for Dover International Speedway, has been assembling his teams as well.

“We’ll have five security agencies participating for the event, including the Delaware State Police,” he said. “EMS and fire teams are always on standby for the whole event as well.”

In light of the recent terror attack at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, Mr. Hosfelt said he’s been briefed by terrorism professionals and is encouraging staff to be even more aware and cautious.

He noted the speedway has always taken the highest level of precaution to ensure the safety of all their events. Although not providing an exact figure of full-time security personnel, he noted that the number was “extensive” and it has included partners from the FBI and several DSP bomb teams.

Growing relationship

Although six years is fairly young in terms of music festivals, Firefly’s roots seem to be growing deeper into Dover. Mr. Coco said that not only is the location ideal for the future, with each passing year, they get more efficient at planning and executing with the resources available locally.

“The fact that we’re on the East Coast is great because we’re close to so much,” he said.

“It’s easy to get materials and equipment shipped from the nearby big cites. We have to have 600 golf carts delivered — that would be a little more tricky if we were out in the middle of nowhere. Each year has it’s own unique challenges, but for the most part, things have gotten easier with experience running it.”

The relationship with Firefly and the speedway has been reciprocal. Each year, they work to refit the venue to their needs — improving it along the way, officials say.

“They have a longer term lease on about 400 of our 800 acres,” said Mr. Camp. “The more they use the property, the more they’ve been reinvesting in it. They’ve been doing a great job working on drainage, landscaping and filling holes in the gravel roads. They even recently built two storage buildings at the back of the property so they can keep some supplies here year-round.”

On the opposite side, Mr. Coco said that the speedway saves Red Frog Events a lot of time and money by acting in a support capacity.

“The maintenance team does a ton for us,” he said. “They smooth over a lot of the roads for us and help us handle some of the mowing. They even allow us to borrow some signage and countless other little physical assets they have that we need. In the long run it saves us a lot of time and money, both of which we need a lot of to host a really good festival.”

Although music will start in the campgrounds on Wednesday, gates to the festival will officially open at 5 p.m. Thursday.

This year’s headliners include Muse, Bob Dylan, Chance the Rapper, The Weeknd and Twenty One Pilots.

For more information on the festival and a full listing of bands appearing, visit fireflyfestival.com.

Four-day passes ranging from $309 to $2,499 and single-day passes from $89 to $249 are still available online.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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