Firefly Music Festival tunes up for seventh year in Dover

Cameron Clark, left, and Zach Roberts of Michigan unpack at their campsite at Firefly on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — In getting ready for this year’s Firefly Music Festival, which starts Thursday when gates open at 5 p.m., organizers have had the longest preparation time since that inaugural year in 2012 when the event was held in July.

And boy have they needed it.

The torrential rain the Dover area has received in the last month has made setting up for the four-day festival interesting, to say the least.

“We’ve obviously run into some challenges with all of the water. But it’s nothing that we haven’t dealt with in the past. We have a little bit of experience with where to put all the water,” said Michael Coco, senior director of operations with Red Frog Events, producers of Firefly.

“And our grounds crew does a phenomenal job with it all. Everyone tries not to drive on the grass to make it any more muddy than it already is. But it’s definitely coming together. We’ve actually been a little ahead of schedule, knock on wood.”

Firefly, which saw premier camping patrons arrive on Wednesday, was given extra time this year thanks to the NASCAR schedule. Races at Dover International Speedway, which rents the grounds to Red Frog, took place the first weekend in May this year, the earliest in recent memory. It will be the same in 2019.

Premier campers arrived to Firefly Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Ironically, last year saw the shortest prep time in Firefly history, as the races were held only two weeks prior.

“That made the operation a little easier for us and the folks at the speedway. It was a nice relief with everyone happy to have the extra time to deal with any uncertainties,” Mr. Coco said.

“Folks probably felt the stress last year and we took advantage of that feeling this year and we maybe overcorrected but I’d rather be set up now than waiting until the last minute.”

So what did they do with all of that water?

“There’s been a lot of pumping. Our friends at Kent Construction and Danny’s Landscaping really know what they are doing and can pump it away from the festival and leave it to surrounding areas. The trick is to make sure it doesn’t find its way back in. We’re not completely dry yet but it’s getting there,” Mr. Coco said Tuesday afternoon.

Mr. Coco said the first tent went up on May 13, with the most of the staff coming in early June to set up the majority of the infrastructure and the fencing.

As the years have gone by, some structures have been built that have been permanent fixtures to the Woodlands year round, which is a welcome relief to Mr. Coco and his crew.

The VIP Loft off of the main stage is permanent and the Porch Stage has been able to stay up since 2016. More pathways for staff and patrons to get in and out of the grounds have also developed over the years.

More drainage was put in over the offseason and new grass seed was planted.

“Something is always going on. Anything that makes sense to stay, we try to make it happen,” Mr. Coco said.

Nathan Coker with Schell Brothers Construction prepares his drill while building the Schelter at the camper site at Firefly on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

New to Firefly

While the footprint is essentially the same around the 850-acre complex, there are a few changes that Firefly goers will notice this year.

Gone is the Beercade, which in past years incorporated brew and arcade games.

The games have moved to The Brewery run by Dogfish Head near the main stage.

“That’s back to being air conditioned this year after a couple of years of it not being air conditioned. Although looking at the forecast, that may not be necessary. But it’s always nice,” Mr. Coco said of temperatures expected to not peak above the low 80s throughout the weekend with dry conditions expected.

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

Red Frog Senior Director of Operations Michael Coco, surveys the grounds on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

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

“That will be a fun little addition,” Mr. Coco said. “There will also be a few surprises.”

There will be eight stages with stages also set up in the camping area.

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

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

“We’re making that a little more intimate like it used to be. There will be a beignet shop with High Brew coffee and specialty cocktails, which should really liven up that space,” Mr. Coco said.

Although the World Cup won’t include the United States this year, soccer fields will be added for people with a yearn to kick the ball around. You’ll see that around Lot 18.

“We’ll also have one set up by the artists area. They like to kick back and have a little fun while they are waiting to go on stage,” Mr. Coco said.

Fan surveys have, in recent years, determined acts, attractions and improvements around the grounds.

This year, fans determined that the Pathway portion of the festival should have a constellation theme.

“That’s one thing we haven’t seen at night yet. We’re doing a walkthrough of that (Tuesday night). I’m excited to see that.”

Musical acts

Thursday’s lineup will be highlighted by Dover’s own Amillion the Poet on the Backyard stage starting at 5:45 p.m. The electro-funk duo Chromeo finishes out the abbreviated night.

Friday through Sunday, gates open at noon. They close at 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and midnight Sunday.

This year’s event is headlined by Arctic Monkeys on Friday, Eminem Saturday and Kendrick Lamar Sunday.

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

The line of campers is expected to grow significantly starting Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Satisfaction

Crowd size at Firefly peaked at a sold-out 90,000 in 2015 when Paul McCartney played the festival. Last year’s crowd was noticeably down with an estimated 60,000 attending throughout the four days. This year’s sales have been reported to be brisk.

Mr. Coco said it takes about 5,000 workers to make Firefly what is, from staff members to security to vendors and volunteers.

Mr. Coco has been a part of every Firefly since the beginning. He says although he doesn’t get to see too many of the acts, he finds all of the hard work worth it.

“I usually try to sneak away and see a few performances. I rarely get to see an entire set. I like to spend time talking to the festivalgoers and seeing how things are going to see what we can do better,” he said.

“It’s just as fun to put on a good show as it is to see a good show. The best parts are when I can get on stage see all of the people. That’s very fulfilling.”

Patrons hang out at the Red Bull Bar at Camping Lot 18 at Firefly on Wednesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

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