Firefly Day 1: Sixth music festival underway at The Woodlands

Delaware State News photos/Marc Clery


DOVER — The sixth annual Firefly Music Festival opened its gates in Dover on Thursday to ideal weather — mid-70s and practically cloudless.

Although off to a great start in terms of weather, it may not stay that way.

Regardless, organizers estimated Firefly will play host to 5,000 staff members, 450 artists and around 90,000 attendees — making it one of the largest music festivals in the country.

Much of the day was occupied with new arrivals setting up camp in the expansive campgrounds surrounding the Dover International Speedway and The Woodlands, but there were several early morning performances at the North and South Hubs of the event.

On Thursday evening, performances by bands such as Glass Animals, Kaleo, O.A.R. and K. Flay played to rapidly growing crowds as the night wore on.

Fan-curated features

Last year, Red Frog Events, the production company responsible for Firefly, decided to make the music festival officially fan-curated. From talent to experiences and features, fans had much to do with the asthetic feel of this years show via online votes, according to organizers.

Although much of the talent for the 2017 festival had already been booked in advance, several new features hit the festival this year.

Near the entrance to the Woodlands by the Lawn Stage, sits The Fort, a bar/patio built from several stacked bright yellow and turquoise shipping containers.

The Fort gives patrons an elevated view of The Woodlands and surrounds a dining area with picnic tables and ping pong tables.

Another new feature in force during day one of the festival was The Rambler. A Humvee loaded down with musical and amplifier equipment that acts as a mobile stage to perform unique “pop-up” shows throughout The Woodlands. On Thursday night they were set up just outside the inflatable, lit jellyfish art installation — yet another item selected by fans’ votes.

Non-profits at work

The Woodlands venue is packed with vendors of all sorts. Many are food, apparel and drink stands, but some are non-profits on a mission to target the younger demographic that congregates at music festivals like Firefly.

Michelle Ievoli, a volunteer with, is attending the festival for the second year on behalf of the non-profit organization that attempts to find suitable bone marrow donors for the roughly 14,000 Americans suffering from blood cancer currently searching for a match. At their booth, interested patrons can sign up, and volunteer for a cheek swab to see if they are a matching potential donor.

“Only one in every 540 people is actually a match and able to offer the bone marrow — it’s very rare,” said Ms. Ievoli. “By going to concerts like Firefly, has been able to find over 2,200 matches since we started.”

The organization bills itself as the “world’s leading rock and roll cancer foundation.” It was created in 2007 and registered as a charity in 2008. It was founded by Mike Peters, a 3-time cancer survivor and singer for the Welsh rock band The Alarm, and James Chippendale.

By around 7 p.m. on Thursday, they’d already collected about 10 swabs from interested donors at the festival.

“We actually just came back from Bonnaroo where we got 500 — we’re challenging Firefly to beat that,” said Ms. Ievoli.

Last year was their first attending Firefly and they were set up at the South Hub, which saw less foot traffic, Ms. Ievoli said. With their better location this year tucked in with the vendors near the Lawn Stage in The Woodlands, they have high hopes.

Another non-profit reaching out to young festival-goers is HeadCount. The non-partisan organization runs voter registration drives at concerts across the country to help influence music fans to participate in democracy. Katrina Vassallo, a HeadCount team leader, said that by Thursday evening, they’d already registered about 90 new people. They hope, conservatively, to register 500 by the end of Firefly.

“A lot is going on in our world and we really want people to be involved — we have to go to where the youth is,” said Ms. Vassallo. “A lot of people say they are already registered when we talk to them, which is great, but I think many of them got registered to vote in the recent general election. When I ask them if they vote locally — like in Mayoral elections — a lot say they don’t know enough about local politics.”

The organization claims to have registered about 500,000 voters since 2004, and built a large volunteer network that registers voters at as many as 1,000 concerts a year. They’ve also produced themed concerts, network TV public service announcements and digital media campaigns starring celebrities like Jay-Z, Dave Matthews, Pearl Jam and members of The Grateful Dead.

Ms. Vassallo said that sometimes people come to the HeadCount booth looking for a debate.

“Every once in awhile someone will come over looking to see if they can get a reaction out of us — like demanding to know who we’re voting for and who we represent,” she said. “But we always just say we represent democracy and we want everyone to participate in their civic duties regardless of who they vote for — who can argue with that?”

Festival vibe

As excited fans pack The Woodlands, the mood seemed jubilant. Spontaneous cheering and unsolicited high-fives with strangers were the order of the day on Thursday.

“We’re pumped, it’s going to be an awesome four days,” said Trey Gene. “We’re amped up right now, but I bet by the end we’ll be sunburnt, dirty and exhausted.”

Mr. Gene drove over with his friends from Bethesda, MD for the second year in a row and plans on camping during the entire festival.

Colorful attire like giant yellow fuzzy boots, viking hats and seahorse costumes are not unusual among the eclectic visitors — a popular practice is to hoist flags and icons up on the end of long poles and wave them during performances. Some flags spotted were a Canadian flag, an American flag and even a “poop emoji” flag — others items on the poles were seemingly nonsensical, like a paper mache pineapple, an inflatable penguin and a plaster brontosaurus.

Brent Fuller, a friend of Mr. Gene’s, noted that, in addition to the music, dressing bizarrely and “cutting loose” was part of the attraction of Firefly. Mr. Fuller was wearing a hat he made from tin foil and duct tape on the car ride to the festival.

“It’s fashionable and practical — Now I look awesome and the government won’t be able to read my thoughts,” Mr. Fuller said with a smile. “Firefly is just about getting together and getting wild. If you’re here and you’re acting normally: you’re the weird one.”


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