Fifth year of Firefly ready to rock Dover

The Firefly sign has been placed at the entrance at the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway ready to welcome the expected throng of 90,000 music fans. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The Firefly sign has been placed at the entrance at the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway ready to welcome the legions of music fans. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER –– The countdown to the 2016 Firefly Music Festival is on. Only four days remain until an expected crowd of 90,000 descend on the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway Thursday through June 19.

Although music lovers might not start setting up camp for a few more days, a team from Red Frog Events, Firefly’s parent company based in Chicago, have been in town for weeks, turning the 105 acres beside Del. 1 into a festival wonderland.

“This is year five and every year we have faced unique challenges during set-up but this year things are going great,” said Firefly Director of Talent and Experience Christiane Pheil Wednesday afternoon.

“But we always have a few buffer days in place in case we run into any bad weather or other challenges.”

The set-up team’s task is a huge one –– not only constructing four large performance stages but also a marketplace and huge food court along with hanging hammocks and erecting tents and smaller stages, all before decorating the grounds in what has become Firefly’s iconic green hues.

In stages

The four large stages –– The Firefly Main Stage, The Lawn, The Backyard and The Porch are accompanied by three smaller ones, The Pavilion, The Coffee House and The Treehouse.

These smaller stages will feature emerging artists and host intimate sessions with established musicians as well. Finding new and emerging talent takes serious research and is a specialty with the team at Red Frog.

“They do their best keeping their ear to the ground, following music blogs, who’s opening for touring groups and from there we see who’s available,” Ms. Pheil said.

Ronnie Billhimer with Outdoor Geek places a cot in a tent at the Firefly Glamping site in the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway on Friday.

Ronnie Billhimer with Outdoor Geek places a cot in a tent at the Firefly Glamping site in the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway on Friday.

The new and emerging “discovery” artists will for the most part be featured on the Porch Stage –– a shift from last year when they were on the now-eliminated Forest Stage that turned out to be much more popular than anticipated.

This year, the Coffee House and Treehouse will be the spots to see short and intimate shows by bands and artists who are also featured on the bigger stages so fans will have the chance to get up close and personal with artists like Grouplove, Nathaniel Rateliff and St. Lucia.

“Although our focus is indie rock, we don’t only go with one genre. We also look at hip-hop, electronica and more mainstream acts too because we want there to be something for everyone,” Ms. Pheil added.

And as Firefly remains a radio-friendly festival, there’s bound to be at least one band everyone has heard of, especially performers on the Main Stage and the headliners who close the festival each night.

The Main Stage is of course the host of each night’s headliners, which this year will be Two Door Cinema Club, Kings of Leon, Florence + the Machine, Deadmau5 and Mumford & Sons.

“A lot of festivals will have multiple bands playing at the same time as the headliner but we try not to do that because we like the sense of community that comes with everyone gathering together for one last act of the day after a long day at the festival,” Ms. Pheil said.

“We like for it to be a time when everyone can get together and enjoy the company and music.”

Legend-less

Even though Red Frog does its best to pick headliners everyone loves, it’s not always easy to get the biggest acts around –– especially when you have acts like 2015’s headliner Paul McCartney to live up to.

“I’m most excited to see Two Door Cinema Club, St. Lucia and Mumford & Sons but I think the headliners this year are not as strong as they’ve been in years past,” said Firefly veteran Brendan Condon of Dover.

“But then again how can you beat Paul McCartney?”

Choosing talent, especially the headliners, can be difficult because a variety of factors come into play.

“There will definitely be more legends in the future, but it comes down to availability and budget,” Ms. Pheil said.

Marcus Mumford will bring the British folk rock band Mumford and Sons to the Firefly Music Festival, closing the event the night of June 19. (Special to the Delaware State News/Michael Muros)

Marcus Mumford will bring the British folk rock band Mumford and Sons to the Firefly Music Festival, closing the event the night of June 19. (Special to the Delaware State News/Michael Muros)

“Paul McCartney is arguably one of the most popular acts in the world but with one show of his, we can turn that money into five shows of other great artists.”

She thinks this year has a more even spread of acts every day and night than last year which mainly brought the focus to the Friday night McCartney concert.

“I feel the lineup is a little weak considering the prices continue to rise,” said Dover’s Jessica Dugan, a regular Firefly festival-goer.

Although four-day pass prices are on the rise, starting at $319 for general admission, $699 for VIP and Super VIP for $2,499, which this year will include a rooftop cabana, attendees can purchase one-day passes this year at $129 for general admission and $249 for VIP –– an option that was not available in 2015 for the first time.

“Every year ticket availability is based on the talent so last year we had Paul McCartney and didn’t sell the one-day passes,” Ms. Pheil said.

“The area around the Main Stage perfectly fits 90,000 people so if we sold the four-day passes then added one-day passes last year, not everyone would be able to see the Main Stage. We’d have to move things around and compromise other stages to accommodate a bigger crowd.”

She added that in the future, one-day passes might not be an option again when bigger acts like Mr. McCartney are booked.

“I think we can safely say that Firefly will see more legends in the future,” Ms. Pheil said.

“People have come to see Firefly as a reliable and capable festival so they can count on different and bigger acts in the coming years.”

More than music

Firefly is a festival about more than the music though. It’s about the experience and Ms. Pheil said Red Frog puts plenty of thought into making the experience unique and memorable every year.

Some of the most obvious changes returning attendees will notice will be aesthetic.

“We’re not an arts festival like Coachella but we put more attention into the visuals this year,” Ms. Pheil said.

“We’ve never had art installations before, but we are bringing in some art that is functional for seating and shade.”

Like last year, officials are expecting upwards of 90,000 people to attend this week’s Firefly Music Festival at the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway. (Delaware State News file photo)

Like last year, officials are expecting upwards of 90,000 people to attend this week’s Firefly Music Festival at the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway. (Delaware State News file photo)

Everyone at the festival will need to eat at some point and whether they’re carnivorous, gluten-free or totally plant-based, there should be plenty of meal options at the Woodlands.

“Just like when we’re choosing artists by following music trends, we do the same with food. The trends show more people going gluten-free and many are cutting back or eliminating meat so we accommodate that,” Ms. Pheil said.

“Although the festival is about music, we want to have great food too.”

And the food has never been your generic chicken fingers and fries typically found at festivals –– the restaurants will offer gourmet fare ranging from spicy chorizo flatbread to crispy spiced coconut yogurt.

“I’m excited Between the Bread will be there again. They have a grilled cheese –– Grown Up Grilled Cheese –– with tomatoes and pickles that is ridiculously good, and I hate pickles,” Ms. Dugan said.

“I’m really bummed that Island Noodles won’t be there this year. They were my favorite,” Mr. Condon said.

“But Sweet Tooth is coming back and they have the best ice cream sandwiches.”

Drinks will be on tap from Red Bull; coffee at The Coffee House; craft beer at The Brewery by Dogfish Head and The Beercade; liquor at The Malibu Beach House and The Ketel One Kitchen and; wine at The Vineyard by Darkhorse .

“As long as I have my sunblock, lots of water and the occasional Midas Touch from Dogfish, I’m good to go,” Mr. Condon said.

Activities on the ground will again include a silent disco in The Thicket and tucked away in Hammock Hangout. By venturing to The Hub behind the Main Stage, one will find volleyball, another Hammock Hangout and even morning yoga sessions.

As Firefly has become one of the East Coast’s most popular music festivals, Red Frog is expecting plenty of national coverage this year such as Sirius XM’s Alt Nation, which will be live streaming at the event.

Also new this year, the New Sound Brass Band from Philadelphia, will be leading second line parades through the campgrounds, taking festival goers right to the gates of The Woodlands as they open each day.

Prior to the 5 p.m. opening on Thursday, the band will be at the Northeast Hub Stage for a kickoff show before parading festival folks into Firefly.

The group will be at a different campsite each day to kick off the fun.

Ready for anything

Just as the set-up can encounter weather challenges, the four-day festival can encounter its fair share of obstacles as well.

“The past few years we encountered some unfavorable weather leading up to and during the festival, but I think we were effectively able to manage all of it,” Ms. Pheil said.

FESTIVAL HOURS Thursday: 5 p.m. - Midnight Friday: Noon - 2 a.m. Saturday: Noon - 2 a.m. Sunday: Noon - Midnight

FESTIVAL HOURS
Thursday: 5 p.m. – Midnight
Friday: Noon – 2 a.m.
Saturday: Noon – 2 a.m.
Sunday: Noon – Midnight

Last year, a late-night storm caused the first site evacuation, which cleared the grounds in less than an hour. Attendees received a notification from the Firefly app and announcements were made at each stage about the evacuation.

“I think we had a solid plan and it was incredibly efficient,” Ms. Pheil said. “Moving 90,000 people out of the festival that quickly was amazing. We were really happy with the result.”

The 2015 festival also faced heavy rain in the days preceding the festival, creating very muddy conditions within the Woodlands.

But since last year, Red Frog has done substantial work upgrading the pathways and even installing a drainage system to help prevent ankle-deep mud in the instance of rain and storms.

Preparation for weather emergencies, infrastructure, talent and the festival itself isn’t an overnight process. Ms. Pheil estimated each Firefly Music Festival takes approximately 14 months to plan.

Before any of the music rings around this year, planning for 2017 is already underway.

The talent scouts are leading the way, already looking into the availability of artists for next summer in Dover.

For tickets and more information, visit fireflyfestival.com.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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