Firefly offers 90,000 fans four days of unique experiences

 

DOVER — Firefly 2015 will be remembered for many things: for Paul McCartney, for the largest crowd yet, for the mud that resulted in lost shoes.

For many of the 90,000 people in attendance, it has been an unforgettable weekend, a time of unique experiences.

Disparate groups of people are joined together by music as tens of thousands flock to Dover, helping put the tiny city on the map nationally, at least for a weekend.

There was much to be glad about — but as always, not everything can be controlled or planned for.

Mud, mud, mud

In 2014, it was dust. In 2015, it was mud.

The rain on Thursday flooded some tents and led to a muddy mess across The Woodlands over the next two days. People struggled to keep their balance — and their footwear.

Shoes and sandals were abandoned, sacrificed to the unforgiving mud. The Pathway, the small clearing between trees leading to the main area in the back, was particularly problematic, with several shoes left sitting in the mud.

Jacob Roberts, of Sterling, Virginia, preferred the dust that plagued festivalgoers in 2014 to this year’s mud. Organizers should have prepared better by putting down sand, he said.

But while the mud vexed a number of fans, others did not mind.

“We planned ahead,” said Lindsay Dixon, of Savage, Maryland. “We brought crappy shoes that we could destroy.”

Ms. Dixon said she had seen individual shoes sitting in the mud and speculated with a laugh that the owners had continued on walking with only a single shoe.

Parker Strand, of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, said the ground made it challenging to walk around in some areas, but “if you don’t mind getting dirty, it’s not a big deal.”

By Saturday afternoon, some of the muddy areas had dried up, a result of the heat. However, with rain possible today, the last day of Firefly 2015 could be a scene of slick, dirty disarray for the fans remaining.

Water

While many fans were thankful for the drier weather Friday and much of Saturday, some were still left wishing there was more water. Only, they were thinking of drinkable water.

According to Ms. Dixon, a refilling station for fans with water bottles was not working.

“Well, we went to go fill up at one of the three stations they had and it was completely shut down,” she said. “They just said it was broken.”

She expressed concern for the many attendees who, due to alcohol, drugs and the heat, needed to stay hydrated or risk passing out or becoming sick.

”Everyone needs water but especially these dumb kids,” she said.

Texting, browsing and selfie-taking — oh my!

With nearly 100,000 people packed in tight in what is normally a forest clearing, cell phone service is hard to come by at times.

In that respect, Firefly can be almost like a separate world, one cut off from civilization.

Texts are frequently returned with the frustrating message that they could not be delivered. Internet slows to a crawl. People checking their phones all too often see the dreaded 1x instead of 3G, an indication the signal is weak.

That can happen in extremely rural areas or in places where large crowds are packed in. With the network overloaded, sending a simple “hi” to a friend can become very difficult.

It’s not unique to Firefly — the same thing can happen at sporting events or other sites where thousands upon thousands of cell phone users are present.

Sheldon Jones, Verizon Wireless’ public relations manager for the Philadelphia region, said Verizon brought in two trucks known as “cell sites on wheels,” with staffers monitoring them 24/7.

According to Mr. Jones, Verizon handled more than 1 million connections on the 4G LTE, a result of fans using social media, taking photos and browsing the web.

“The bottom line is that we’re always looking to stay ahead of the expected usage demands, and — like the great artists performing at the concert — we make sure our ‘instruments’ (wireless network assets) are finely tuned to provide our customers with a great service experience,” he said.

AT&T also set up temporary service providers, according to festival organizers.

But even the best efforts of organizers and providers could not overcome all the challenges. Several attendees reported service that was shaky at best, cutting in and out.

Friday night by the main stage, with thousands upon thousands of fans gathered in to watch Paul McCartney, at least one attendee with Verizon was unable to browse the Internet and send texts due to poor service.

The next day, Ms. Dixon observed she was unable to tweet, and Mr. Strand said he had difficulties sending text messages to friends at the festival.

Firefly did have some designated Wi-Fi areas, and Mr. Roberts noted he was able to use his phone in certain spots on the grounds.

Columbus, Ohio, native Michael Babyak said while he did not have a strong signal, he was able to send messages.

Mr. Strand praised the Firefly app, which provided users with a portable map, a schedule of the performers and other details.

While he enjoyed himself and said he plans to make a second trip come next June 2016, he has a change in mind.

“I don’t know how they can fix cell phone reception but definitely that,” Mr. Strand said, when asked how organizers could improve the experience.

Camping

With the rain becoming an unwelcome visitor Thursday night, some fans reported issues with camping. Social media told stories of tents quickly filling up with water and mud, with photographs providing proof.

At the festival with Mr. Babyak, Amber Harris, of Columbus, Ohio, said she was disappointed in the campgrounds.

“They’re just really unorganized,” she said. “We got here and they’re just like, ‘Go find a place, good luck, it’s packed.’”

Let them eat cake

Firefly is keeping Dover baker Tiffanee Lee-Scott busy rattling pans in her shop at 147 S. Governors Ave. Ms. Lee-Scott said caterer Andrew Cohen contacted her to order cakes from her Tiffanee & Co. Bakery.

The order includes 10 cakes for Steve Aoki, who performs at midnight tonight on the Backyard Stage.

“Some will be decorated with inspiration from his clothing line, while others will be decorated with his face,” she said via email Friday night. “They’ll all differ in some way.”

Ms. Lee-Scott, who opened her bakery less than a year ago, is excited for the opportunity. “I think it’s great to let the community know that … small businesses can step up to the plate for wonderful events of this magnitude.”

Staff writer Matt Bittle can be reached at 741-8250 or mbittle@newszap.com. Follow @MatthewCBittle on Twitter.

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