Kent County music festivals singing a happy tune

The Swon Brothers perform on the main stage at this year's Delaware Junction country music festival in Harrington.  (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

The Swon Brothers perform on the main stage at this year’s Delaware Junction country music festival in Harrington. (Special To The Delaware State News/Gary Emeigh)

DOVER –– The Greater Kent Committee heard from the organizers of Firefly, Big Barrel and Delaware Junction music festivals at its Friday meeting, and there was nothing but good news.

Mike Tatoian, president and CEO of Dover International Speedway, home of Firefly and Big Barrel, said Firefly is now in the top 10 among the largest music festivals in the country and is the biggest one for camping.

In 2015, of the 90,000 attendees, about 70,000 camped. Although ticket sales were high in 2015, Mr. Tatoian said he expects them to be capped below 100,000 for future festivals.

“The real challenge this year was that we had about 10 inches of rain so we lost a lot of property and parking simply because they were flooded or just too wet,” he said.

“So that’s why there was more of a crowded feeling this year, but I don’t see us increasing the number of tickets available unless we are able to acquire more land to accommodate more people.”

Mr. Tatoian said the key to Firefly’s success since 2012 has been the three-way cooperation between Dover International Speedway, Red Frog (the festival producer) and the community.

He also attributes the success in part to luck. He explained that Red Frog was searching for a location to host a festival on the east coast and Dover was the last location vetted out of 11 sites in nine states.

“We didn’t know what we were getting into and suggested to hold the festival inside the track,” Mr. Tatoian said. “But they said ‘no’ and moved it out

Gov. Jack Markell braved the hot temperatures, high humidity, rain and crowds at this year's Firefly Music Festival in Dover. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

Gov. Jack Markell braved the hot temperatures, high humidity, rain and crowds at this year’s Firefly Music Festival in Dover. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

to Lot 10 which they renamed the Woodlands and turned this open space into an experience and it’s just gotten bigger and better every year.”

The first Big Barrel Country Music Festival, held in June the weekend after Firefly, appears to have a bright future as well.

It’s a quick turnover between festivals but better in terms of time and money to hold back-to-back weekend events rather than take down and rebuild the entire festival infrastructure.

Mr. Tatoian noted the high-profile acts, such as headliners Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood, the festival was able to host despite it being only the first year.

“Red Frog is committed to top-level talent because that’s what gets anyone to go to a music festival,” Mr. Tatoian said.

“You can’t always get exactly what you want because of scheduling conflicts but they do an amazing job.”

Mr. Tatoian pointed out some differences in the turnout for the two Woodlands events, mostly in demographics. Firefly’s attendance was 88 percent 34 years old and younger (average age 28) while 43 percent of Big Barrel’s attendees were 40 years and older (average age 38). Big Barrel didn’t only have an older population, it also had a heavier female presence with 65 percent of ticketholders being women while Firefly was a 50/50 split.

Firefly also drew many more out-of-state visitors, with only 15 percent of attendees from Delaware while Big Barrel saw 41 percent Delawareans.

Also attending the Greater Kent meeting was Alex Pires, coordinator of the Delaware Junction Country Music Festival, held at the Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington in August. Although it was too soon to bring any statistics like the Red Frog events, Mr. Pires had good news to report.

“I don’t have any complaints about how things went at Delaware Junction,” he said. “Everything went great under the planning of Live Nation and I’m already looking forward to next year because I know it will be even better.”

He said the one primary area he’d like to improve upon is the VIP experience.

“We were very focused on making sure that general admission ticket holders got the very most out of their experience, that we didn’t make the accommodations for VIP guests as good as they could have been.”

Despite the competition with Big Barrel held a few weeks earlier than Delaware Junction, Mr. Pires thinks there’s room for everyone to be successful.

“In Dewey Beach, there’s 29 liquor licenses and everyone does well and I think the same goes for our music festivals; there’s enough room for everybody,” said Mr. Pires, who owns Dewey Beach venues such as Rusty Rudder and Bottle & Cork.

“We are putting Kent County on the map too now with more music festivals than any other county in the country.”

“Who would have thought that Kent County would become the Nashville of the Northeast?” Mr. Tatoian said.

All three festivals will be held on the same weekends next year they were held this year with Firefly June 16-19, Big Barrel June 24-26 and Delaware Junction the third weekend of August.

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

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