Concert Reviews

What’s at the Heart of Dover’s Firefly Festival?

Highlights and hesitancy from 2019.

By Arshon Howard 

Delaware’s annual Firefly Festival continues to be an event that excites the First State. It gives artists from all genres a chance to either claim or remind people of their positions on the charts.

Having concluded its eighth year this summer, Firefly is starting to grow accustomed to the national spotlight, which is both a blessing and a curse for the festival. 

On one hand, the festival hopes to keep transcending state lines and be mentioned in the same breath as Coachella, but on the other hand, fans miss the intimate musical setting Firefly used to be in Dover. It’s a balancing act that Firefly hasn’t seemed to figure out yet. 

The Acts

Headliners for this year’s three-day festival this past June included Travis Scott, Post Malone, and Panic! At The Disco.

“This is my third time out here, and it did feel a little different than I remember,” said Trevor Payne, who made the trip from his home state of Cincinnati. “I think the music got better since the last time I was here, as they went all out with the big acts with Travis Scott, Post Malone, and Panic! At The Disco.”

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“Those are some real heavy hitters. You can’t get much bigger than that. But everything just seems bigger than before. The last time I was here it just seemed more intimate in a sense.”

AEG Presents, already a majority holder in Firefly, acquired the remaining ownership shares of the festival last summer from Red Frog Events, a Chicago-based event company.

Since then, AEG — the concert promoter behind events such as Coachella and Stagecoach in Southern California, Panorama Festival in New York City and 8,000 other concerts a year — has handled promotion and production at Firefly.

“That explains a lot,” Payne said. “It did kind of have the Coachella feel this year. Before it felt like a small festival just enlarged, but this time with all the big acts it seemed like way larger than it normally felt.” 

Tyler, The Creator’s performance seemed to be a fan favorite among attendees. Nothing could top his wild energy as he jumped across stage in his neon green outfit. He seemed to enjoy every moment of his performance. You can read more about it here.

Post Malone also had the crowd singing along to every lyric during his set. His energy and performance awed everyone. But not all the headliners sold the audience.

“I was a little disappointed in Travis Scott,” said Dover resident Dos Bethea. “He under-performed to me. His set was too short.”

It has been a big year for Travis after dropping his critically acclaimed album Astroworld. However, he only performed three songs from his latest album at Firefly. The fans felt as though he should have stepped up to the moment and delivered a better performance, especially as a headliner. 

The Risk

Nonetheless, that’s the risk that Firefly was willing to take this year. Perhaps next year’s choice of performers will indicate if it paid off or not. 

While Firefly’s “wow factor” has dissipated over the past eight years, its musical bookings seem to be what’s changed the most, pushing out older fans and encouraging more baby-faced party-starters.

But even hard-hitting recent lineups including the Weeknd haven’t been able to match the drawing power of the 80,000 who came for Foo Fighters in 2014 and the 90,000 for Paul McCartney in 2015. These acts have gone down in Delaware history as some of the best at Firefly.

Even with big-name headliners like John Legend, Snoop Dogg, Muse, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Mumford & Sons, the festival used to have an array of other artists that were a mix of unknown, bubbling, and already established.

Before Kendrick became the superstar he is today, he performed at the festival and later headlined there in 2017. Rappers Schoolboy Q and Logic were relativity unknown when they performed, but watching and finding those type of artists is what some fans seem to miss about the festival. 

“This is my fifth year,” Bethea said. “I think the lineup overall got bigger with some of the bigger names, but I think the level of talent went down.”

By most accounts, the eighth annual Firefly Music Festival was another exciting time for attendees, but for some longtime festival goers, they sensed a change this year and weren’t sure how they felt about it. 

Firefly has been a space for bubbling artists on the rise. Will the festival stick to what it’s known for to please its core fan base, or will it try to reach larger masses, deal with the complaints of change, and become a staple festival that is universally recognizable? The choice is in AEG’s hands, as it’s a decision that can make or break the festival moving forward. 

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