Is Firefly the East Coast’s Answer to Bonnaroo and Coachella?

Kevin J. Ryan

Bonnaroo. Lollapalooza. Coachella. Firefly? That’s the goal for the second-year festival: Get mentioned in the same breath as the largest and most famous in the country. And with the success it’s had in its first year-plus of existence, Firefly might be well on its way.

 

The Atlantic Coast has always lacked a signature festival. While the West is rife with multiday music events, Easterners have had to travel as far as Chicago or Manchester, Tenn., to get their fix. The people of Red Frog Events, an Illinois-based event planning company, recognized this. “We realized there was a market opportunity on the East Coast,” says Stephanie Mezzano, chief operating officer of Red Frog and Firefly’s operations director. Her team at Red Frog scouted locations up and down the seaboard and eventually settled on a secluded, tree-lined spot in Dover, Del.—an area they’ve dubbed “The Woodlands.”

 

“We knew we wanted to create a one-of-a-kind music festival,” Mezzano says. “When we landed there, it kind of all came together.” Company founder Joe Reynolds chose the name Firefly to go with the relaxed, summery motif for which he was striving, and with that, a large-scale festival was born.

 

 

Attendees at the first Firefly festival, held last July, were greeted with Reynolds’ vision. An outdoorsy theme permeated every aspect of the three-day event: Campers could pitch their tents in The Grove or The Hideout; stages had names like The Porch and The Lawn; drinks were served in both an air conditioned tent and a grassy outdoor wine bar. Attendees could also take in the music from hammocks or tethered hot air balloons, in case the ground wasn’t quite their thing. Guests were overwhelmingly impressed with the festival’s organization and cleanliness, which Mezzano cites as a product of both Firefly and the guests themselves. “Our attendees were just fantastic,” she says. “They came and they cleaned up after themselves—and they were happy. We hope that had something to do with the comfortable space that we tried to provide for them.”

 

Despite its tiny name and laid-back culture, the young festival brings in huge-scale talent. Last year, more than 30,000 people came out each day to see a lineup headlined by Jack White, the Black Keys and the Killers. This year’s version, to be held June 21-23, features 71 acts—23 more than last year’s—and includes big names like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, MGMT and Foster the People.

 

While the lineup is rock- and alternative-heavy (the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Vampire Weekend are expected to compete for the final headline slot), Firefly makes sure not to pigeonhole itself into a specific genre. Hip hop acts Kendrick Lamar and Public Enemy have received high billing on this year’s lineup, as have the folksy Alabama Shakes and the Avett Brothers. A number of electronic dance music acts will appear as well. And while city ordinances limited the fledgling festival to an 11 pm end time last year, the music will last until 1 am on Friday and Saturday this time around, with EDM acts like Calvin Harris and Zedd slated for late-night, post-headliner slots. There might even be more to come: Mezzano isn’t discounting the possibility of a late-game addition or two, much like the surprise June signing of Modest Mouse last year. “We’re continually taking a look at that,” she says of potential new additions. “We’ll keep in eye on it.”

Firefly, with its fast success, has already set its target on some of the more well-known brands in the industry. When Bonnaroo announced it would reveal its lineup at noon on February 19, Firefly jumped the Tennessee-based festival by announcing it would unveil its own lineup four hours earlier. The move garnered comparisons between the two festivals, and in the process, it drew considerable hype for Firefly. The plan worked, and the second-year festival exceeded its 2012 total within the first hour of this year’s ticket sales—despite a site-wide server crash caused by the traffic overload.

 

Of course, this all scares attendees of the inaugural Firefly festival, some of whom have taken to its Facebook page to express their concern. With huge crowds, Firefly is at risk of losing the relaxed, homey feeling that made the first version a success. But according to Mezzano, Firefly is just as prepared as it was last year.

 

“We’ll have quite a few new additional experiences that will be announced a few weeks leading up to the festival,” she says. The large number of acts should help spread out the masses, and facilities and amenities will be scaled up as attendance numbers rise.  “It sounds crazy,” Mezzano says, “but we spent so much time talking about port-a-potties. Generally, our practice is to think about how we would feel if we were in the shoes of an attendee. Would we want to wait in line?”

 

With more eyes on The Woodlands this time around, the pressure is on for Firefly to operate without any hitches. If it can replicate its 2012 success on a more massive scale, then the world of music festivals might have its newest major player. Firefly has high ambitions, and nothing—not even portable restrooms—will get in the way. “We would like to be the East Coast’s premier music festival,” Mezzano says. “And I think we’re well on our way to doing that.”

 

Photos: David Davies (Flickr); Kadellar (Wikipedia Commons); Max Knies (Wikipedia Commons).

 

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