Friday, June 21 marked the first day of summer -- and the first day of Firefly, the Northeast's largest open-air festival.
Tens of thousands of people flooded the The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway in Delaware over June 21-23, eagerly soaking up the sights and sounds of the notoriously alt-leaning fest, which also boasted impressive dance (Kygo, Zedd) and hip-hop (Post Malone, Gucci Mane) lineups.
The fest was fully acquired by AEG Presents last year, and for 2019, attendees saw revamped stages and lighting improvements, as well as massive campground renovations and new upgrades like the Front Row Viewing Pass.
As for the music, Thursday night's campsite pre-shows were a little rainy, but the skies cleared by Friday afternoon, and it was smooth-sailing throughout the weekend for sets from X Ambassadors, Panic! At The Disco, King Princess, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Vampire Weekend and more.
Here are some highlights from the festival.
Rock Is Definitely Not Dead, Panic! At The Disco Return to the Stage After Two Months Off On Friday
SHAED first played an afternoon set at the Toyota Music Den, which included an excellent cover of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” Fan spilled out and around the small tent, which is known for booking sets for rising acts, giving them the opportunity to play another set in addition to their main one. There was also an impassioned singalong when the Washington, D.C. band played “Trampoline,” their Alternative Songs No. 1.
In the late afternoon, TLC held down the Firefly main stage with “Waterfalls.” You could hear the hit from much anywhere in the large field, and festivalgoers were spotted dancing far and wide.
For the inaugural Woodlands Supper Club, Philadelphia chef Alex Garfinkel cooked an incredible gourmet tasting menu for a few dozen foodies gathered under an enormous teepee. Dogfish Head Brewery beer and spirit pairings rounded out the meal, which lasted long enough for the communal table to have a perfect view of AWOLNATION’s set on the main stage (Obviously, it included an extended version of “Sail.”)
Canadian electronic duo Bob Moses took to the Prism Stage as the sun began to dip below the treeline. “Now that we ushered in the sunset, we’ll take it down a little bit,” lead singer Tom Howie told the crowd. Actually, they turned it up, with bangers like “Nothing But You” and "Tearing Me Up" in the rotation.
Later on the Treehouse Stage, SHAED frontwoman Chelsea Lee underwent an outfit change, switching from her earlier multicolored tulle dress into an edgy black bra top and cargo pants. The set featured some of the trio’s most vocally-demanding songs, such as “Melt,” “Perfume” and a cover of Hozier’s “Take Me To Church.” Lee commented, “I know there are a lot of options, so thank you for chilling with us.”
X Ambassadors, returning to the festival for the third time, drew a massive crowd to the Lawn Stage. Recent K.Flay collaboration "Confidence" sounded beautiful under the stars, and favorites like "Unsteady" and "Low Life" inspired cheers. At one point, frontman Sam Harrris promised the band would keep fighting for human and equal rights, and encouraged people from all walks of life to believe in themselves, including LGBTQIA fans. “It’s Pride Month, baby!” he yelled before launching into their biggest hit, “Renegade.”
Panic! At The Disco closed out Friday with an epic headlining set, which was also the band's first show since wrapping up a world tour in Germany on April 4. It was like they hadn’t been gone for a minute, with frontman Brendon Urie nailing every note (and cheeky dance move). “The three times a year when we’re off the road that I leave my house, I love it. It’s all because of you guys. Without you, it’s just practice,” he told the audience. Urie also wished everyone “a happy Pride Month” before “Girls/Girls/Boys,” and paid tribute to one of his icons, Freddie Mercury, with a stunning piano cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The crowd was so large that during last song “High Hopes,” he looked utterly dumbfounded, but that quickly turned into a grin as confetti cannons went off. One in a million, indeed.
Alt-Pop Rules, Andrew McMahon Crowd Surfs in a Flamingo On Saturday
At a few minutes past noon, the North Hub Beach Club -- part of the festival’s newly-upgraded camping experience -- was already bumping. French DJ/producer Klingande put on a midday beach party for campers, with the help of a talented a saxophone/violin player. The North Hub Beach Club also featured volleyball, a giant water slide, food trucks and a tiki bar. Not a terrible way to start the day.
On the Pandora Hideaway Stage, New York City singer Max surprised fans by bringing out his pal and collaborator Quin XCII for a lively performance of their duet “Love Me Less.” “Firefly, it’s a sunny day, and we got a sax player,” Max later commented, introducing his Party Pupils collab: “This one’s called ‘Sax On The Beach’!” Finally, the singer delivered a stunning rendition of his hit “Lights Down Low,” prefacing it with an inclusive message: “Love is what we preach every night, whether you are gay, straight, bisexual, transgender.”
With the whole band wearing coordinating racing outfits, Joywave mowed the Lawn Stage with special brand of electronic indie rock. The band ran through favorites like “Doubt” and “Tongues,” but refused to play their new song “Like a Kennedy.” Why? Because it was “only 24 hours old” and would be “a miserable experience for us both,” as frontman Daniel Armbruster joked, encouraging everyone to go home and listen to it instead.
Back at the Pandora Hideaway Stage, singer-songwriter Alec Benjamin treated fans to “Let Me Down Slowly” and “The Boy In The Bubble,” plus the live debut of his most recent release, “Must Have Been The Wind.” “This is my first time in Delaware, and it’s pretty awesome,” he told the audience. The Phoenix, Arizona native later played an acoustic set in the Toyota Music Den, too.
King Princess (Brooklyn's Mikaela Straus) took her rightful place on the Firefly main stage, strutting around in a pair of leopard-print pants. She played “Upper West Side,” “Cheap Queen” and unreleased songs like "Prophet," teasing her yet-to-be-announced debut studio album throughout the set. Straus also informed the crowd that her keyboardist Melody is now a college graduate -- “get your titties out for the college grad” -- which resulted in cheers and applause.
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness took from every corner of frontman Andrew McMahon’s extensive catalog for their Lawn Stage set, pleasing AMITW, Something Corporate and Jack's Mannequin fans alike. McMahon, per usual, didn’t do a great job of staying in his seat as he played his sticker-covered piano for the Jack’s songs “Bruised” and “Dark Blue.” For AMITW hits like “Ohio” and “Fire Escape,” McMahon utilized the stage, barricade walkways and the crowd itself, even taking a ride over the pit in a giant inflatable pink flamingo for "Don't Speak For Me (True)." He also donned a cape and sunglasses for "Cecilia and the Satellite," which was written for his now 5-year-old daughter Cecilia.
Indie pop upstarts Half Alive brought along a violinist, cellist and two backup dancers, making for some unforgettable performances on the shady Treehouse Stage. The trio (lead singer Josh Taylor, drummer Brett Kramer and bassist J Tyler Johnson) experienced a few sound issues during the set, but by show-stopping closer “Still Feel,” all was well.
Alt rockers Young the Giant wrapped up the evening for those festivalgoers who weren’t planning to continue to headliner Travis Scott’s set, and they did a damn good job of it. “This is our third festival here in Delaware,” frontman Sameer Gadhia said, explaining that the band played an afternoon set at the first-ever Firefly in 2012. Thanking the crowd for being there again, he added, “We’re Young-the-motherfucking-Giant, baby.” “Cough Syrup,” “My Body” and “Something to Believe In” had the Lawn Stage crowd hollering along, and cuts from their 2018 album Mirror Master, like “Heat of the Summer,” also sounded amazing. Gadhia later became the second artist to wear a cape on the Lawn Stage that day (see: Andrew McMahon), earning cheers as he pulled off a dramatic blue velvet cape decorated with silver mirror shards.
Lovelytheband Celebrate Pride, Vampire Weekend Slay a Sunset Set On Sunday
Lovelytheband drew a sizable crowd for their 2:00 p.m. main stage set, with fans rocking out to catchy tracks like "These Are My Friends," "Broken" and the band’s Dillon Francis collab "Change Your Mind." At one point, frontman Mitchy Collins announced that “every single person here knows this next song,” and the crowd went nuts as the band launched into a cover of The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside.” Collins also wished the audience a happy Pride, saying, “We are fully in support of the LGBT community...the world needs more of that. It needs to be a pride life. I don’t think it should be a pride month, I think it needs to be a pride year...you should be proud of what you feel in your heart every day of your life...we love every single one of you.”
English alt rocker Yungblud matched the pink and blue Prism Stage in a magenta jumpsuit, and gave one of the most energetic sets of the weekend. He ran through fan favorites like “Anarchist,” “Loner” and “Parents,” and by “Machine Gun (F**k the NRA),” some of the front row was moshing.
In the artist’s compound, the Brandywine Valley SPCA was on site with adorable puppies for artists and their crews to destress with. Performers like Max and Dennis Lloyd were spotted playing with the pups, and Bea Miller couldn’t resist adopting one! There was also pop-up barber shop from Idle Hand Collective, an experience co-founded by Alex Levine of The Gaslight Anthem; artists like Yungblud and Bishop Briggs stopped by ahead of their sets for quick trims.
Over on the main stage, Swedish singer Lykke Li performed catchy cuts from her 2018 album So Sad So Sexy, including the title track, “Deep End” and “Sex Money Feelings Die.” It was her 2011 hit "I Follow Rivers," though, that really had the crowd bopping.
Finally, Vampire Weekend proved that they’re one of the tightest bands touring at the moment, thrilling fans with songs from all four of their albums. Backdropped by a giant 3D globe, they repped their self-titled ("Oxford Comma," "A-Punk"), Contra ("Horchata," "Cousins"), Modern Vampires of the City ("Hannah Hunt," "Ya Hey"), and of course Father of the Bride, now about two months old. And just when you thought frontman Ezra Koenig was too talented to possibly be an actual human, he paused to squint in the fading sunlight and comment, “I kind of regret not wearing sunglasses.” A tech saved the day by bringing him the “most stylish pair of sunglasses” lying around backstage, and the show went on. Perhaps most notably, FOTB cut “Sunflower” received an extended jam session, with an incredible solo from Brian Robert Jones.