Firefly Festival, Pt. 1

Dover, DE, June 16-20

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One of the largest festivals on the East Coast and the US, Firefly takes over the tiny capital of Dover, Delaware (also tiny, and the first state), and interjects nearly 100,000 people, 60,000 of whom put down temporary roots in tents and RVs. Miraculously, no one seems the worse for wear.

This year’s lineup featured a huge percentage of Pond-crossers; Brits like Elle Goulding, Florence and the Machine and Mumford & Sons seemed to dominate the Main Stage like a second British Invasion, but like the first Invasion, the music stood all-American tall.

After a low-key opening and a bit of rain on Thursday, things got into full swing Friday, with both the weather and music heading for a perfect peak on Sunday night. Aussies Tame Impala brought their head-bending tunes, Irish wanna-be’s Flogging Molly punked up the huge Lawn Stage, and Of Monsters and Men lit up the massive Backyard Stage with Iceland’s own version of folk rock to a sea of appreciative fans.

On the Main Stage, Elle Goulding dressed up her hugely popular songs with a topnotch band which poured energy into her act like Niagara Falls. The gal is nothing if not a professional, I’ll give her that: well-choreographed moves and constant Brittney-Spears-like hair-flips distracted us from how exquisitely manufactured her set turned out. Hunky tattooed dancers flanked Goulding for much of her housewifely dance moves as she side-stepped across the stage in camping boots. Thanks to the glam closeups on the Jumbotron, we could almost read Goulding’s mind as she went through the “What’s next?” list in her head—this woman knows to her core that onstage, it’s show business, not show fun. At the onset of the encore, for the first time, Goulding showed genuine joy, rather than concentration. Maybe it was the home stretch mentality. The sad thing is, she’s got some really solid songs, but the pop delivery and over-produced nature of the show overshadows their worth. The three young mothers who stood next to me won’t believe a word of this, of course…they want to join Goulding’s show and go on the road.

Kings of Leon were bounced from Firefly’s closing spot last year by a tornado and the ensuing emergency evacuation. A family band of mostly clean-cut guys very, very serious about making music, the Kings came back in 2016 with a vengeance, cranking up loud, balls-out rock and roll. Starting “Back Down South,” about six songs in, for example, something went awry and lead vocalist Caleb Followill had the band start over, saying “I like this song, and I don’t want to play it like this,” and on the second try, tore it up. Most mortals won’t admit an error to their significant other, but this band cares enough to correct themselves in front of some 60,000 people who pay their wages. This is a band, people. A personal favorite, “Knocked Up,” with its relentless heartbeat rhythm, razor harmonies and crowed-friendly chorus included long passages of nothing but the rhythm section of bubblegum-blowing Nathan (drums) and Jared (bass) Followill. Their live performances always kick butt, and this long-delayed set truly raised the bar.

—Suzanne Cadgène

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