By Saturday at Firefly, one of the largest festivals on the East Coast , nearly 100,000 people purposefully streamed down shut-down highways and across closed bridges. I drove some 15 miles more than GPS thought I needed to, just to get from one side of Dover, DE (pop. 37,000) to the other.
Saturday seemed fraught with a higher percentage of rap, hip hop and electronica than Friday or Sunday, but with seven stages—most of them major-league—I still had plenty of Americana-type choices, and enjoyed just walking around the huge campus. One guy with pedometer told me he walked over ten miles that day.
Moon Taxi, new to this writer, comes out of Nashville, but on their second set of the day, this time on the tiny Treehouse Stage, their songs reminded me of early Van Morrison, with attitude. They launched into a slow, deliberate version of Hendrix’s “All Along the Watchtower,” with a stunning extended guitar/keyboard jam. As the full moon rose between the trees, fans lying in the scores of public hammocks hung from the trees adjacent to the stage had the treat of the night.
Spending a fair part of the day exploring, this well-organized festival sports food vendors worthy of a United Nations. Regional Mexican, Indian, Asian and Italian vendors vied with and good old American comfort food and all the stuff nutritionists warn us about but we crave anyway. Pop-up carts of Budweiser, popcorn, water and Italian ices punctuated the fields, in case you couldn’t make it a few hundred yards to the semi-permanent stalls of pizza, regional Mexican, etc.. Hot and sunny for the duration, several of the huge art installations became stopping posts for those seeking a few minutes relief before heading to the next adventure.
Eagles Nest Outfitters set up a couple hundred of their single and double hammocks on a first-come basis, but of course that wasn’t enough for all the tired souls, so many people, including Elmore, got one of their very own, and we stacked ourselves like highrise apartments among the trees. At one point there were so many ENO hammocks strung up in copses that it was hard to tell the freebies from the proprietary beds; sharing was a necessity, and I found it amazing how many ways two people can relax in a hammock (see below for just a few of them…).
On the Main Firefly Stage, fans saw a very different English gal than Elle Goulding leading a band. In a diaphanous gown that left her appearing nearly naked, Florence Welch, of Florence and the Machine, incessantly ran, skipped and floated her way back and forth between stage left and right, singing her heart out all the while. As in their videos, Florence performed a number of modern, interpretive dances, notably on and never really stopped her aerobics for more than a minute or two during the 90-minute show.
One telling remark from the young fans around me: “It’s hard to sing along because she does it differently [than the record].” I’ve since repeated this comment to several musicians and stalwart music fans, and, to a man, they winced.
Welch’s powerful vocals brim with passion and she engages the audience with more than the rock cliché “How’re you doin’ [Insert venue name here]!” A few tunes in, for example, Florence asked everyone to put away their cellphones, and spoke about being in the moment and connecting one-on-one, without filters. She didn’t employ the usual one sentence, “Hey guys, let’s put our phones down,” she made a three-minute argument on the value of being in the moment and connecting directly, without filters, and then sang their megahit “How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful,” perhaps not even realizing she described Firefly to a T.