Firefly Festival: The Last Bastion of the Hippie

Neal Gee
July 27, 2012

Editor’s Note: A few months ago, Neal Gee approached me and asked if I wanted to go to Dover, Delaware to see the Firefly Festival. I passed because I felt it was too much money to spend on bands I wasn’t that fond of. I knew, however, that Neal was probably going to come back with a positive review that was going to make me jealous that I didn’t go. On Saturday afternoon, I received this text and knew I was missing out.


Figure 1: Neal Gee's gibberish text message.
Figure 1: Neal Gee’s gibberish text message.

As a former hippie, I can attest to the standing of this class in American society: currently one level below the untouchables of the caste system of India. This is quite unfortunate; I have never partied with cooler, friendlier, and nicer people. That is why any event such as the Firefly Festival that brings the hippies together in such numbers is a must attend in my book.

But let me back up and qualify my standing in the hippie community. Our friend Matt once took me to play disc golf at Sedgely in Fairmont Park, Philadelphia, and after that round I proudly proclaimed myself to be a “new hippie.” I was bowled over by their hospitality, sense of wanting to have a good time, and to be left alone, not hassled by a pseudo-capitalist society. This lasted about two weeks until the joke had run its course, but I feel an intimate bond with my brethren forever. In fact, I would argue that disc golf has quite a lot in common with music festivals, namely 1) they are both frequented by hippies, 2) there is an abundance of weed, 3) ditto with alcohol, and 4) the actual event is secondary to the weed and alcohol. I would therefore claim that the Firefly Festival is in fact the world largest disc golf gathering. Praise be to Ken Climo.

I’ll return to this analogy later, but for those of you living outside the mid-Atlantic region of the US and are randomly reading this article, let me expound the Firefly Festival. It was a 3-day event held at Dover Downs in Dover, Delaware July 20-22, 2012. This was the inaugural event, and there exists controversy of whether this event will be back on a permanent basis [see http://www.delawareonline.com/…/Will-Firefly-Music-Festival-back-]. The event brought together around 50 bands to perform roughly twelve hours of music each day. Headliners included The Killers, The Black Keys, and Jack White. Second tier included John Legend, Silversun Pickups, Modest Mouse, Death Cab, The Flaming Lips, and many more. Obviously this was a major event, and a gather of relevant alternative and indie rock bands from the 2000s sprinkled with the occasional R&B and Hip Hop act. If you’re truly curious to know all of the acts, go here: http://fireflyfestival.com/.

I’m not going to bore you with a review of each band I saw, but rather hand out the first ever Brutal Horse awards in various “horse racing” categories. Before doing so, I’d like to complete my discussion over the hippie culture. Yes, there were the usual stereotypes, girls with hoola-hoops, tie dyed clothes made of hemp, copious amounts of weed, but there were the other intangible aspects that make this a haven for this chosen class of people. For example, the silent nods of appreciation when one hippie happens upon another. The invitations to sit down on that blanket and toke with new friends. The sharing of a beer with the random stranger. The guy coming up to me and asking if I had any “E” or “Molly” (ecstasy or acid for uninitiated). Hey man, they just want to have a good time. And that, my friends, is why we should all embrace our inner hippie and attend more music festivals and play more disc golf. Now on to the awards.

The Winner by a Nose

The Killers. Unlike the bullshit academy awards, we’re going to get the top award out of the way first. Musically, I’ve always been a huge fan of the Killers. I have all of their albums and can recite many of their songs by heart. Even when Brandon Flowers recorded his dubious solo album, I was digging his stuff. At Firefly they played all the fan favorites, introduced new music from their forthcoming album that didn’t suck, and put on one hell of a lights and fireworks show. Unless you had no pulse, you were standing up screaming at every song. Like them or not, the Killers put on the best show, played the best music, had the biggest audience, and were talked about continuously the next day. I don’t care if you agree with me or not, because I’m the one writing this. Winner by a nose? Probably, as there were numerous good acts both preceding and following them. Read on.

The Boxed Trifecta

Cold War Kids, Death Cab for Cutie, The Flaming Lips. On its own, any one of these three groups would be great to see and worth the price of admission. But imagine watching them back to back to back, and then you’ll realize why they received this prestigious award. Let’s start with the Cold War Kids. You may know them from their debut album Robbers & Cowards or “that band” that opened up for Muse or Death Cab for a while. No more… they’ve had three studio releases, with songs making radio airplay on each album. They are widely recognized as a major act in the alternative rock world, and have such a cool sound fusing rock and jazz and that great voice of Nathan Willett. Death Cab for Cutie on the other hand needs no introduction. Every song they played was a recognizable hit from one of their (too) many albums. Ben Gibbards voice, a little shaky from being ill, still soared high above any rain clouds present during the show. Predictably the fans went nuts over their show, and rightly so. I don’t need to say any more words about this performance. If you haven’t seen Death Cab, you’re missing out. Lastly, we have the Flaming Lips, who are probably best summed up by front man Wayne Coyne when he blurted out this gem: “If you’ve never seen the flaming lips high, you’ve never seen the flaming lips.” Well, I did second hand smoke a ton of weed, so I guess I did see them, and holy balls, what a performance. They really make the show interactive for us hippies. Imagine crazy imagery, weird sounds, and Wayne coming at you in a gigantic hamster ball! Ahhhhh! Not to be forgetten were confetti canons, naked chicks running at you over and over again, smoke screens, disco balls, and of course the psychedelic music. This easily cracks my top five live performances ever seen (number one if you must know was a Coldplay concert in Philly that for some reason just rocked harder than any show I’ve ever been privy to). My only qualm with this band is some of their music is a little too unapproachable. If you bet on this Trifecta, it paid in spades.

The Fix Is In…but you ended up losing the bet because the advice came from a crackpot

Grouplove. I know Grouplove from that one song that’s all over the place: Tongue Tied. But I was talking with this dude, and he swore this would be THE performance of the weekend. So I naively shuffled my way over to the stage, and expecting the performance of the day. First thing I noticed was how many people were waiting to hear them. Okay, I thought, this is going to be good. Next thing I know, they start playing this mediocre song, but the crowd is still going bonkers. Did I miss something? Maybe the next song will be better. Everyone stumbles out of the gate sometimes. Nope, another turd on the field. Finally they play Tongue Tied and I enjoyed it – I didn’t love it – and quite frankly I am sick of hearing it these days. After that it was song after song of mediocrity. Maybe I just missed the boat on this one, but the hot tip I had about this band turned out to be a dud.

The Should have been put out to Pasture…aka Rusty Charlie Syndrome.

Editor’s Note: Rusty Charlie is a horse that passed out on the track on Ray’s Birthday. As the Delaware Park staff attempted to resuscitate him, the crowd went silent and women and children started to cry. Eventually, Rusty Charlie got back on his feat and the crowd loudly exhaled. We all dodged a bullet of accepting the reality of the horrible sport we were watching and betting on. ANYWAY…

The Wallflowers. If you grew up in the 90s you know this band well. It has the pedigree of a thoroughbred. A lead singer son of one of the greatest singer/songwriters ever to live, talented backing band, and catchy songs. Well, that was 1996 when Bringing Down the Horse was released, so it’s time to move on my friends. Nowadays it seems like this band is played only on radio stations that identify with the “adult contemporary” genre, where one often hears Train. Of course they played the two hits off that album (you know the ones; I’m not going to look up the names which I forget right now), but everything else just sounded…dated. And that was before they busted out the new material. In fairness, the handful of 40 and 50 somethings at this festival did enjoy this performance, and I suppose that’s why Firefly invited this band – to try to appeal to a broader audience. Firefly, do us a favor and just let these kind of groups fade into the background. We’ll all be happier in the long run.

The Underated Performer

Korean BBQ Pork Tacos. We have this friend James who, no pun intended, eats like a horse. Anyone who doubts this should go to Dead Presidents and order the Bull Moose, which is an open-faced turkey sandwich on top of a pile of stuffing covered in gravy. Satiated? James wasn’t. So he ordered a second. Something to this day that bartender Karl still talks about. Lucky for Dead Presidents, they were out of Bull Moose and in place James decided to eat “light” and ordered the fish taco dinner. Oh, and don’t forget the three or four 7-11 hotdogs that capped off this evening. James declined my invitation to the festival and lucky for me he did because I believe James would have single handily put this pop-up restaurant out of business in one evening. Those tacos were delectable. The pork melted in your mouth with a delightfully sweet and sour sauce that danced around on your taste buds like a stoned hippie girl with hoola-hoop.

The Best Performance until I saw the Flaming Lips

OK GO. This band just scratched me right where I itched. I didn’t know much about this group before I saw them, but since, I’ve promptly acquired all of their music (legally, of course). Clearly their stage presence was influenced by the Lips, as they are keen on using various interactive props, and they do so quite effectively. In fact, until I saw the Lips perform, this would have been my pick as best performance for the weekend. Nothing more to say.

The Jeremy Rose Award

Jack White. Clearly I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jack White. I’m pretty sure this guy is a genius. His progression in the music industry in a relatively short time is nothing short of remarkable, and the variety of music he makes is equally impressive. Plus you have those delicious stories about him and his ex-wife Meg White. And please don’t tell me how much her drumming stank or anything. You do realize that is the sound Jack wanted, right? In all honestly, I find Jack White to be quite weird and I’m not a huge fan of his, but I wish to recognize an important figure in the arts with this award. And as such, I would put my money on him in any event, much like the jockey Jeremy Rose. Jack White, make ‘em say goodnight.

The Honorable Mention

The Arcade. A free-play arcade featuring classic games from the 80s and 90s? And did you say it was air conditioned? This move could be called pure genius on the part of Firefly. The only issue was getting in; at times the line was longer than the line for the free water, or the line for the Koren BBQ Pork Tacos. I’d like to give a special shout out to two games in particular: Commando and Terminator Two Pinball. First, Commando. If you don’t remember this game then you did not spend enough time in the arcade at your local mall or pizza parlor in the early 90s. Essentially you were a one man wrecking crew dropped into a jungle and there to do one thing: bring pain to the enemy. By the end of a good evening your fingers were sore from hitting the rifle button way too many times but you were oddly satisfied at having killed so many cartoon Charlies. The next game I’d like to mention is the greatest pinball game ever made. Terminate Two built upon the ridiculously successful franchise of the Terminator movies complete with Skynet and horribly digitized Arnold saying “I’ll be back” when you lose a ball. I would have spent all my time just getting reacquainted with this old friend if the music did not beckon. Oddly enough the hippies were nowhere to be found in the Arcade. Oh wait, yes they were. They were just next door in the skeeball tent. God bless them.

The Lovable Loser

Delaware. I’m not patriotic. I don’t root for the US to win in the Olympics, and except for Tiger Woods, all my favorite (current) athletes are from other countries. So when EVERY band quipped, “this is our first time playing in Delaware” I groaned like an old man with a sore prostate. Predictably the rest of the crowd went nuts. This was often followed by the equally annoying line of “you are the first state something something something.” Yes, we know that, thanks for reminding us, band from California. And seriously, what’s with a band having to announce where they are playing? This annoys me to no end. But I’m digressing. Delaware was the loser, but as a Delawarean, I suppose I need to say the loveable loser. Tax free shopping saves the day. How come no band mentioned that?

Postscript

Just announced. Firefly will be back next year! Presale tickets are available July 25. You heard it here first.

neal.gee@brutalhorse.com
ink splash

Jacques Dangereux, app by WildTaters

Check out The Ringer by Camp Dracula,
available now.

The Ringer, album by Camp Dracula