Now in its third year, the Firefly Music Festival has grown in size to include 7 stages within the festival grounds and 2 stages in the campgrounds. There will be over 100 acts performing over the weekend, and the estimated attendance for Friday was 80,000 people. Eighty Thousand People! The full effect of a crowd that large could be seen on Friday as you looked out across the sea of people moving from stage to stage. With the Main Stage area now placed in its permanent home at the back of the festival grounds, it did fix some of the mobility difficulties from last year.
I eased into my Friday with local folk singer Lily Mae, the 17 year old with the voice of gold. Her wholesome positivity is that of a young woman in love with life, while her voice and songwriting seem beyond her years. I’m sure I won’t be the first person to nickname her as this generation’s Joni Mitchell. Lily Mae’s cover of Mitchell’s “Morning Morgantown” brought a tear to my eye.
My fellow contributor, Sarah Moore saw Kongos set at the main stage, the band of four brothers originally from South Africa. The band continued to impress, filling the lawn at the main stage despite their early set time. The energy in the songs fed the crowd, pumping them up for the day to come. Part of the way through their set, they brought rapper Mozart out on stage to do a live mash up.
I caught a bit of Cruiser’s set in the Coffeehouse, the four-piece indie pop band from Philadelphia. This was my first time seeing Cruiser and their songs were catchy and fun, the perfect kind of music for a summertime festival. Vic Mensa was another new artist for me, the rapper from Chicago. Before coming to the stage, his DJ got the crowd hyped up for Mensa’s set with old school hip hop. When he came out Mensa was highly energetic and had the crowd chanting along as Mensa rapped about partying, smoking and pleasing the ladies.
Another new band that impressed was Saints of Valory from Austin, Texas. Placed on the Big Break stage, this is a band that within a few year’s time, could be headlining a festival like Firefly. Their anthemic rock and roll seemed to be influenced heavily by U2, with epic songs that created a big sound. During their set, Saints of Valory played a drum-heavy Brazilian inspired song to honor the country where the singer is from.
I headed back to the Main Stage for Iron & Wine, sitting under the shade of some trees as the afternoon heat seemed to hit its high point. Singer/songwriter Sam Beam came to the stage armed with his guitar and said of his songs, “we only have an hour… let’s do them all real fast!” But Iron & Wine took their time and rolled out their mellow, soulful tunes led by Sam Beam’s voice which reminded me of James Taylor. And I mean that in a good way.
Next up for me was Portugal. The Man who absolutely rocked the Backyard Stage. The crowd that gathered seemed to sing along to every song, making me realize this is a band that I need to get to know. Every song was an energetic party jam that gave me my second wind after an already long and hot day.
Back to the Main Stage for Arctic Monkeys, who started their set with the pounding drum beat of “Do I Wanna Know?” as the growing crowd made their way to the stage, the beat seemingly beckoning people to get closer and closer. They launched into their hits, rocking the enormous sea of bodies in motion. With the sun starting to set into the face of Alex Turner, the hypnotic rhythm and sexy vibes from Arctic Monkeys seemed to permeate the crowd.
Wanting to get a good spot for Foo Fighters, I bypassed sets for Young the Giant and Band of Horses. I made my way as close to the Main Stage as I could, with many others doing the same thing by claiming their place up front. The energy of the crowd was intense, the anticipation growing, many people holding up large cut-outs of Dave Grohl’s face, showing their love of Foo. The crowd of 80,000 erupted when Grohl came out on stage and flashed his huge smile, running to each side of the stage to greet the people of Firefly. He started the set solo on “Times Like These” and by the 3rd verse, the rest of the band joined in to rock the song out. The band tore through “Rope,” “The Pretender,” “Learn To Fly”… there was not a single song they played that was not a hit. While introducing the band, Grohl mentioned the fact that guitarist Chris Shiflett was seated for the entire show due to a broken ankle. He joked, “Do you know how he broke it? By being old.” It’s almost hard to believe that Foo Fighters have been a band for nearly 20 years, but their energy and love for rock and roll have not faded.
At one point during “Monkey Wrench” Grohl came off the stage to climb the scaffolding around the sound booth to play some riffs amongst the crowd. On his way back to the stage, he grabbed a can of beer from someone, and took a few gulps to refresh himself. The Foos rolled through more hits including “These Days” and “Best of You” before exiting the stage. After a few minutes, a camera backstage picks up the sweaty face of Dave Grohl asking the audience how many more songs they want. He holds up one finger. Behind him you see the face of drummer Taylor Hawkins holding up two fingers. The crowd cheers. Of course we want 2 more songs. They bicker back and forth like this until there are 5 fingers and 5 more songs coming our way. The band re-emerges on stage, and Grohl says “we are now a bar band that plays classic rock and we are called The Holy Shits.” They played Alice Cooper, The Rolling Stones, Van Halen, and Queen, finishing up the night with “Everlong.” The Foo Fighters truly are rock stars.
And if that wasn’t enough for me, I ended my night with some of White Denim’s funky, psychedelic set. On my way to the exit, I caught a bit of Girl Talk, the masterful mixing of Gregg Gillis turning the Backyard Stage area into a huge dance party.
COMPLETE DAY 1 GALLERY
Photos by Tim Becker