TVD’s Four Days at Firefly 2014

By NICK NEMPHOS and OLIVIA UNG | In its third year, last weekend’s Firefly Music Festival was quite a spectacle, with an estimated 80,000 fans seeing over 100 acts on seven stages during this year’s expanded run of four days, from three previously. 

The headliners were Foo Fighters, Outkast, and Jack Johnson, and for the most part, the artists I saw did not disappoint. Here are the acts that I caught at The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway in Delaware. Here are all the reasons I think you should start planning next year’s trip now.

THURSDAY

Parade of Lights, 6:30-7:15 PM, Lawn Stage

The first band I caught on last Thursday, Firefly Festival’s opening night, Parade of Lights was upbeat and danceable, and they went over pretty well with an audience ready to get things started. I only caught a few songs of this electro-pop quartet from LA, but I enjoyed what time I had with them. A song worth checking out on their website was their set closer “Golden,” which I thought was the highlight.

Courtney Barnett, 8:00-8:45 PM, Lawn Stage

Courtney Barnett played from 8:00-8:45 PM on the Lawn Stage. Dressed all in black, she began her set just as the sun was starting to go down opposite to the stage. For most of their performance, Courtney and her band were bathed in the golden light of a setting sun.

This was the first full performance of the festival that I watched, and it was a great way to start off the weekend. From her studio work, I expected something a little more relaxed, but it was a great choice to ramp up the tempo a little bit for a festival to keep people engaged.

Her lead-off song was “David,” which has a great thumping drum beat and a solid hook to go along with it. She also played a few new songs that were a bit heavier and more aggressive instrumentally. Courtney has this slightly uncommon way of strumming where she does this finger picking style strum that’s pretty unusual for electric guitar players and gives her playing a mostly unique sound. When she would execute her solos on the new songs she’d let the notes ring out and solo over it much in the way Kurt Cobain did, and so when she wasn’t singing and they were just rocking out, it really felt reminiscent of Nirvana, which certainly isn’t a bad thing for a live show.

“Avant Gardner” was also a highlight of her set. The song has continued to grow in popularity, and it was fun hearing the crowd trying to keep up singing along to such a wordy song. She closed her set with arguably her second most well-known song, “History Eraser.”

There was a sizable crowd who were really into what she was doing. As I discovered later in the weekend, the festival crowd can have a short attention span, so it was nice to see them give her a chance. I went in thinking there wouldn’t be as many people at this one since it was Thursday night on the smaller of the stages open that night, but that wasn’t the case at all. It seems like people had been partying for most of the day and a little bit of that bar band rock style Courtney does fit right in with what they were looking for.

Phosphorescent, 8:45-9:45 PM, Backyard Stage

Sadly, this wasn’t the best performance, and I think it had to do with crowd interest and the style of music Phosphorescent plays. When I saw Phosphorescent in January, it was easily one of the best performances I’ve seen all year, but this one was a little problematic. His introspective, mellower music wasn’t what the hard partying crowd was looking for, and they were loud and chatty throughout his set. I think his set would have been better placed in the early afternoon or Sunday evening. I think by the end it started getting to him as it would any artist. Do yourself a favor and go check him out at a headlining show of his own, a totally different and terrific experience.

Amos Lee, 9:45-10:45 PM, Lawn Stage

I didn’t get to see as much of Amos Lee as I would have liked since I was running around between stages, but when I caught up with him the audience was losing it for his cover of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” He closed his set with the Game of Thrones theme music to an even bigger pop.

Local Natives, 10:45 PM-12:00 AM, Backyard Stage

This was a great way to close out the first night of Firefly. I anticipated Local Natives would put on a terrific performance, and they didn’t disappoint in the slightest. What I didn’t expect was how big and full their sound was live. It was even a bit explosive when they got to the climaxes of the songs. They pulled songs more heavily from Gorilla Manor as opposed to the more recent Hummingbird which was probably the right call for the festival since the earlier album has a little bit more of an upbeat feel. They said they took a break from recording their new album to come do the show, and I’m hoping they get back to work so I can see them again when they tour for it.

FRIDAY

Bleachers, 3:00-3:45 PM, Main Stage

Bleachers is a new band from fun. lead guitarist Jack Antonoff, and his new project is very much in that same genre of indie pop as his other group. It is distinctive enough from his other band to be worthy of being a full-blown side project rather than trying to fit it within the context of fun. Right now, there are only three officially released songs so it’s hard to judge just what they will become, but as a live performance goes, they were solid. They played all three of those songs along with some other yet-to-be-released material. “I Wanna Get Better”was the clear crowd favorite, but I preferred “Rollercoaster” with its strong ties to ‘80s music and almost Springsteen-like feel. I enjoyed their set despite not knowing most of the music and I much preferred the style of this new band to fun. If the crowd response for a band that has been around for essentially four months is any indication, when their album comes out, it’s going to be pretty popular.

American Authors, 4:45-5:45 PM, Lawn Stage

Brooklyn’s American Authors had the midday slot at the Lawn Stage, and they commanded a large audience. I have to admit their music doesn’t really speak to me that much, and I kind of feel like maybe I should have gone to the Iron and Wine set. It wasn’t that they were bad performers; on the contrary they were remarkably solid. I suppose in some ways they were too put together for my taste. Every song feels like it is ready made for a commercial or inclusion in a teen drama, and of course “Best Day of My Life” is in a ton of commercials. I will admit though, that in the moment their set was enjoyable if a little forgettable.

Arctic Monkeys, 6:45-8:15 PM, Main Stage

Arctic Monkeys are a band I’ve always wanted to love, but for whatever reason their albums never really resonated with me. I was pretty eager to see them live because it has been a long time since I last saw a modern band with such a straight-up rock style. The band played a career-spanning hour and a half 19-song set on Friday night on the Main Stage before the headlining Foo Fighters. It was the right time slot/stage combo for the right band. They began their set with “Do I Wanna Know?,” one of the best songs from last year’s AM, and closed with “R U Mine?” from the same album. It wasn’t all new material, as we also received appearances from older favorites like “I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor” and “Fluorescent Adolescent.” Alex Turner is a rock star of the old mold: slicked-back greaser hair, hips shaking like elvis, and a punk-meets-sludgy-Sabbath sound; it’s all right there making you feel like you’re stepping back in time.

Foo Fighters, 9:45-11:45 PM (actually ended around 12 AM), Main Stage

The Foo Fighters never disappoint in a live setting. They’ve been performing together for 20 years now, and Dave Grohl has been a part of two of the biggest bands of the last 25 years. This type of show is second nature for them. I’ve always loved the fact that Dave Grohl is from this part of the country. Every time I’ve seen them over the years, he always tells a little tale about his youth in the area or things he misses about it, which really is kind of nice. This time it was an aside about Grotto Pizza.

There was so much right with their performance that it’s hard to even capture it. They started off with Grohl by himself strumming “Times Like These” and talking to audience about how it has been a long time since they’d performed and that he loves the area before actually playing the song.

The band played basically every hit they’ve ever had including “Big Me,” “All My Life,” and of course the biggest and loudest sing along of the weekend with “Everlong.” It’s easy to be cynical about a big band like the Foo Fighters with all this hip indie music playing all weekend at Firefly, but you won’t find any cynicism here. The Foo Fighters are still great just like they were 20 years ago.

SATURDAY

Grouplove, 5:15-6:15 PM, Main Stage, 8:10-8:45 PM, Coffee House Stage

I have been going to shows for the last 16 years, and I have been fortunate enough to have seen a ton of bands both large and small, but it is rare that I walk away from a performance truly impressed. But that’s how I walked away from Grouplove’s Saturday afternoon performance on the Main Stage. In fact, I headed over to the Coffee House Stage later in the day for a more stripped-down, non-synth set to see if it was a fluke, and of course, they didn’t let the audience down there either.

When lead singer Christian Zucconi dove into the crowd before the first song “I’m With You” was even over, you could tell Grouplove came ready to get into it. Joining him onstage were Andrew Wessen, Ryan Rabin, Daniel Gleason, and of course Hannah Hooper wearing one of her trademark bodysuits. Their Main Stage set began at 5:15 to a massive group of people under an overcast sky on an afternoon with a surprisingly mild temperature for this time of year.

Out of the whole festival, I probably had the most outright fun watching these guys. Beginning to end, both of their sets were a hand-clapping, jump-up-and-down, singing-a-long good time. It seemed like everyone else felt the same way too. Outside of the Foo Fighters, I don’t think I saw louder audience participation all weekend than I did during “Tongue Tied.”

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the band seems to be having the time of their lives up on stage, and that contagious enthusiasm spread to the rest of us watching them. I lost count of how many times Christian got off the stage and went to sing in or on top of the appreciative crowd.

Both sets featured a nice mix of songs with their more well-known songs like “Colours” and “Shark Attack” appearing in each of the sets in slightly different configurations. I didn’t really mind hearing those songs more than once because they were equally entertaining both times. Two well-received covers also made appearances: Beyonce’s “Drunk in Love” on the Main Stage set, and Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” in the Coffee House.

I didn’t quite know what to expect from Grouplove going into Firefly, but what I found was one of the biggest highlights of the entire festival.

Tune-Yards, 7:15-8:15 PM, Lawn Stage

Tune-Yards were good, but I had the impression the whole time that their sound would be better enclosed in four walls, where the drums and loops would have the have the space for the sound to bounce around the room instead of dissipating into the open air. “Gangsta” and “Water Fountain” were the highlights of Merril Garbus’s time on the Lawn.

Beck, 9:00-10:10 PM, Lawn Stage

Beck took the stage amidst a very busy Saturday night at Firefly. His set overlapped with Tegan and Sara, Sleigh Bells, and butted right up against the start time of Outkast’s set over on the Main Stage. Even with all that tough competition, there was no way I was going to miss Beck. He has been on my must-see list for years, and I’m happy to say he lived up to expectations.

“Devil’s Haircut” began what ended up being a set filled with most of his well-known songs and one or two lesser-known gems. It was great to see him perform “One Foot in the Grave” accompanied only by harmonica and audience hand claps like an old Southern spiritual. If I had any complaints, it may be that we only got one song from the outstanding new album Morning Phase. It probably has a lot to do with it being a festival, but I would have loved to hear more than just “Blue Moon” or perhaps another song from Sea Change aside from “Lost Cause.” That’s really just the fan in me griping because I always want more, and I love deep cuts.

Somewhere along the way I forgot just how much I loved these tracks from Odelay. As I got a little older I started to favor the Beck we got on Mutations, Sea Change, and now Morning Phase as opposed to the other records. However, getting to sing along with Beck and jump up and down to “Where It’s At” was one of my favorite moments from the festival.

OutKast, 10:20 PM-12:10 AM, Main Stage

I was at an unfortunately far vantage point for OutKast, which many consider the best act of the festival. The enthusiastic festival-goers danced along to all of their OutKast favorites during a whopping twenty-four song set, including “Rosa Parks,” “ATLiens,” “Ms. Jackson,” “Roses,” “So Fresh, So Clean,” and of course, “Hey Ya!” Big Boi and Andre 3000, who was wearing a white wig, white sunglasses, and a black jumpsuit that said “Children of the Cornbread,” worked the crowd with skill and ease. At Firefly, they proved that their reunion tour, since their first appearance at Coachella after years on hiatus, was worth the wait.

SUNDAY

Jake Bugg, 2:45-3:45 PM, Backyard Stage, 5:30-6:30 PM, Coffee House Stage

Jake Bugg’s performances on Sunday was like a tale of two shows. The first set, a full electric performance, on the second largest stage was kind of a strange one. It was rapidly getting quite hot outside, and the audience wasn’t quite with Jake for a lot of it. The music was a little slower and less pop-oriented, and on a hot day it just didn’t seem like the audience was as interested as they could have been. What didn’t quite help things either is that Jake just seemed upset about something. He didn’t really seem like he was having any fun up there, and that sort of malaise settled over the audience a little bit. This was especially true as you fanned out from the front and center crowd. His performance was technically perfect, but the showmanship left a little to be desired. I’m not sure what came first, the audience lack of interest or his, but it definitely made for a strange set.

I like Jake Bugg’s music, and I honestly thought he could do better and wanted to give him a second chance by checking out the Coffee House set later that day. What a difference a few hours and a change of scenery can make. This set was worlds better than the first. It was a solo acoustic set and somehow the audience was far more invested in it than the full band set earlier that day. Even when he took the stage this time, he still seemed a little aloof and standoffish, but the crowd was really pleasant and good to him, so after a few songs he seemed to lighten up. It really seemed to make a difference, and this one was really enjoyable. He played a fantastic cover of Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done” that really did justice to the song. “Two Fingers” and “Lightning Bolt” were also big highlights in the Coffee House. After a somewhat questionable start with the first set, I’m glad I went over to catch the second set.

Weezer, 3:45-4:45 PM, Main Stage

I really couldn’t have realistically asked for more than Weezer gave us with the time slot they were given. I mean four songs from the Blue Album? I’ll take that any day of the week, especially if one of them is “Say It Ain’t So.” It’s pretty amazing to me that lead singer Rivers Cuomo still sounds as good as he does after over 20 years with Weezer. His voice still has an earnest youthfulness about it that is rare for artist performing live for all that time. They just played as fun and as energetic set as you would want from them with most of the hits you would want to hear as well. I thought “Troublemaker” was a blast alongside of course “Undone” and the set closer “Buddy Holly.” It made me sorry I ever doubted they could put a great show because they proved me wrong in a big way.

Phantogram, 7:00-8:10 PM, Backyard Stage

Somehow over the course of this four days of music I didn’t see much electronic music until 7:00 PM on Sunday. Sure, I flirted with it a little bit with Parade of Lights or the five minutes of Girl Talk I listened to, but I accidentally missed out on pretty much everything electronic over the weekend until Phantogram. To be honest, most folks probably wouldn’t really even consider them “real” electronic, whatever that means.

Listening to their albums I thought the live show would be a moody, spacey, and slinky affair, but Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter’s Phantogram, really step it up a notch or three in a live setting. Instead of spacey or ambient, we trade that off for a faster pace and more danceability, which is great. “Turning into Stone” and “Fall in Love” were two of my favorites from their set. It was a great way to end my time at Firefly.

Sorry you missed out? Can’t wait to go back? The presale for next year’s Firefly Music Festival, from June 18-21, 2015, is already underway.

Photos provided by Firefly Music Festival

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