While they waited for the transcendent moment to arrive - Andre 3000 of OutKast, performing “Hey Ya!” at the apex of the re-united Atlanta rappers’ headlining set on Saturday at the Firefly Music Festival - the 80,000 music fans gathered at the Woodlands at Dover International Speedway for the weekend had plenty of diversions to occupy their time.
Firefly, which has doubled in size since its inception in 2012, got under way this year on Thursday, with 20,000 campers in place for a low key opening featuring California indie-rock band Local Natives and Philadelphia singer-songwriter Amos Lee.
On Friday, the fest - which has expanded to take place on 154 bucolic if a bit dusty acres - revved up with rock headliners Arctic Monkeys and Foo Fighters, whose leader Dave Grohl pleased the Delaware crowd with tales of Rehoboth Beach vacations and an encore featuring Rolling Stones and Alice Cooper covers.
I didn’t get there until Saturday, and caught nine decent-to-excellent acts in eight hours, the best of which were Beck, Tune-Yards, OutKast, with Brit-rockers Kaiser Chiefs, identical twin Canadians Tegan and Sara and Austin folk band Wild Child also standing out.
Besides the music on seven well-situated stages, Firefly, which was to conclude on Sunday with Jack Johnson headlining, provides plenty of ancillary opportunities to pass time and/or spend cash for the the largely twentysomething crowd hunkered down at the Woodlands.
I didn’t lounge in a hammock or get my booty moving in the Silent Disco area, where dancers listen to DJs on earbuds. But I did meander through the Arcade with free pinball machines on the pleasantly overcast afternoon, and watched World Cup soccer while sampling Firefly Ale in The Brewery tent, featuring beers from Milton, Delaware craft brew kingpins Dogfish Head.
So how were OutKast, out on their first proper concert tour since 2002? The reunion of Andre 3000 (real last name: Benjamin) and partner Big Boi (Antwan Patton) reportedly got off to a rocky start at Coachella in California in the spring. Two months in, however, the wrinkles are ironed out.
The duo came out charging with the still-timely “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)” from 2000’s Stankonia, and played a packed-with-hits, energetic set at the short on hip-hop, long on indie-pop festival. “I swear to God, it seems like we were just 17 years old,” said Benjamin, getting misty while wearing a blond wig and shirt that read “Children of the Cornbread.”
Even before going solo, OutKast pursued individual paths. (Their 2003 landmark Speakerboxxx / The Love Below was really two solo albums.) As ever, Patton and Benjamin worked separately as well as together at Firefly. Big Boi’s mini-set capped with the irrefutable funk of “The Way You Move.” The crowd drifted off during Benjamin’s terrifically arty segment featuring "She Lives In My Lap" and "Prototype," until waking up for the delirious “Hey Ya!”
With a flat brimmed black hat and matching suit, Beck could have passed for an Amish farmer. But though he’s on tour behind the beautifully becalmed new Morning Phase, the Californian with more musical tools than a Swiss Army knife came to Firefly to rock the party.
Backed by a highly adaptable band, he rolled out hits like “Where It’s At,” blew his harmonica on “One Foot In The Grave,” covered Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and slowed down briefly for the new album’s “Blue Moon” and sublime “Lost Cause” from 2002’s Sea Change. Hopefully, he’ll play more Morning Phase when headlining Camden’s Xponential Festival in July.
What else? Tune-Yards‘ Merrill Garbus led an almost all-female band that translated the polyrhythmic joie de vivre of her new Nikki Nack perfectly. Kaiser Chief Ricky Wilson rallied the crowd on singalongs of “I Predict A Riot” and “Never Miss A Beat.” And Wild Child lured listeners to the Forest stage with fetching vocals from Alexander Beggins and fiddler Kelsey Wilson.
Wild Feathers, from Nashville, traded in competent 1970s L.A. country rock at the Coffeehouse, where Smallpools impressed with tight indie-pop. Tegan and Sarah sounded sharp and catchy on three songs I caught before bolting for Beck, and Brooklyn duo Ms Mr’s synth-pop was undistinguished.
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