When you consider that Coachella 2017 was plagued with tech problems and that the first Fyre Festival never even got off the ground, let’s be thankful for Firefly.
“I can’t speak to their problems. All I can say is that, in Firefly’s case — since our start — we have gained amazing competency and strive to curate things as uniquely as we can,” says Christiane Pheil, the Firefly Music and Camping Festival’s assistant director of creative programming and one of its bookers. “We pay attention to little things.” For those curious about what attention gets paid, this year’s Firefly, in its sixth year at the Woodlands in Dover, Del. (nearly 750 acres, including camping area), runs now through Sunday, with an odd teaming of The Weeknd, Weezer, Chance the Rapper, Bob Dylan, AFI, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Muse, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Busta Rhymes, and Bleachers among acts.
“I think it’s going to be fun to connect with so many experiences at once,” says Jack Antonoff, the Bergenfield, N.J., native behind Bleachers, who next week will release his sophomore album, Gone Now Era – Part 1. “No one great ever played in my area growing up, so my dream of a festival vibe is one of a great block party.” (Bleachers, Antonoff’s stage name, is set to host a mini-fest Sept. 10 at Asbury Park’s Stone Pony.)
Like Jay Z and Live Nation’s Made in America Fest (Sept. 2-3 on Benjamin Franklin Parkway), Firefly started in 2012 and launched into a wide-open market when it came to multi-artist, multi-genre, broadly booked festivals over several dates (obviously, this does not include the focus of August’s Philadelphia Folk Fest or the pair of fests at Scranton’s Pavilion at Montage Mountain — July 13-15’s Camp Bisco and Aug. 10-13’s Peach Music Festival). Before this recent spate of multi-date parties, the Delaware Valley hadn’t witnessed a real rock fest since Larry Magid’s Atlantic City Pop Festival of August 1969, two weeks before Woodstock.
“Before launching, we looked at the top 10 music festivals in America, and not one was in the Northeast-Mid-Atlantic area — the most population-dense region of the country,” says Pheil. “We saw a huge opportunity. After a venue search that found us flying from Washington to New York City, we had a 15-minute layover in Dover.” Next thing you know, Firefly’s curators interacted with Dover International Speedway management (“they’ve executed NASCAR events for massive audiences, understand traffic patterns”), got a look at Dover’s fir- and pine-lined Woodlands, and fell in love with the acreage as a backdrop for a diverse slate of artists – many chosen by fan polls. “Its’s 360 degrees of a beautiful tree line – surrounded by wetlands – so every stage has a series of trees as grand backdrop. That’s the character and charm we wanted for a festival.”
Personifying the character, charm, and diversity of Firefly is Antonoff, a songwriter and producer who leans toward ’80s synth-pop and Sprinsgteen-ian dynamics — whose new release finds him moving from the intimacy of the bedroom to something sonically larger and more emotional. (It also puts him in competition with one of his songwriting/production charges, Lorde, whose Melodrama comes out at the same time as Bleachers’ album.) “I want to hear exactly where I’m at, exactly what I’m hearing in my head,” Antonoff says of what he desired from his sophomore solo effort away from his hit pop act Fun. “That’s hard to define, but that’s the magic of it. Whether it’s something lost from youth or found in a new stage of adulthood now, you live in the choices you made then and now and capturing that — that is my only goal.”
When it comes to Antonoff’s New Jersey origin story, what remains of his hometown in his music is his desire to get out and live. “There was always this feeling that I had — and not in a bad or mean way — that I had to get out of there because the best city in the world was staring at me from across the river,” Antonoff says of New York City. “That’s the sound of hope, that there is something better out there. That is exciting.”
Firefly Music and Camping Festival, The Woodlands at Dover Delaware, June 15 through June 18, fireflyfestival.com
Bleachers’ Shadow of the City Festival, Stone Pont Summer Stage, Asbury Park, NJ, September 10,