Firefly | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Firefly Guide 2019: 20 artists to discover in the Woodlands this week
When it comes to the biggest bands on the bill, Firefly makes things easy — the higher-profile the artist, the fewer people the festival books playing opposite them. It’s at the more emerging artist level that things get all feeding frenzy, and that’s where we come in.
Walking around the greenery of the woodlands and seeing an artist we were only loosely familiar with beforehand playing an intimate set to a tight crowd of devotees — the people who prefer to get up, go out, and seek out music, rather than listen to whatever’s happening off in the distance at the big stage — is our favorite part of the Firefly experience. Last year, we saw Jade Bird play a tent to maybe 50 people; the previous year, Bishop Briggs delivered a killer set in the tucked-away Treehouse Stage. Both artists are doing pretty well for themselves now.
That’s not to say that every under-the-radar musician on the Firefly lineup is going to blow up in the same way. (Or that every artist playing intimate stages or early set times is necessarily under-the-radar: our love for Philly’s Hop Along is well-documented, and they play two sets on Sunday afternoon.) But not knowing where an artist is headed, and appreciating them for what they bring to their 45 minutes onstage, is an exciting discovery in itself. Here are 20 artists we urge you to discover at the 2019 edition of Firefly.
Mo Lowda & The Humble (Friday, The Lawn, 1:00-1:45 p.m.)
Alternative-rock trio Mo Lowda & The Humble got their start in Philly as Temple University students when the school’s record label, Bell Tower Records, produced their first album in 2013. An EP and a second record later, the group has toured all over the U.S. to spread their groovy beats and intricate guitar solos far and wide. The members — Jordan Caiola, Shane Woods, and Jeff Lucci — have been influenced by a host of different artists and genres, from My Morning Jacket to Led Zeppelin to Neil Young. This blend of inspiration is evident in their dynamic sound. If you’re looking for high-energy jams to kick off your first day of Firefly, Mo Lowda & the Humble is the act you won’t want to miss. – Rae Burach
Lawrence (South Hub 1-2 p.m. / Bud Light Dive Bar 6:45-7:15 p.m. / The Roost 8:30-9:30 p.m.)
Brother and sister duo Clyde and Gracie Lawrence have been playing music together since they were toddlers. Making full use of that sibling talent, they now front the eight-piece soul-pop band Lawrence together, backed by several of their friends. Not afraid to mix influences, Lawrence channel everything from ’60s soul to modern-day electronic and pop into their music. The result is funky, upbeat, and totally infectious. Lawrence released their most recent album Living Room last year, and are getting ready to share new tunes soon. Their Firefly schedule is a busy one, with three sets throughout the day on Friday. Lawrence is also touring with Jon Bellion this summer, with a show at The Met on 6/12. – Sarah Hojsak
Bumpin Uglies (Friday, Treehouse, 1:15-2:00 p.m.)
Self-depreciating band name aside, this group’s sound is anything but ugly. Hailing from Annapolis, Maryland, Bumpin Uglies formed a little over a decade ago and has been playing and producing music ever since. All four band members have managed to combine their unanimous passions for punk rock, reggae, and ska to create an uninhibited hybrid of genres that draw crowds without fail. The quartet’s laid-back grooves pair with chatty vocals and occasional rapping. Bumpin Uglies have covered a lot of ground having put out six albums and three EPs since 2011. Some songs go harder than others, which will make for a unique and lively set. – R.B.
Gunna (The Prism, 4:30-5:15 p.m.)
Gunna is one of trap music’s most prominent stars in 2019. The rise of the forward-looking rapper and taste-maker has closely followed the rise of Young Thug‘s Atlanta-based YSL Records and, in turn, has brought the rise of “drip.” Gunna released his first mixtape Drip Season in 2016 shortly after a collaborating and touring with Thug for his acclaimed album JEFFERY, and since then he has put out five full-length releases, including Drip Harder with Lil Baby in 2018 and Drip or Drown 2 in 2019. Born in 1993 in College Park, GA, Gunna counts progressive hip-hop records by artists like Cam’Ron and OutKast among his influences, along with early trap releases by Future. Today, he fully embraces the aesthetics of trap and mumble-rap that have made Atlanta’s scene internationally popular. – Thomas Hagen
Sales (Treehouse, 6:30 p.m.-7:15 p.m.)
On last year’s Forever and Ever, Orlando duo Sales evokes a spectrum of dreampop sounds from The Sundays to Japanese Breakfast. Comprised of singer-guitarist Lauren Morgan and multi-instrumentalist Jordan Shih, the band has been around since 2013, and brings live drummer Malcolm Martin on the road for some added lift onstage. Their kaleidoscopic sounds will make for a perfect twilight set at the Treehouse stage. – John Vettese
Ambar Lucid (Saturday, Treehouse, 1:15-2:00 p.m.)
Mexican-Dominican 17 year old, Ambar Lucid, lives in New Jersey and writes, sings, and produces all of her music by herself. She began making music at age 14 and taught herself how to play guitar, piano, and ukulele. She made her debut with her album Dreaming Lucid earlier this year, and I’d say the title of the record sums it up pretty well. All eight songs share a beautiful haze, with gentle strumming and Ambar’s powerful vocals weaving in and out. A lot of her lyrics are bilingual as well, making her songs even more compelling. – R.B.
Flora Cash (Toyota Music Den 2:45-3:15 p.m. / Treehouse Stage 5-5:45 p.m.)
It was a match made on SoundCloud — the duo that now call themselves Flora Cash first connected by listening to each other’s music on the streaming platform back in 2012. Though they lived on opposite sides of the Atlantic, within a year Shpresa Lleshaj and Cole Randall met up in person, released their first EP Mighty Fine, and got married. Now based in Stockholm, Flora Cash has gained an ever-growing following for their folk-influenced pop songs and moved from releasing music independently to signing with RCA Records. The band recently followed up their 2017 breakthrough full-length debut, Nothing Lasts Forever (And It’s Fine), with a new EP, called Press. They’ll play two sets Saturday at Firefly. – S.H.
Lolo Zouaï (Treehouse 3:45-4:30 pm)
When she performs on Saturday afternoon, Lolo Zouaï will likely hypnotize with her chilled-out and self-assured take on pop. The French-American artist, who has worked with Blood Orange and H.E.R., has been steadily building a dedicated fan base over the past few years. Her singles have infiltrated many a Spotify playlist, spreading her charismatic and moody music across the globe. Alongside producer Stelios Phili, she blends pop songwriting with R&B inspired vocals and production. Think Ariana Grande‘s thank u, next, but cooler. Zouaï’s debut album, High Highs to Low Lows, came out in April but if you start listening now, the tracks are catchy enough that you’ll have all the lyrics memorized in time for her Firefly set. – Solomon Friedman
Saba (Prism Stage, 4:00-4:45 p.m.)
Chicago rapper Saba has been on the come up with releases like his 2018 album Care For Me, which nearly unanimously received stellar ratings from music outlets like Pitchfork, Consequence of Sound, and more. Saba is also a member of the Chicago collaborative project, Pivot Gang, with whom he released an album “You Can’t Sit With Us” in April of this year. While Saba debuted his first mixtape, GETCOMFORTable in 2012, he got his first taste of fame after collaborating with Chance the Rapper -on “Everybody’s Something” off of the album Acid Rap. Unpretentious, raw, and personal, each song Saba creates reveals a deeper facet of who he is. With songs that touch on topics such as mental illness, loss, and youth Saba goes places other rappers don’t dare to go. On “Fighting,” he raps “fighting myself to get out of bed, fighting myself.” He does not just tell a story with music; he tells his story and owns his vulnerability. He does so with amazingly technical lyricism and enchanting melodies, featuring fellow mid-western artists like Chance The Rapper, Noname, and Smino in his work. – Lily Sanders
Alec Benjamin (The Hideaway, 4:30-5:15 p.m.)
Alec Benjamin is a singer-songwriter from Phoenix, Arizona. The 24-year old has had an interesting music career thus far; he initially signed to Columbia at age 18 only to be let go shortly after. Fueled by his passion and ambition, Benjamin made his way back up the ladder, gathering fans’ attention by playing outside sold-out arenas. Benjamin has remade a name for himself with hits such as “Outrunning Karma” and “Let Me Down Slowly,” the latter of which received a remix from Alessia Cara. He released his debut album “Narrated For You” last November, and fan reception has been stellar. Benjamin’s current tour has been selling out night after night, making him a major force to be reckoned with. – Ian Hranilovich
Little Simz (The Roost 4:45-5:30 p.m.)
Little Simz released her fifth full-length album, Grey Area, in March and she is still rising. The 25-year-old rapper, born Simbi Ajikawo in Islington, London, has been developing her own gritty mix of hard-edge hip-hop, RnB, and UK garage since 2014’s E.D.G.E., and her recent albums have favored synths and industrial crunch over mainstream trap sounds. In the last several years, she has toured alongside Ms. Lauryn Hill and Gorillaz, and collaborated with artists as stylistically diverse as Ghetts, BADBADNOTGOOD, Little Dragon and Michael Kiwanuka. Simz brings a spectacular stage presence and original takes on personal anxiety, hard work, and black womanhood in the UK. – T.H.
Yoke Lore (Music Den, 5:45-6:15 p.m.)
Yoke Lore is the stage name of Adrian Galvin, former drummer of mega-rock band Walk The Moon. Galvin is also part of indie group Yellerkin. This solo project is a new venture for Galvin, and has been treating him fairly well. The name comes from his time teaching yoga. As he put it, “a yoke is a binding agent. And lore refers to a set of stories. I’m interested in telling stories about how things and people and ideas are bound together, and how those connections can make us all better.” Galvin’s music sits somewhere between pop and indie, fitting considering his past musical endeavors. Galvin has crafted his own sound out of the pieces he’s laid together through his other projects, and Yoke Lore is surely one to rock the stage this Firefly. – I.H.
Snail Mail (The Hideaway, 8:00 p.m.–8:50 p.m.)
19-year old, Snail Mail, is a relatively new face to the music industry, but not for long. The indie rock singer signed with Matador Records in 2017, and released her debut album in 2018. Lush is essentially a 10 track critique of youth. It talks, heartbreaks, crushes, and feeling lost. This might sound generic, which songs about teenaged heartbreaks tend to be, but Snail Mail sings about cliched topics in a way that totally revitalizes them. Her voice and lyrics are not the only things worthy of praise from Snail Mail, her skilled guitar riffs are not to be forgotten. – L.S.
Let’s Eat Grandma (The Roost 10:00-11:00 pm)
If you don’t pay attention, you may mistake Let’s Eat Grandma’s music as the sounds of an alien invasion. With production that sounds like a hybrid of synth pop and prog rock and sweet, youthful vocals, the British duo are unlike anything else you’ll see at Firefly. At just 20 years old, Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton have already experimented with more sounds, instruments, and freak-folk than the average person will in their lifetime. Where their 2016 debut, I, Gemini, was a delightfully childish affair, their second album is a bold statement about the Gen Z experience. Boasting collaborations with SOPHIE and The Horrors‘ Badwan, I’m All Ears is a whirlwind of a record. With lyrics that illuminate romantic struggles in the iPhone age and aggressive femininity, it is a deeply effective and colorful listen. Its closing track, “Donnie Darko”, is a sprawling 11-minute epic that bounces between being lullaby-like and an all-out disco banger. Listening to Let’s Eat Grandma is often a surreal experience, so seeing them live will be even more mind-bending. – S.F.
JPEGMAFIA (The Hideaway 12:15-1:30 am)
One minute into JPEGMAFIA‘s set and you’ll be screaming “DAMN PEGGY” with the rest of the crowd. Just ask anyone who saw his bombastic set at Made In America last year. Or listen to his latest album, Veteran. The Baltimore rapper occupies a uniquely confrontational and glitched-out space in the hip hop word that is nothing short of addicting. Both on stage and on the record, he is a booming presence that never seems to shy away from anything or any sound, no matter how bizarre. His collaborations with Flume and Kenny Beats show how he can exist simultaneously in the electronic world and the rap world. Meanwhile, his Backstreet Boys cover and absurd song titles highlight his great sense of humor and eclectic inspirations. No matter the influence or collaborator, JPEGMAFIA’s music is always noisy, experimental, and intoxicating. It sounds best when it is at its most wild and schizophrenic. For that reason, his set is a must see. If there were ever a place to lose your mind to “Thug Tears” and “Rock N Roll Is Dead” it’s obviously in the middle of a forest in Delaware. – S.F.
Aubrey Haddard (South Hub 10:30-11:15 a.m.)
Each year Firefly hosts the Big Break contest, which gives one lucky unsigned artist the opportunity to play the festival. Up-and-coming Boston singer-songwriter Aubrey Haddard is this year’s winner, and will perform a Sunday morning set that’s worth waking up early for. Counting artists like Susan Tedeschi, Amy Winehouse, and Jeff Buckley among her influences, Haddard has carved out a place in her local scene as a solo artist, after her tenure fronting eight-piece soul/funk band The New Review came to an end. She released her debut solo album Blue Part last year, and has been in the studio recently working on her next release. – S.H.
Boogie (The Prism, 1:30 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.)
Compton rapper Boogie caught our ear with his 2014 mixtape Thirst 48 and its standout jam “Bitter Raps,” and when we saw him at NPR Music’s SXSW showcase that spring, we were instantly converted. Flash-forward five years, and Boogie released his label debut Everythings For Sale this January with Eminem’s Shady Records. With a broad range of collaborators, like Atlanta MC 6lack, acclaimed trumpet player Christian Scott, and his label boss, the record finds Boogie surrounding himself with talented people, but at the same time, he never lets you forget that it’s all his high-energy show. Experience it in person at The Prism on Sunday afternoon. – J.V.
KNOWER (The Roost, 2:00 p.m. -3:00 p.m.)
KNOWER might be the most unpredictable band taking the stage at Firefly this year. Begun as the independent project of Genevieve Artadi and Louis Cole — two memelords and fashion experimenters with rigorous training in jazz and a taste for high-speed electro-pop — has earned an international following in the last four years, thanks in part to the popularity of their ridiculous YouTube videos, which are both sublimely wacky and shockingly impressive. They have now released four albums, including Life in 2016, all featuring a volatile mix of funk finesse and synthesizer fantasies with occasional detours through EDM and experimental jazz. KNOWER’s recent albums and live performances — including some on the international jazz festival circuit — have included many more musicians, including saxophonist Sam Gendel and bassist Sam Wilkes, and have brought the band’s virtuosity and irony to unprecedented levels. (Recent song titles include “Pizza”, “The Government Knows”, “Butts Tits Money” and “Knower Rulez”.) We can only hope they continue to use their powers for good. – T.H.
Medasin (The Prism, 3:30-4:15 p.m.)
Hailing from Texas, Medasin is the jazz-inspired electronic musician and DJ Grant Nelson. Nelson has been around for years, uploading numerous remixes and originals to Soundcloud, where he first made his jump into the spotlight. Utilizing Fruity Loops, the 21-year old has put out remixes for some of the biggest names in the industry at the moment, including DJ Khaled, Portugal. The Man, and Joji. His style can be described as jazz-electronic, as he likes to showcase his piano playing ability over modern trap-style production. His DJ sets are wild and colorful, bouncing between hard trap hits to his more mellower remixes. – I.H.
Naked Giants (Music Den, 6:15-6:45 p.m.)
By just looking at Naked Giants, you might write them off as an unassuming boyband, but that is far from the case. Grant Mullen, Gianni Aiello, and Henry LaVallee make up the Seattle-based rock band. However, as seen in Naked Giants’ music videos and on social media, they still have a vivacious, youthful presence. Recently, the band has had some pretty monumental feats: touring with Car Seat Headrest and releasing their latest E.P. Green Fuzz this January. Green Fuzz features four tracks including “Green Fuzz,” “That’s Who’s Really Pointing at Me,” Everybody Thinks They Know (But No One Really Knows),” and the radio edit of “That’s Who’s Really Pointing at Me.” All of which maintain a similar 70s inspired psych-rock sound, with “Everybody Thinks They Know (But No One Really Knows),” being the standout track. The song is the less guitar-heavy of the three tracks and lets vocals shine. The band makes music in the same vein as more experimental artists like Ty Segall, with a slight pop twist. – L.S.