There was a moment at Firefly yesterday — approximately 6 p.m., if I had to pinpont it — where it seemed the festival might end on an anticlimactic low, with the audience huddled in their tents and cars, waiting out a weather delay only to be informed that the rest of the weekend had been called.
That, thankfully, was not the case. The storm that looked towering and terrifying on the AccuWeather radar ended up depositing maybe ten drops of rain total on the Woodlands of Dover, and once we got the clear skies signal, Firefly Festival continued, with all the artists still able to play (albeit a couple hours later than originally scheduled). As such, the remainder of the day was full of gratitude, love, and high pop energy.
Here’s a rundown of what I saw before and after the storm.
The first band of the day was Philly fave brass band Snacktime, bringing their high-octane go-birds energy to Firefly’s Treehouse stage. Their shows are about freewheeling funk / rock / hip-hop jams as much as crowd-pleasing covers — their version of Ginuwine’s “Pony” was banger — but Snacktime also worked in a couple originals from their debut LP Sounds From Street in the mix, like the explosive “Junkyard Fire.”
Pop singer-songwriter MAX is a force of nature, and despite the early hour in the afternoon, he had the mainstage crowd on their feet, grooving to the beat as he strutted the catwalk, leapt in the air, bobbed and wove around his bandmates, and rocked music from 2020’s Colour Vision LP (“Love Me Less” was great) as well as his interpolation of OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson.”
From our point of view, Firefly always been a very LGBTQIA+ positive festival, and last year it hosted its first ever Pride Parade, bringing together drag performers, stilt walkers, and generally fabulously-attired persons to walk the festival fairway on Sunday afternoon. It was so well-received, Firefly reprised it this year, with Jasmine Kenndie from RuPaul’s Drag Race acting as grand marshal — she’d been hosting drag brunch sessions at the festival Bazaar all weekend. Snacktime led the crowd across the grounds with covers of Crystal Waters and Whitney Houston, while reps from CAMP Rehoboth Community Center carried the banner and the giant letters spelling out “pride,” making for an immensely positive activity just before the day was put on pause.
After a 90-minute break while the gathering storm touched down everywhere but Dover — were we in some sort of protective bubble of music and positive vibes? — everybody was let back onsite, with T-Pain getting the festivities started again on the mainstage. With a DJ backing and a lot of space on the stage, he took advantage of the space, and the catwalk, headed out to the front to jam out with fans to the booming “Boo’d Up,” “Bartender,” and more.
Rising west coast star Conan Gray played a commanding set of poppy songs about love and heartbreak, lifting the sadness with gorgeous instrumentation and upbeat energy. His looks are something between Michael Hutchence and Matty Healy, his vibe is a bit Harry Styles and a bit Lorde, and he had fans in the palm of his hands, playing songs form his second album, Superache, released this summer.
The Kid Laroi
On the note of comparative reference points, Australian rapper The Kid Laroi fell somewhere in between Bieber and Lil Uzi in his Backyard Stage performance, getting the crowd fired up and flailing around in circle pits, but making note to check in on his fans and telling them to look out for and help out one another amidst the mayhem.
The Brook and The Bluff
Before the poptimistic close on the main stage, I headed over to catch one more Treehouse Stage set, beckoned by the mellifluous music of Nashville-via-Birmingham four-piece The Brook and The Bluff. They do throwback 70s soft rock in the spirit of Bread, Cat Stevens, and Linda Ronstadt, and it cast a dreamy spell on the crowd gathered for a respite under the trees.
Placing her iconic Icona Pop collab “I Don’t Care” early in the setlist set the bar high for hyperpop trailblazer Charli XCX; backed by a pair of dancers and a massive light show, the energy didn’t drop in her hour onstage, from “Boom Clap” to “Boys,” which had folks spinning their glow necklaces in the air. Charli was electrifying and fun, but a little bit goes a long way, unlike the artist who followed her.
In contrast to the bare-bones set that had preceded her, London pop star Dua Lipa’s set was maximalist in the best possible way. A slick band, a trio of backing vocalists, a half-dozen dancers with immersive and impressive choreography, props like umbrellas and inflatable hearts (the latter of which were tossed to the crowd), laser lights and a digital backdrop spelling out “Welcome To Dover” in fanciful 80s script. In production value alone, her’s was the best set of the weekend, but most importantly was Dua’s dynamic catalog that can simmer one moment and sprint the next; her songs don’t set the BPM to 126 and keep it there all night, they are nuanced, they rise and fall, they introduce unexpected tones and arrangements, and most importantly, they keep the crowd engaged, like all of a sudden this field in the middle of Kent County had been transformed into the greatest nightclub on the east coast. It was 90 minutes long, but could have been twice that and I’d still be hanging on. What a performance, what a way to close the weekend.
Check out our previous installments of Firefly 2022 coverage here, and for more, explore our check-ins from the weekend on WXPN’s Instagram story highlights.