Farewell to Delaware's Firefly Music Festival

Patrons give high marks to event despite issues with lines, facilities

By Leann Schenke
Posted 9/27/21

DOVER — While the palpable excitement in the air turned to mostly body odor by the end, the Firefly Music Festival came to a close Sunday night.

Festival organizer Stephanie Mezzano said …

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Farewell to Delaware's Firefly Music Festival

Patrons give high marks to event despite issues with lines, facilities

Posted

DOVER — While the palpable excitement in the air turned to mostly body odor by the end, the Firefly Music Festival came to a close Sunday night.

Festival organizer Stephanie Mezzano said Firefly did see the 50,000 patrons they estimated would attend this year’s event.

“It’s clear our fans were eager to return after 823 days away from Firefly,” she said by email on Sunday.

On the fourth and final day, the consensus among veterans of the Dover music festival and first-time festivalgoers was that it offered a good time despite several changes — some of which were necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which caused the festival to be canceled last year.

This year, those in attendance were required to be vaccinated or submit a negative COVID-19 test at a health screening trailer before getting access to the gate.

For Dayton Slye, of Washington, who has attended the festival at least six times, everything was “pretty similar” to years past.

“The energy just seems more up because of, obviously, what’s been happening the last year,” Ms. Slye said Sunday, having attended every day of Firefly 2021. “I think everyone is just super excited to be around other people again.”

Ms. Slye stayed in a hotel but had friends in the North Campgrounds. As she is vaccinated, she said the pre-entry health screening was not difficult for her to get through. She called them “super easy.”

“It was a lot quicker than I thought it would be, to be quite frank,” Ms. Slye said.

‘Festival life’

Overall, Ms. Slye said the lines throughout the festival were not as bad as she expected.

“It’s just kind of the festival life,” she said. “If you want food, so does everyone else probably so there’s going to be some lines. I’ve never experienced anything crazy, which has been nice too.”

Ali Sinone of New Jersey agreed with Ms. Slye’s assessment, saying “I think it’s been great this year.”

She was camping with her friend, Kylee Pleis. This was Ms. Sinone’s third time at Firefly and Ms. Pleis’ first.

Ms. Sinone’s one complaint was about the cleanliness of the bathrooms.

“The only thing I’ve had a problem with is the bathrooms. I’ve come a few years before and I felt that was the one thing that they always kept up with, consistently,” she said. “This year, they’ve been good, but it’s also been a little gross, I won’t lie.”

Trash removal, too, had been good, Ms. Pleis said.

“I’m not seeing trash anywhere,” she said. “They’re constantly changing the cans compared to other places where it’s been overflowing.”

Both Ms. Sinone and Ms. Pleis said they encountered some long lines, but overall they have been manageable.

“Food lines have definitely been longer, but not anything crazy,” Ms. Sinone said. “There’s so many options to eat that if we saw a long line, we just went somewhere else.”

As both are vaccinated against COVID-19, Ms. Pleis said the health screening process was not difficult.

“We were all vaccinated, so we were good to go,” she said.

New setup

Ms. Pleis said the festival as a whole was walkable.

“Everything has been in pretty decent walking distance,” Ms. Pleis said. “I’d rather be able to hear from one stage to another and not have to walk like 100 miles.”

Ms. Mezzano said the grounds were revamped this year.

“This year we debuted an exciting new setup to our festival grounds, utilizing all that the Woodlands have to offer in a new way. The feedback has been incredible and we’re already looking forward to leaning in further to this layout in the future,” she said.

This was the first time the festival was held in September. In recent years, Firefly was held during Father’s Day weekend in June.

“Despite a bit of severe weather in the area Thursday, the new September weekend treated us very well. Determinations on the weekend Firefly will happen in 2022 are still to come,” Ms. Mezzano said.

Gavin Johnson of West Chester, Pennsylvania, and John Rivera of Kennett Square, Pennsylvania succinctly summed up the festival with one word: lit.

Both camped all four days of the festival though Mr. Johnson noted he will probably never do that again, noting the wait time to shower was about three hours.

Having attended the festival in previous years but not yet this year until Sunday, Malissa Waters was already noticing changes once she got through the gate.

“Some roads are shut down differently. There’s a lot more cones. It looks much more not aesthetically pleasing when you come in — it looks kind of scary,” Ms. Waters said. “Kind of not necessary.”

Ms. Waters said getting the required negative COVID test ahead of the shows was tricky for her and her friends, Mackenzie Little and Carolyn McMullen.

“We all went and got rapid tests on Thursday, but also went and got (polymerase chain reaction COVID-19 tests) earlier, so that was a bit of a hassle,” she said.

She said she heard a lot of people’s results were coming later than expected. Festivals “in general need to give extra time” for results.

Anne Spauld from Albany, New York was camping with three friends — all who had never been to the festival before. While Ms. Spauld’s last time visiting the festival was in 2013, she said the layout had changed a lot since then.

She said she was “pleasantly surprised with the change.”

“The stages are close, and I’m not hearing every stage at once,” Ms. Spauld said.

She noted this year’s set times meant there wasn’t too much overlap among the shows.

Her friend, Meredith O’Connell added the outdoor acoustics are “very good” too at Firefly.

With the entire group being vaccinated, Emily Olsen said it was “kind of annoying” they all had to wait in a long line to show their proof of vaccination.

“Getting in and all the lines to get in were annoying. But since then, it’s not been that bad,” Ms. Olsen said.

“Logistically, how can you do better?” Ms. O’Connell added.

A special year

Firefly director Ms. Mezzano said this year brought about its own special challenges.

“When you stood in the crowd that first night for Billie Eilish’s set, it was evident that anticipation was high for live music to be back. Sharing in that moment with 50,000 fans each night of the weekend was a peak in a very challenging year for all people,” she said.

“Being able to celebrate all people with joy and spirit in our-first ever Pride Parade was a personal highlight for me.

“Each festival weekend has its own unique challenges and this was no different. We put high priority on safety for our patrons, artists and staff and feel we achieved what we set out to do. At the same time, we heard every comment from fans on what we could do better, addressing them as they were coming in. We’ve identified parts of the fan experience we are dedicated to improving. We’re so grateful to have been able to put on a music festival in 2021 and provide this experience to the fans.”

Ms. Spauld said the festival’s organization seems better than what she experienced in 2013.

Camping wasn’t bad for the group either, even with the rain on the first day.

“If any day was going to rain,” Olivia Popiel said. “I’ve heard horror stories from other festivals about it being a mudslide.”

Ms. Spauld said there were muddy areas, but staff was good about putting down mats or applying sand to those spots.

The one thing that took the group by surprise was that the festival wasn’t as cashless as advertised. Ms. O’Connell said they needed cash to pay for ice, for example. Ms. Popiel added there were no ATMs. Or at least, that the group could find any.

“I came here with a little bit of cash, but I probably would have brought more if I knew (some of) the vendors are accepting (cash),” Ms. Popiel said.

When asked about the shower lines, the group commented “Oh we’re not showering, it’s a music festival.”

“I didn’t come here expecting a warm shower,” Ms. Olsen said.

Features editor Craig Horleman contributed to this story.