Perhaps fate looks kindly upon the bold, or perhaps well executed forethought with the slight blessing of favorable weather has created such a marked difference. What’s certain is the lineup is just as stellar if not better than the year previous, but more than that the atmosphere has changed radically. The organizers of Firefly should be forgiven for the birthing pains of last years technical blunders and mass disorganization. And with only a single year experience under their belt Red Frog has effectively proven they can deliver a festival worthy of the hype.
Despite the palpable excitement, rumor was two of the most exciting acts had already dropped out. Earl Sweatshirt and the Lumineers‘ cancellation was quickly confirmed by the Red Frog team. While this sort of thing can be expected at any major event the addition of Ben Harper helped to soften the blow.
The first solid performance of opening day was delivered on the main stage by the UK’s Django Django. It was obvious from initial crowd reaction few were familiar with this London based quartet, and their brand of synth heavy rock incorporating African rythms was striking when compared to the more traditional four chord American pop/rock acts that preceded their performance on smaller stages. Weird is new the black though, and a bold set list pushing the audience out of their comfort zone worked well to endear the largely unknown Django Django to an east coast demographic.
And if bizarre happens to be your cup of tea, few do it better than followers and Philly natives Dr. Dog. “Be the Void,” is an under appreciated masterpiece and to hear the succulent melodic delivery of certain tracks, “Vampire,” or the ecstatic “These Days,” live was a pure sonic joy that drew perhaps the largest audience of any mid-level touring group for the first day.
Firefly’s approach to festivities is plagued in the same way as many larger festivals. The crisis of choice about which group to see when two highly anticipated acts share the same time slot on opposing stages is a decidedly first world problem, however choices must be made. The first instance of this anomaly pitted Public Enemy against The Avett Brothers. Having seen neither act before one must weigh the instant cred of saying, “Yeah I saw Public Enemy!” against the more satisfying impact of an Avett Bros show. To alleviate the issues one must see both: Public Enemy was in fine form despite their age. However, after the never ending shout out’s to literally every single member of PE’s crew, (Honestly, sometimes it felt like there were more people on the stage than in the audience.) the kitsch of old school MC’ing wore thin rather more quickly than anticipated. Flava Flav et al looked to be in good health so I can’t be blamed for skipping out on the rest of the set.
The issue with the crush and throng of crowd dynamics demands decent placement to fully enjoy a set. A jumbo-tron only goes so far to connect the audience goer to the musician, and after walking the half mile between stages securing a place within vision of the Southern four piece was near impossible. Elbows might have been employed, toes might have been trampled but the payoff during the crescendo of “Laundry Door” from I and Love and You, with its exchanged harmonies lifting the swollen crowd to delighted heights created a sense of shared intimacy despite the writhing parade of flesh. The ends justify the means, and for the Avett Bros. performance, the frenzied banjo licks and soul stirring breakdowns, the emotional highs and low and sometimes both wrapped into a single song, the energy and charm made it a performance worthy of a headlining slot.
But headlining slot it was not. That distinction went to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers after a wildly mediocre performance by the laid back lyricist Calvin Harris. For a group that has been selling out stadiums since you were listening to music you won’t admit to these days, RHCP was surprisingly relevant. Not only did both Anthony Kiedis and Flea look amazingly fit and healthy, but their set didn’t seem as tired as it has in the past. Perhaps someone let Anthony Kiedis in on the fact you don’t need to scat over the best backing band in the world, or perhaps the stars were merely aligned for the group during Firefly. After having seen the group a half dozen times, one no longer looks forward to the Chilli Peppers, over saturation of the radio waves doesn’t help the situation either. If you wanna hear RHCP, you don’t have to drive all the way out to Dover, pay hundreds of dollars and bake beneath the sun. You simply have to tune into any modern rock station and wait.
But the set was ecstatic! RHCP played like they weren’t a day over 20, mid set Flea tossed the bass aside and walked on his hands for over five minutes up and down the stage. If this wasn’t enough, the crowd surged to favorites spanning the entirety of the RHCP lengthy discography and even a jaded old festival veteran like myself couldn’t help but enjoy the opening night antics.