Delaware’s Firefly: Birth of a Festival (July 20 – 22)

Nestled securely within the Delaware Valley, equidistant south of New Jersey and west of Philadelphia, lies the drowsy village of Dover. Thirty-five thousand people call the state capitol home, and aside from a small grouping of brick Federal buildings wherein the State Legislature meets, there isn’t much to differentiate Dover from Anytown, USA. In fact, the ten minute drive from one of the town’s extremes to the other would lead most to believe they were somewhere in the Midwest. The valley Dover occupies is Iowa flat, composed mainly of corn and bean fields bisected by streams which loll lazily into marshes trailing away from the Delaware River on course to the Atlantic.

Aside from Dover’s pride in the role it played in Delaware declaring itself the first colony free of the Crown, very little of a national agenda has occurred here in the two and a half centuries since. Outside the suburban sprawl of name brand department stores and chain restaurants along the highway, much of the feeling of another century remains to the center of old town. Ancient buildings proudly display construction dates from centuries past, and in the graveyards the literal sons and daughters of the revolution peacefully rest. A walk down Loockerman Street in old town’s heart reveals narrow lanes delineated by long departed horse and buggy traffic where one can stop for refreshment at the locally owned café the Newstand, or take a stronger drink at a bar called the Golden Fleece. It’s the same establishment where original state delegates drank spirits and conspired against the King.

Despite its history and the sleepy nature of its daily operations there is a small bit of excitement to be had locally. At the northern edge of town the sprawling, opulent Dover Downs Casino invites visitors from New York and New Jersey, Baltimore and Philadelphia to try their luck at the table games and slots, dine in dark wood restaurants or spend a night in Michelin rated suites. Once a year on these self-same grounds Nascar enthusiasts from every part of the nation congregate to behold the spectacle of the Sprint Cup Race at Dover International Speedway.

You might imagine the stir amongst the Kent County youth in early April of this year when Chicago based Red Frog Media announced in a quiet, almost overlooked, press release that they had been working in collusion with the Speedway to host a three day Rock ‘n Roll music festival. It is to be called Firefly, but more shocking than the news of any country corner festival are the groups supposedly billed. On each of successive nights guests can see headliners Jack White, then The Killers, culminating on Sunday with one of rock’s biggest summer draws, The Black Keys. In addition to these world class acts, a supporting cast including indie darlings Death Cab for Cutie, The Flaming Lips, radio favorites Young the Giant, The Cold War Kids, The Wallflowers, and John Legend, not to mention nearly thirty additional acts encompassing modern tastes from rock to indie, funk to hip-hop, spread across three separate stages over the course of the weekend. And as if this weren’t cause enough for excitement, the long anticipated mystery guest-industry veterans Modest Mouse was announced several weeks ago adding cachet to already stellar line up.

In addition, Red Frog is hoping many of the innovative perks offered on site will bring out fans. Like most major festivals, RV and tent space is available at the reasonable rate of just over a hundred dollars. However, for those more inclined towards luxury and able to afford it, there is the option of ‘glamping’. A somewhat contradictory portmanteau of the terms ‘glamorous’, and ‘camping’, glampers can enjoy a private tent complete with queen sized bed, inner and outer furniture, access to air conditioned luxury lounges, private toilets and showers, parking and limited meals. Though this option appears ideal, it could be considered unrealistic to the average concert goer as the pricing falls well within the range of the old maxim, “If you have to ask…”.

However grand the design may be though, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. The Dover International Speedway, like many Nascar events nation-wide, recorded one of the most lack luster attendance rates since the millennium. As any local can relate, simply by pointing at the lack of congestion at this year’s Sprint Cup Race, the grandstands were far from capacity. And a look at hard numbers supports this observation. The economic downturn, combined with rising gas prices has kept many fans following similar summer events from the comfort of their homes, rather than the stands.

The questions stands: Can an unknown Festival taking place in a hidden corner of the country attract a cash strapped audience?

The first power-chords will be struck on the afternoon of Friday July 20th. We are left to wait and see. What is certain though is three day passes have long since sold out and hype grows across internet forums like Rideshare, Couchsurfing, and Craigslist as the event nears. With 20,000 likes on Firefly’s Facebook page, top notch acts locked in, and a cooperative forecast for the weekend, nothing short of the hand of god should keep Firefly’s inaugural year from being a complete success.