By Sean Reis
Arts & Entertainment Editor
The Woodlands of Dover, Del., was an escape from reality for music fans from Wednesday, June 15, to Sunday, June 19, as it hosted Red Frog’s Firefly Music Festival and sheltered communities of campers. The locale was beautiful, and so were the artists, attendees and friendly-faced workers that came together to make the event possible.
When fans began flooding the campsites on Wednesday — for those who had premier camping — and Thursday, the diverse masses of people left behind the real world as they kicked off their summer, ready to forget responsibility and enjoy what was soon to become one of the greatest weekends of their young lives. The days started early, while the nights ended late, however, the memories made during the time between would last a lifetime.
The festival’s fifth year did not feature legendary artists Paul McCartney and Morrissey, who performed at Firefly 2015, but fans who frequent The Woodlands felt that 2016 was one of the best years yet — Firefly was filled with talent, from the headliners to the newcomers who had never played a festival before. The latter acts were especially impressive, and the artistry in their performances retained the prowess of experienced festival veterans.
It isn’t easy for artists to perform to a crowd that is unfamiliar with their music, but the artists at Firefly didn’t seem to have a problem with it. Boston’s William Bolton, who performed what he calls “soul-hop,” kicked off the first official day for many premier campers on Thursday afternoon. He performed as if he were personal friends with every member of his crowd.
“I’ve never been to a music festival before, but now I’m playing one,” Bolton said, but if he felt apprehensive, it didn’t show in his performance.
Another artist, Los Angeles-based disc jockey (DJ) and producer-turned-alternative rapper, gnash, took the stage on Saturday at The Pavilion tent — normally home to most of the weekend’s DJs — with similar fashion to Bolton. Garrett Nash, known as gnash and for his recent hit “I hate u, I love u” with singer-songwriter Olivia O’Brien, drew quite the large crowd for such an early set time. Though many gnash fans made an appearance and knew every word to every song, many only knew the musician from his recent hit track. Most of them stuck around anyway to witness the young, up-and-coming artist perform.
At that same stage the next day, Louis The Child was one of the more popular early-time DJs to play, as well as Jai Wolf, who previously played on Thursday. The Chicago-based DJ duo filled the tent to the brim as they spun what was one of the best DJ sets of the weekend with ease — excluding the other headlining acts, naturally.
The headliners that played through the nights and into the next mornings were all unbelievable — with the exception of Fetty Wap, who did not even come out on stage until half of his set time had passed. Instead, his DJ played for a majority of his allotted time, leaving only time for six or seven hits from the New Jersey-born sensationalized rapper.
Kings of Leon, though, proved its members were true kings and ruled the stage on Friday night. The following night, Florence and the Machine’s songstress Florence Welch captivated the crowd with beautiful, dominating vocals before deadmau5 unleashed what was one of the single greatest electronic music acts I have ever seen. Mumford & Sons also had quite a stellar performance and played for two hours on Sunday night, but nothing compared to three of the other second-row headliners: The 1975, Blink-182 and my personal favorite artist, Porter Robinson.
The young men better known together as The 1975 were rock stars on the Lawn Stage on Sunday night. Earlier this year the English rock band released its sophomore album, “I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it,” and the band made sure to perform a mix of songs from both of its albums — most notably, “Chocolate,” “Girls” and “Sex.” Another fan-favorite song, “Somebody Else” from their more recent album, brought the crowd to sing together at the top of their lungs one last time.
Before attendees made their way to the Lawn Stage on Sunday night, many headed to the Firefly Main Stage to go see Blink-182 perform. The alternative rock band, which set the soundtrack for many fans’ ’90s and early 2000s, was one of the top reasons attendees made the trip to The Woodlands this year. Though the band also went on tour this summer, no one could say for sure how many more opportunities there would be to hear hits like “I Miss You,” “Dammit” and “All The Small Things” played live, which made Firefly a must-go-to for the biggest Blink fans.
The main reason I made the trip to The Woodlands this year, though, was to see an electronic music artist from Chapel Hill, N.C., known as Porter Robinson. His performance was by far my favorite set all weekend. Robinson started out as a DJ, but following the release of his debut album “Worlds” in 2014, he created a live show featuring visuals that virtually brought his world to life. When Robinson first went on his live tour for the album, such a show was unprecedented for modern-day DJs. Since then, his show has only grown and other DJs have followed suit by developing their own extravagant live shows.
Robinson’s updated live show was an amazing performance on Friday night, as were the other headliners, and Firefly as a whole. If only Fetty Wap lived up to the hype his DJ attempted to build for more than half an hour.