Let’s face it, Delawareans are sensitive when it comes to discussions about size.
Oh, we’ve tried to disguise it with clever taglines like Small Wonder. Tried a little misdirection with It’s Good Being First. But truth is, we’re constantly apologizing for being small. No major airport. No top-tier professional sports team. No big city…
Often, we’re dismissed as a mere rest stop by those on their way to “real cities” like Philadelphia, New York, D.C., Baltimore. Delaware, yeah, I drove through it once on my way to…How many times have you heard that?
Which is why the emergence of Firefly is so cool. This music festival didn’t just put Delaware on the map. For four days in June, Delaware is the center of the alternative music universe. And it’s in Dover, no less, a community whose musical taste probably skews more toward country western.
But that contradiction fits nicely into the storyline when you consider the strange bedfellows who made Firefly a reality. First there’s Red Frog Events, a Chicago-based company that had never put on a music festival prior to Firefly. Then there’s Dover International Speedway, an aging race track looking to reinvent itself as the appeal of NASCAR fades. And, of course, Delaware, a state with an inferiority complex when it comes to big-league entertaining.
Yep, it was a match made in heaven.
Year one (2012): 35,000 attendees. Last year: A sell-out at 90,000. This year: 90,000 again.
How poetic that a Firefly helps Delaware catch lightning in a bottle.
For my wife and me, this year was our second visit. My kids (18 and 21) have made it every year but one. And while Out & About has been a part of many memorable events in this state over the past three decades, I can honestly say this may be the best Delaware event I’ve attended. In fact, it’s one of the best events I’ve attended anywhere.
Why? Because it’s wholesome without being corny. Because the music is cutting edge without being incendiary. Because it’s invigorating to be in the midst of so much young, positive energy. Especially when you feel welcomed.
Name the last event you attended where the security guards were high-fiving guests as they came in and asking who you were there to see? When have you ever gone through the annoying scanning process at the entrance then been apologized to for the necessary inconvenience? Can you remember any concert you’ve attended where even the slightest bump or nudge is followed immediately with “excuse me”?
Perhaps O&A’s director of publications, Jim Miller, put it best: “It’s like Disney putting on a music festival.”
But it’s not. It’s Red Frog, and Dover International Speedway, and the State of Delaware. In fact, the state’s tourism office got into the act this year by sponsoring beach volleyball courts. The message: “Glad you’re here for Firefly, but you know we have some pretty nice beaches just an hour from here.” That’s good thinking.
Delawareans should embrace Firefly. It reflects well on us. People define a place by the experience they had there (Anyone hear of Woodstock, N.Y., before the festival?).
You remember where you had a good time. Where you were welcomed. Where you were invited back. That security guard who high-fived you, he was from Delaware.
Yes, we certainly are within a couple hours of some big-time cities. But for the fifth year in a row, tens of thousands drove past those cities to get here. Congratulations, Firefly. That’s no small achievement.