Firefly on Film: Reflections of a weekend in the Woodlands on 35mm

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Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Important thing to remember this festival season: a fifty percent chance of rain is also a fifty percent chance of no rain. It could be a fifty percent chance of scorching sun and dry heat. Reality might not line up with your anticipations, and the best approach is to be prepared for anything and expect the unexpected.

This is something that came up at several intervals last weekend at Delaware’s Firefly Music Festival; I went in expecting to get soaked and instead I got sunburnt, I’d read media murmurs about diminished attendance but found it positively jumpin on Saturday; I thought (from experience at XPNFest a few years back) that Bob Dylan was going to to be insufferable and sad, and he was actually mostly very good — the best thing we can hope for with a Dylan set in 2017, honestly — closing his nearly 90-minute performance with a ripping “Ballad of a Thin Man.”

Covers were everywhere: sublime electronic soundscaper Eden tackled Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and OutKast’s “Hey Ya,” stripping both of their dance beats and reinventing them as contemplative ballads. (Weezer also did “Hey Ya,” and played it more by the book; it was not as interesting a rendition.) Vita and the Woolf played Radiohead’s “All I Need”; Mondo Cozmo did “Bittersweet Symphony” by The Verve to mark the single’s 20th anniversary. Chance the Rapper did several songs from Kanye West’s The Life Of Pablo. And to bring Friday to a brotastic peak, Twenty One Pilots brought Judah and the Lion onstage to play Chumbawamba’s “Tubthumping” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” Drunken spacehog airplane-arm dancing abounded.

That was another thread — not the brotasticness (though there’s possibly an argument to be made there) but collaboration, between main stage headliners, between local peers (Philly’s Chill Moody bringing out the Hardwork Movement horns to close his set), between old friends (Maggie Rogers, who grew up in DelMarVa and was positively beaming with bliss at playing her first festival, brought a childhood friend out to cover Spice Girls’ “Wannabe,” which she says they did at a first grade talent show).

Local ties were strong; beyond Rogers’ effusive excitement at a big hometown gig, Mondo Cozmo was greeted with cheers of “SOUTHAMPTON!”, the Bucks County burg where frontman Josh Ostrander grew up and lived till launching the band on the left coast. Hamilton Leithauser also talked about his younger years in the DC burbs, and when two strings of his twelve string guitar snapped on the first song, he blamed “the old DelMarVa heat.”

Lastly: the best moments and biggest surprises of Firefly played on interaction and intimacy: NYC electro rock duo Sofi Tukker diving offstage to dance with the crowd, Bishop Briggs following her Saturday main stage set with a stunning Sunday performance in the Festival’s tucked away Treehouse stage, dynamic dance pop artist Rozes getting right in fans’ faces during a set in a Toyota sponsored tent. She’d previously played a set on one of the bigger stages to a lot more people, but the energy was off the charts here.

As I did last year, I shot a roll of 35mm color film at Firefly along with the traditional old digital photo recaps (which you can dig into here), and present you with my faves below. My camera has a busted meter and leaks light unexpectedly; sometimes it creates a cool effect, other times it does not, sometimes it ruins a great photo, other times it does not. It’s kind of like the festival itself; an exercise in expecting the unexpected.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Thursday’s crowd files in not long after gates open for the first time.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Jellyfish forest was majestic at night.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Twenty One Pilots bringing the spectacle to Friday night.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Hardwork Movement drummer Angel Ocana rocks his cat tatt.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Fans line up to buy merch from Vita and The Woolf after their knockout set.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

The front of the Vita receiving line.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Saturdays are for the boys, apparently.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN
Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Festival recycling committee, hard at work and perilously balancing plastics.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Kevin Garrett at the Toyota tent, quiet as a whisper.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Met this couple on a walk between stages; they are both photographers and were psyched to ask about my Canon AE10. We talked for a while and I snapped this before parting ways.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

In the security trenches, pre Busta.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Hardwork Movement in effect.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Rozes, up close and personal with fans.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Bishop Briggs beneath a canopy of green at the Treehouse Stage. Possibly my fave set of the weekend.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Hamilton Leithauser serenades fans at the Coffee House stage for his second set of Sunday.

Firefly 2017 | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

A glorious performance by The Shins capped the weekend; see y’all next year, Firefly.

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