Dover, Delaware’s annual Firefly Music Festival kicks off this Thursday, and will jam-pack some 130-plus artists into four days. For a few of those artists, like headliners Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, it’s safe to say that most of the tens of thousands in attendance will be watching. For several of the artists — electropop duo Marian Hill, alternative vets Jimmy Eat World, Alaskan modern rockers Portugal. The Man, 90s R&B hitmaker Warren G — the crowds will be be reliably huge.
But for many of the acts on the bill, the audience might be less automatically robust. It might take a little bit of discovering to see them, and these are often times the most thrilling sets to catch. In the past, this has meant Bishop Briggs playing the intimate confines of the treehouse stage, or Laura Stevenson rocking the Toyota Music Den; it’s been the legendary DJ Jazzy Jeff spinning the hits on a sunny midday, or singer-songwriter Hamilton Leithauser at the Coffeehouse Stage; it’s been rapper Pell rocking a Porch Stage set in the twilight, or Maggie Rogers starting the day off at the Lawn Stage at 1 p.m.
In short, it’s established names in much smaller settings than we expect, or unfamiliar names that we go on to remember. This year, we present you an assortment of artists to discover at all tiers of Firefly 2018 — from newcomers like Cali punks The Regrettes and Philly rapper Tierra Whack each playing two sets on Friday, all the way to acclaimed jazz visionary Kamasi Washington taking to the festival main stage on Sunday. Listen up, pack your sunscreen, stay hydrated, and get ready to explore. – John Vettese
Zeek Burse (Thursday 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. North Hub; Friday 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. South Hub)
At a festival this close to home, it’s obviously worth checking out what local acts the lineup has in store. Zeek Burse may be performing on Firefly’s campground stages, a fifteen minute walk outside the festival entrance, but as one of the most unique performers out there, he shouldn’t be overlooked. Burse was raised on gospel music and those influences come through in his songs, but so do a mix of different sounds rooted in rock, funk and soul that he effortlessly blends into something entirely his own. – Sarah Hojsak
Amillion The Poet (Thursday, The Backyard Stage, 5:45 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.)
Delaware author, poet, and musician Amillion The Poet will take to the Backyard Stage to deliver some sweet R&B jams. His music is based completely in individuality, spirituality, and success. He’s trying his best to be inspirational and unique, and so far succeeding. His music is fun and easy to jam to, though it is difficult to stream, so you’ll just have to catch his set in person. He also has a book out for purchase, “P.I.M.P (Poetry In Motion Proceeds).” – Emily Herbein
Tierra Whack (Friday 1:00 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Porch Stage; 5:15 p.m. – 5:45 p.m. Coffeehouse Stage)
This Philadelphia rapper has one hell of an imagination. I don’t say that just because Tierra Whack (yes, her real name) began making her name freestyling at age 15; I don’t just say it because her rapid-fire flow is filled with non-sequitur lyrical hooks that run circles round my head; I don’t just say it because of her dazzling new visual album Whack World, which places 15 minute-long songs in eye-popping surroundings; I say it because of all of those things, and all the potential we haven’t yet seen. Whack’s style, both visual and auditory, is fast paced and fun like a good Adult Swim cartoon; it’s trippy like the “Black Hole Sun” music video; her set at the Roots Picnic was possibly my favorite of the day; and she’s getting shoutouts from Solange and writeups in the New York Times. You’ve got two chances to see her up close on Friday, don’t miss out. – J.V.
Southern Avenue (Friday 1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Toyota Music Den; Friday 2:30 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. The Porch Stage)
Soulful blues quintet Southern Avenue are all the rage in their hometown of Memphis, TN, but are still lesser-known in these parts. That’s about to change, as the group’s smooth vocals and twangy instrumentals are sure to sweep audience members off their feet the moment they step onstage. Don’t arrive at Southern Avenue’s sets unprepared; listen back to their self-titled debut album, released last year, before the show. – S.H.
Liz Cooper & the Stampede (Friday 1:00 p.m. – 1:45 p.m. Lawn Stage; Friday 3:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. The Treehouse)
If country music is what comes to mind when you think of Nashville, then Liz Cooper & the Stampede may just be redefining Nashville with their mystical sounds. Though their first album isn’t out until August, the band sounds seasoned and 70’s in a part dream folk, part psychedelic rock sort of way that makes for easy grooving. – S.H.
Xie (Pavilion Stage, 1:30 p.m. – 2:15 p.m.)
This LA-based indie pop queen belongs in the upper ranks of stardom with MØ and Lorde. Her voice is moody and hypnotic, backed by intricate tempos and infectious beat drops that will tempt you to dance no matter where you are. – Mariah Hall
The Regrettes (Friday 1:45 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. Backyard Stage; Friday 4:15 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. Toyota Music Den)
L.A. punk rockers The Regrettes caught everyone’s attention when they signed to Warner Bros. Records while still in high school, and their success is well-earned. The band’s debut album Feel Your Feelings Fool! was released last year, and it’s songs are polished but blunt feminist anthems that strike the perfect balance between punk rawness and catchy pop hooks — I can’t get that darn “Seashore” song out of my head and I’m totally okay with it. – S.H.
Ron Gallo (Lawn 4:00 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.; Toyota Music Den 6:15 p.m. – 6:45 p.m.)
Nashville-via-Philly rocker Ron Gallo is set to shred the Lawn Stage Friday afternoon. Gallo and company cross batshit garage punk and art rock with a somewhat-sardonic take on life lyrically. Expect the unexpected from Gallo, who can not only melt face with tracks from 2017’s Heavy Meta, but also mellow out with unreleased track “Happy Death Day.” Friday Firefly attendees have two chances to witness Gallo & Co., first on the Lawn Stage at 4 p.m. and again at the Toyota Music Den at 6:15 p.m. – Jack Madden
Chase Atlantic (Friday, The Porch Stage, 4:00 p.m. – 4:45 p.m.)
Chase Atlantic is what happens when two brothers and their friend decide that they want their band to be bigger than their home of Australia, and won’t stop until they’re internationally signed. Youtubers Clinton and Michael Cave did just that. It’s weird – on my first listen, I had no idea that this was their band until I read a really extensive article about them. I actually used to watch the really awesome mashup music videos they used to make. Now, they’re blending a unique sound of rap, R&B, synth, and rock. They’re sort of all over the place, but it’s also very definitively unique. Their debut EP all the way back in 2014, Dalliance, sounds absolutely nothing like their current work, 2017’s Chase Atlantic. They’ve really honed in on who they are and what they want to sound like. Now, they’re a mix of Tame Impala, Skrillex, The Weeknd, and Travi$ Scott, if you had to put names to it. I have a feeling this performance will be really, really awesome. – E.H.
Flint Eastwood (Porch Stage, 5:45 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.)
Flint Eastwood is the stage name of Jax Anderson out of Detroit, MI. Her songs are personal and emotive. The single “Queen” off EP Broke Royalty is a fiercely empowering anthem for women curating their creative hustle, reflecting Anderson’s own experiences fighting for success in the music industry. – M.H.
Big Gigantic (Backyard 12:30 a.m. – 1:45 a.m.)
Big Gigantic is no stranger to the Woodlands. The Boudler-based twin-piston DJs are returning to Firefly for the third time – their most recent appearance was Sunday 2014 to close the festival (the slot occupied by Odseza this year). Now appearing late night Friday, the duo is prepared to throw down a set filled with a groovin’ blend of instrumental electronics, hip-hop breaks, and live instruments. Saturday night’s anticipated forecast: cloudy with a chance of glow sticks. – J.M.
Foxtrot & the Getdown (Saturday, South Hub, 10:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m., The Coffeehouse, 5:15 p.m. – 5:45 p.m., Sunday, North Hub, 10:00 a.m. – 10:45 a.m.)
This soul meets bluegrass meets rock group has been making the rounds in the Philly scene for the last year or so, and notably just opened up for Bon Jovi at the Wells Fargo Center, so this slot at Firefly has definitely been hard earned. Following the release of their 2016 debut LP, Roots Too Deep, Foxtrot & the Getdown has hit the ground running, and they’ve got another LP due out later this year, with two teaser singles “Down and Out” and “Shine” already out. Make sure you stop by at least one of their three performances at Firefly and support our home team! – E.H.
Savannah Conley (Saturday, Porch Stage, 1:00 p.m. – 1:45 pm.)
Rising country singer Savannah Conley has all the makings of a star with her powerhouse of a voice and attitude to match. She’s edgy and cool and anything but what you’d think of when conjuring the image country. Her music transcends the realm of stereotypes and places itself all over the map. Tracks like “Never Be Ourselves” are sweet and slow, while “Midnight Train” is low and crooning, all the while maintaining very clear Western roots. Her most recent EP, Twenty-Twenty was released earlier this year, and it’s killer. You won’t want to miss what could either be a cozy intimate performance or an all out show from Savannah next week, cause you really never know what you’re going to get. – E.H.
Alex Lahey (Saturday 1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. Toyota Music Den; Saturday 2:30 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. Lawn Stage)
Formerly of the band Animaux, Australian singer-songwriter Alex Lahey has struck out on her own, making her way through the festival circuit with her jubilant, guitar-driven pop songs in tow. Her 2017 album I Love You Like a Brother is upbeat and fast-paced, allowing for the perfect amount of head-bopping. – S.H.
Middle Kids (Firefly Stage 2:15 p.m. – 3:15 p.m. ; Toyota Music Den 7:15 p.m. – 7:45 p.m.)
Popularized by their indie-rock anthem “Edge of Town,” the Aussie band has a solid debut album’s worth of tunes, promising new material, and an impressive arsenal of covers, from Blink-182 to Bleachers, to pack their midday main stage set. If you sleep on the band’s set (not advisable) or want to see them again in a more intimate setting, head over to the Toyota Music Den at 7:15 p.m. on Saturday for a second set from the band.- J.M.
Smallpools (Tree House, 7:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.)
It’s impossible not to feel enamored by the alt-dance hits of Smallpools, whose catchy sound is similar to Passion Pit, but with more of a club-scene vibe. Their 2017 single, “Passenger Side” is the perfect summer party song to blast on your car radio on your way to the beach. – M.H.
Hotel Garuda (Pavilion Stage 7:45 p.m. – 8:45 p.m.)
Hotel Garuda rose in popularity during the mid-2010’s EDM boom on Soundcloud, garnering a cult-like following from fans and blogs alike thanks to their melodic remixes and features on genre-spanning compilations. If the DJ duo’s sundown set at Firefly is anything like their Holy Ship set, where they featured their own remix of Lorde’s “Green Light” to start the set and Yaeji’s infectious 2018 hit “Raingurl” elsewhere, Pavilion Stage partiers are in for a real treat. Noting on Twitter that this slot is their latest and best set time they’ve played at a festival to date, expect the pair to rise to the occasion and drop an unforgettable set. – J.M.
Brother Sundance (Sunday, Toyota Music Den, 1:00 p.m. – 1:30 p.m., The Treehouse, 3:30 p.m. – 3:45 p.m.)
Brother Sundance, where have you been hiding? Lifelong musical protégé Ryan Talerico has branded himself as a solo artist in undertaking this new project, and he released his first Brother Sundance EP, Honey, last year. Pulling inspirations from rap, pop, electronic, and alternative rock, his sound is so cohesive and compressed and completely full of surprises that I’m really disappointed that this is my first time hearing of him. With swirling synthetic beats paired with immaculate acoustic soundscapes and pulsing drums, Brother Sundance gives us hope for an incomparable live performance. Please, please, stop by one of his two sets. You’ll only regret it if you don’t. – E.H.
Jaira Burns (Tree House, 2:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.)
The blue-haired baddie Jaira Burns is magnetic to watch. Every song she releases is a banger, propelling her skyrocketing popularity this past year. In her latest single, “Sugarcoat,” she is scathingly unapologetic, spitting bars with biting attitude, made up in artfully glittering makeup. – M.H.
Kamasi Washington (Firefly Stage 4:30 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.)
The modern-day jazz titan’s set is sure to put the main stage crowd in a West Coast groove leading up to fellow LA-native Kendrick Lamar’s headlining set Sunday evening. Kamasi Washington’s upcoming double LP, titled Heaven and Earth is due out Friday, June 22nd, but don’t be surprised if the ensemble performs a new song or two from the release. Washington and company recently appeared on English television show “Later… with Jools Holland” to perform XPN fave “Fists of Fury.” – J.M.
Firefly Music Festival takes place June 14th through June 17th at the Woodlands in Dover, Delaware; tickets and more information are available here.
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