We rolled back into Philadelphia last night around 1 a.m., sweaty and exhausted from the final and hottest day of the 2018 Firefly Music Festival. It started with hip-hop — classic West Coast g-funk originator Warren G , whose signature jams “Regulate” and “Summertime in the LBC” played perfectly in the early afternoon — and ended with hip-hop — the Pulitzer Prize winning Kendrick Lamar, whose set was gripping and participatory, if a bit phoned-in (he twice told the crowd “This is my first time here in Delaware,” despite playing Firefly previously in 2013).
In between, we heard blazing anthems of life and death from Lord Huron, electro-rock house jams from Alice Merton, and an impressive set from Pittsburgh-born / LA-based pop singer Jaira Burns (who played in a cast due to a fractured foot). MGMT were meh on the mainstage — for all the production grandiosity of their space-tinged modern rock, they didn’t appear particularly interested in playing live — but at least they had interesting visuals to keep at least one of our senses occupied.
Acclaimed jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington tore across an hour-long performance with his band the West Coast Get Down, bringing out his pops Rickey Washington to jam with him for a Father’s Day treat. In the midst of an extensive tour in preparation for his new Heaven And Earth, Kamasi spoke of travel as an eye-opening and essential experience. “We wear different clothes, eat different foods, we hold different beliefs, and that’s beautiful. Diversity isn’t something to be ‘tolerated,’ it’s something to be celebrated.” To illustrate, he explained how the closing number “The Truth” includes five melodies interacting at once to show what can happen when differences are overcome; the performance was damn near spiritual.
Best of the day was SZA, who made her grand return to the mic for a throng of adoring fans clamoring at the Backyard Stage. She’s been on a self-imposed hiatus for the past month due to swollen vocal chords, didn’t appear on much of the recent TDE Championship tour, and at one point worried on social media that her voice was “permanently damaged.” The great news is she sounded fabulous last night; her nerves at performing again poked through at one or two places, a shaky vocal run and a soft crack, but that’s being nit-picky. “Drew Barrymore,” a fan favorite from last year’s stellar CTRL, sounded outstanding, as did the Kendrick-featured “Doves in the Wind” (K-dot was not present for his verse, alas) and the singalong “The Weekend.” Her energy was commanding and confident throughout, with a beaming smile, she profusely thanked the welcoming crowd for making the comeback so easy for her, and reminisced about going to college in Dover at DSU.
Check out photos from the performers below, and check back later in the week for more Firefly-In-the-Rearview coverage.