Music festivals have been free flowing gatherings in the middle of nowhere since Woodstock. From the perspective of an attendee, it’s like Harry Potter apparating to the Quiddich World Cup. Everything simply appears in a field for a few days of good tunes and fun times.
But like Christmas and most other good things in the world, music festivals are the product of backbreaking work on the part of those behind the scenes making it look easy. Elves work 365, and so have the folks backstage at a major music festival.
“Just the fact that so many of these things get pulled off every year is a miracle almost. A lot of people devote a lot of time to it,” says Dave Simonett of indie-bluegrass band Trampled by Turtles.
Simonett is a music festival veteran — this year’s summer tour alone lists almost a dozen.
One of those stops is Firefly Music Festival, which is making its debut into musical society this July. Creating the festival from scratch was a long process, according to Matt Robinson, a Red Frog events promoter for the festival.
Creating a music festival from scratch all starts with “a really great team” Robinson says, but location is the genesis of the experience. After considering over 60 locations around the country, Red Frog planted their festival flag in Dover, Del.
The name Firefly itself, Robinson says “came from this feeling that we want to give all of our guests. This outdoor, summer night feel.”
The Dover Speedway created the Firefly atmosphere with beautiful trees and a lovely location. It is also logistically desirable, being only a few hours’ drive from several major east coast cities.
“We wanted to create a one of a kind music experience,” Robinson said. “We want it to be very comfortable. . .it took a lot of brainstorming, but were being very careful about how we want it to look and how we want our guests to feel when they walk in.”
Getting a star-studded lineup is the biggest hurdle for festival planners. Robinson says Red Frog brought in a talent agent especially to help secure an attention-grabbing lineup.
“Talent sells tickets, plain and simple; We weren’t going to sit by and take what was just OK. We personally enjoy every single one of these acts,” said Robinson.
Firefly succeeded in securing an impressive lineup to rival even long established festivals. The bold print includes The Black Keys, Jack White, The Killers, Lupe Fiasco, OK GO and the Flaming Lips among others.
But for musicians, the lure of festivals is simple.
“I think first and foremost they’re just really fun,” says Simonett. “The atmosphere is great; you’re playing with a lot of bands. They’re kind of like reunions with musicians. Some of our good touring friends, that’s the only time we see each other.”
As for what he sees in the working side of festivals, Simonett has nothing but respect.
“There’s an amazing amount of work that goes into to put these things on. Even coordinating that many people is a feat in itself,” said Simonett.
One of the most important factors is volunteers. Most festivals, including Firefly, court the help of volunteers as a unique and inexpensive way to attend in “greeter” or “information” roles. After working a shift, the volunteer is free to roam the festival.
Though they are the focus of music festivals, musicians probably have the easiest jobs. The backstage of a festival is a lot like what goes on in front of it — mostly people hanging out and enjoying music.
“Normally it’s not that exciting, we’re warming up and pacing around because we’re nervous,” says Simonett. “The backstage is pretty chill. Maybe late at night it does get a little rowdy. But it’s mainly like a family reunion or a picnic back there.”
With so many moving parts, things seem bound to go wrong, but Simonett can only recall one horror story.
“At this one festival, I think that only the mandolin and my voice were coming through the speakers. . .We ended up going out in front of the stage and playing acoustic while they tried to figure out the problem.”
Eventually, Simonett said, “the sound guy was so frustrated that he just walked away.”
As serendipitous festival luck would have it, friends from another band took over the sound booth, fixed the problem “and it ran smooth for the rest of the show.”
“It’s really a collective effort,” he said. “It’s amazing stuff like that doesn’t happen more often.”
Robinson would agree that putting together Firefly has been a collective effort for Red Frog employees. But since most are within festival attending age themselves, it’s hard to call it a job.
“Getting to do these really, almost unfathomable events as a young person, at least in my case is so exciting. . .if you think big, you can definitely do it.”
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