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FESTIVAL COVERAGE: Firefly Music Festival 2018 | Saturday & Sunday

Review by: Miranda Woody-Martin When I left off, I had just finished explaining to you all, our lovely readers, how fan-freaking-tastic Firefly Music Festival’s first two official dates of their 2018 season had been. The latter two days of the festival, Saturday and Sunday (June 16th and 17th, 2018), were just as amazing and worthy of shedding some light on. I could say so much about the camping, the vendors, and everything else that I really enjoyed in the short span of those two days, but for brevity’s sake I’m going to get down to what East Coast Live is all about: the music. There were so many great acts to see on Saturday, but I decided to begin my day in the later afternoon, kicking it in the back for Rag’n’Bone Man’s Lawn Stage performance. Admittedly struggling with the heat that day (temperatures were reaching nearly ninety degrees without a cloud in sight), I mostly heard this set from afar. While I can’t speak to the crowd or the atmosphere surrounding the performance up-close, I can speak to Rag’n’Bone Man’s raw talent and incredible vocal abilities. Hailing from Uckfield, England, Rag’n’Bone Man’s accent is rather heavy in his speaking voice (not unlike Arctic Monkeys frontman, Alex Turner), which gave his performance an extra, interesting touch. His immaculate sung vocals, though, stole the show entirely, as well as a little rap-verse he threw into the chorus of his hit song “Human”. I enjoyed sitting back and listening to Rag’n’Bone Man, and I hope that someday I get the chance to see him a bit more closely (when I’m not, ya know, dying of heat exhaustion). Despite the heat and despite the fact that I’d barely taken in any of Rag’n’Bone Man’s performance, it was time to head over to Firefly Stage to see the one and only Lil’ Wayne. Unfortunately, at that point it was already impossible to get anywhere near the stage for Wayne’s performance. A crowd of what had to be at least twenty-thousand people (nearly a third or so of the festival attendees) had already amassed at the stage, waiting for “Weezy F. Baby” to appear at any moment. Firefly had given Lil’ Wayne what my husband and I both thought to be an unusually early set time (6:15 PM, to be exact), and we assume they must have underestimated Wayne’s lasting and enduring popularity. Although Lil Wayne hasn’t necessarily created any hits of his own in the past few years, he will forever go down in rap history as the leader and proprietor of “YMCMB” (or, “Young Money Cash Money Billionaires”), and the performer of hits like “Lollipop”, “6 Foot 7 Foot”, “A Milli”, and more. (Ah, just listing those titles makes me feel like I’m in middle-school all over again!) That being said, Wayne must have also thought his set time was unacceptably early, because he arrived on stage roughly forty-five minutes late. Let me repeat that: forty-five minutes late. Of course, this is nothing compared to what Kanye pulled at Bonnaroo in the past (arriving roughly four or so hours late to his highly anticipated headlining set), but it was still a little unnerving to a crowd of thousands stuck in a sea of body-heat on a ninety degree summer day. Eventually, though, Wayne got on the stage and started his set. He only had about thirty minutes left to play, so he got right down to it: sporting sunglasses, a pink shirt and his usual flat-billed cap, he rapped many of the mega-hits mentioned above. As I died of heat exhaustion somewhere near the back of the crowd, I could tell that Lil’ Wayne was genuinely glad to be a part of Firefly 2018 (despite his late entrance), and that the sea of fans gathered together, screaming his name after all these years, seemed to really touch him. If only I could’ve found my “Free Weezy” t-shirt from middle-school; now THAT would’ve been something. After Wayne’s set came to an end, I knew that I had a choice to make upon composing my-now-cooled-down-and-well-hydrated self: I could either get a great spot for The Killers and Eminem that evening by sticking around Firefly stage, or I could venture off to see Cold War Kids and Portugal. The Man. I chose to stay put, seeing as my chances of making it across the venue and back in time for the aforementioned sets was slim to none (the crowd that day was the largest in Firefly history, might I add, and it certainly showed). So, I stayed out at the Firefly Stage and awaited the arrival of one of my all-time favorite bands to see live: The Killers. (While I awaited The Killers’ arrival, many did flock to Cold War Kids and, later, Portugal. The Man’s performances. Since I wasn’t able to attend these sets, feel free to leave a comment below and review their sets yourselves, respectively. East Coast Live appreciates your contribution, as always.) Now, back to our regular, studio broadcast: THE KILLERS. I always make a huge deal out of seeing this band live, because the first time I saw them live it truly changed my life. Honestly, I hadn’t expected much back then when I saw them live for the first time (at Bunbury Music Festival 2016, to be exact) and I was very, very pleasantly surprised by their sound, their energy and, above all, their humble, heart-felt nature. Brandon Flowers, long-time lead vocalist and frontman of The Killers, is one of the most kind, genuine men I’ve ever seen perform live. I was extremely ready to see him (and the rest of the band, of course) again, and when I did they certainly did not disappoint. As the now very large crowd roared, Flowers appeared on the stage donning an incredible sparkling, pink blazer amidst a conglomeration of flashing lights and soulful back-up vocals. A larger-than-life image of a neon cowboy sign (a Las Vegas staple, actually) appeared behind Flowers, and he began to sing “The Man”, one of the lead singles from The Killers’ latest release, Wonderful Wonderful. Flowers crooned, “I know the score like the back of my hand / Them other boys? I don’t give a damn!” At that moment, I erupted. Literally. Flowers’ achingly soulful and smooth vocals along with a disco-funk meets glam-rock beat and, once again, A GIANT NEON COWBOY SIGN had me dancing and screaming like the proverbial “Wild Child” in The Doors’ 1969 classic song of the same name. The Killers went on to perform many of their hit songs as well as another new track from their latest album (my favorite, “Run for Cover”) amidst an equally impressive array of lights, pyrotechnics, and confetti galore. The most memorable moment, though, was when Brandon Flowers asked a fan named Bryan to come up on the stage. Bryan, a young man from Pennsylvania, was a drummer. I’m not sure how the band learned about Bryan’s existence or his drumming, but the connection was somehow made and tonight? Bryan was about to become to star of the show. Flowers gave Bryan a short introduction, then invited him to play drums over a Killers’ track. Long story short: he did it. And he did it well. Bryan pleased Flowers so much, actually, that Flowers stopped singing at one point to show a large, shiny smile to the crowd. Flowers often does this during his performances, which I absolutely love. As Flowers said himself that night, “If you’re not a Killers fan, don’t worry-- the seduction will come”. Flowers is the master of seducing his audience with his heartfelt speeches mid-song, his sly smiles, his funky dance moves, and his impossibly cool fashion choices. I honestly cannot say enough good things about this guy as a performer: he and the rest of the band are among the best of the best, believe it or not. As The Killers closed their set (playing the mega-hits “When You Were Young” and “All These Things That I’ve Done” followed by an encore of “Mr. Brightside”), I stood almost disappointed that their set had to end. I looked at my husband after it was all said and done and confessed, “If there were ever a band I’d see live time and time again, it’s those guys”. He nodded in agreement, and we retreated for a moment to the open field nearest to Firefly Stage to take a bit of a water break before the one and only Eminem performed his high-energy set. In anticipation for Eminem, my husband and I filled up on free fountain-water and munched on some cheese fries: we knew we would need as much energy as possible for this super-crowded, incredibly wild set. Of course our estimation was correct (the security guard at Firefly stage told me the following day that he carried multiple limp, unconscious people out of the crowd during Eminem’s set) and as the time got closer to 11 PM, the crowd became more and more abuzz with energy. Finally, only a few minutes past 11 PM, the lights on the stage went out and only a message on the big-screen monitors remained. The message read as follows: If you are easily frightened by loud noises or offended by explicit lyrics you shouldn’t be here. - Eminem. That message definitely rang true as Em took the stage, appearing after a two-minute long video of a giant Slim Shady stomping through a city like Godzilla, cursing and cracking jokes along the way. Eventually, “the real Slim Shady” (see what I did there?) appeared on the stage and began to rap his famous Recovery hit “Won’t Back Down”. The show had just begun, and my husband’s eyes were already aglow with amazement. We were really seeing Eminem live, and in the flesh. It was one of those moments in which you ask yourself, how cool is this? Eminem went on to play mostly newer hits (such as “Rap God”, “Walk on Water”, “Love the Way You Lie” (featuring live vocals by Skylar Grey), etc.) and began to retreat into a setlist of older Eminem favorites toward the end of the show. The first of the older Eminem tracks was the infamous “Stan”, which also featured live vocals from the “incredibly talented and incredibly beautiful” (as Em said himself) Skylar Grey. The crowd went wild as the familiar rain-drops over a static radio sound blared through the speakers, and Em’s performance of “Stan” didn't disappoint. In fact, none of Eminem’s performance disappointed. Even though there is a noticeably large mood shift and change in subject matter between the stylings of older and newer Eminem tracks, Em didn't compromise on either side. Eminem (whose real name is Marshall Mathers), performed his old songs just as 2001 Eminem would have, and his new songs like a well-seasoned and highly trained successful rapper and hip-hop mogul would. I was incredibly impressed with his performance, and of course more than a little excited that he played some of my favorite songs (“Toy Solider”, “Without Me”, “My Name Is”, “The Way I Am”, “Mockingbird”, etc). Eminem’s set came to a close after he played his circa 2009 comeback mega-hit, “I’m Not Afraid”. However, the crowd all knew that Eminem couldn't perform at a festival without playing what is arguably the most famous song in radio-rap history, “Lose Yourself” (especially since Firefly had even hired a food vendor for 2018 called, literally, “Mom’s Spaghetti”). The crowd roared and pleaded for an encore, and Shady gave the people what they wanted: he came out in a change of clothes (now donning all black, with a black graphic t-shirt, black pants and a black flat-billed cap) and the famous intro guitar riff began. Em spoke, “If you had one shot, one opportunity, would you capture it? Or just let it slip?” After that, it was all over. My attempts to control myself and not act like a circa-2001 Eminem super-fan were foiled; I rapped along with every. single. word. to that incredible song. Seeing “Lose Yourself” live was, without a doubt, one of the highlights of my numerous live-music experiences. It was just unreal. Eminem thanked his fans for attending his electrifying set after “Lose Yourself” came to a close, and many retreated back to their tents for a night of rest. However, there was still plenty of Firefly to take in if you weren’t sleepy: Martin Garrix played a high-energy EDM set until nearly 1 AM, and new-age rapper Lil Xan played in the Pavillion later that night as well. In other words, the party didn’t stop until very early Sunday morning (which I wasn’t mad about, at all). Sunday morning came bright and early, however, so sleep was scarce to be found all throughout the Firefly campsites. Sunday was to be yet another day of ridiculous heat and a stacked line-up, and despite my exhaustion I was ready to roll bright and early. After all, Sunday was the day I’d been most excited for, personally: I was merely hours away from seeing MGMT, Alt-J, and Kendrick Lamar (all three of which were selling points for me this festival season) and I couldn't wait. Before all that was set to take place, though, my husband and I headed over to The Pavillion to see the acclaimed DJ Party Favor play an ultra-fun set. Party Favor played his hits (such as “Scrape”), and EDM fans of all kinds danced madly under The Pavillion’s protective shade. It was already nearing ninety degrees again, so the shade was well-loved by my husband and I throughout the entirety of Firefly weekend. I couldn't hide in the shade forever, though, because MGMT were playing next on Firefly Stage. I had listened to MGMT since early high-school (which, haven’t we all?) and really, really anticipated their eclectic, strange set. I had heard mixed reviews on seeing MGMT live from friends and other festival-goers alike: mostly, I heard a mixture of “they’re weird”, “they suck”, or “they’re incredible” live. No one seemed to have a neutral or even mildly good-or-bad opinion of having seen MGMT live in the past, which made the prospect of seeing them all the more interesting to me. As I made my way to Firefly stage I was able to meet up with a few of my camping neighbors (shout out to the cool New Yorkers and the brothers from Virginia Beach that camped on either side of us all weekend), and I waited for MGMT’s performance to begin. MGMT took the stage a few minutes late, but their stage set-up was pretty cool. A giant, yellow blow-up figure took up a decent part of their stage, the figure being the dreadfully creepy looking mascot from their latest album Little Dark Age. However, I am interested in all things creepy (well, mostly), so the new album and its aesthetic quirks made me pretty happy. Hearing it live made it all the more impressive to me, of course, and as MGMT played their new tracks “She Works Out Too Much” and the titular track “Little Dark Age”, I found myself dancing and bopping around, enjoying myself completely. MGMT went on to play my favorite old-school Oracular Spectacular track, “Time to Pretend”, and I was overjoyed. MGMT’s performance overall had a mellowed-out, slightly downbeat tone to it, but it featured interesting visuals on a large screen hanging behind the band that fit the almost “psychedelic” sound of the enigmatic duo well. Admittedly, though, I left MGMT’s set shortly after “Time to Pretend” to get a front-row spot for the influential alt-rockers Alt-J. As I walked away (well, danced away is more like it) from MGMT’s set, I made a full-sprint toward the Lawn Stage. Alt-J were set to play on the Lawn in roughly forty-five minutes, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of it. Afterall, I had already come to terms with the fact that I was going to miss SZA’s performance due to her being sandwiched between Alt-J and Kendrick Lamar, so I wanted to make the best of the sets I was actually going to see. I didn’t regret leaving MGMT’s set early (honestly, I’d heard “Electric Feel” and “Kids” quite enough in my lifetime already, thank you) once I realized how great of a spot I was about to cop for Alt-J’s set. My husband and I found a spot right on the VIP railing only a few rows back, and waited for Alt-J to take the stage. As Alt-J did approach the stage, the crowd was a bit more mellow than I’d anticipated. Despite their growing popularity, Alt-J amassed a rather loosely-packed crowd, which was a refreshing change of pace after a weekend of being packed like sardines into one show or another. Alt-J’s fans were incredibly laid back, and myself and a few other impassioned Alt-J fans grooved all evening long to the band’s indie-meets-choirboy tracks such as “Fitzpleasure”, “The Gospel of John Hurt”, “Every Other Freckle”, “Left Hand Free”, “Tessellate”, “Matilda”, “Dissolve Me”, and more. Honestly, seeing Alt-J live felt near to a spiritual experience. The English, alt-rock trio sounded like a group of polished choir boys at times (shoutout to “The Gospel of John Hurt”, of course) and a rock’n’roll experiment in psychedelic-meets-trance sound at others. Alt-J are renowned for their incredibly unique sound and ridiculously in-depth lyrics, and they do not disappoint live. Although they aren't extremely high-energy live, the band definitely delivers in the form of raw talent and pure, musical ability. I felt almost transcendent, as pretentious as that sounds, as the trio played so skilfully and so, so beautifully. Their set being comprised of three partitions that created crisp lines between bandmates looked ultra-cool as the sunset descended upon the Woodlands of Dover, Delaware and, needless to say, I was blown away by the performance overall. However, it was about the time to get back to Firefly stage in order to see Kendrick Lamar live once-and-for-all (I’d missed him at Bonnaroo 2015, sadly) so I made a run across the Woodlands once more a few minutes before Alt-J ended their set. On my way through the forest venue I did, however, get to at least hear SZA sing “Love Galore” in the distance, which was pretty cool. I also stopped midway through the lit-up Woodland path to get a neat little photo-op with the shining disco ball props I’d seen earlier in the weekend (which you can find on my Instagram feed, of course). After my photo shenanigans, though, I continued to press on toward Firefly Stage (basically, the venue’s main stage if you haven’t already noticed) for Kendrick’s headlining set. As I arrived at the stage, a bit of a crowd had already piled in for Kendrick Lamar’s hotly-anticipated performance. I managed to find a good spot for myself and my husband a bit left of center-stage, once again pressed against the railing that acted as a partition between VIP ticket holders and us “peasants” in General Admission (honestly, though, festival tickets are already so expensive; who of you people can actually afford a VIP ticket?). We stood our ground as the crowd pushed in and waited for Kendrick to take the stage. A bit of the usual hype-inducing tactics followed: the big monitors on the side of the stage vibrated as they showed live footage of the crowd, the weirdly red-looking crescent moon that hung low in the sky (Astrology and Astronomy peeps, can you tell me what was up with that?), and finally went black before Compton’s “good kid” himself, Kendrick-freaking-Lamar, took the stage in a fury of pyrotechnics and a vocal recording of a Fox News anchor’s racist ranting and ravings (which signaled to all of us what was about to come). As the racist raving came to an end, the song “DNA” began with Kendrick dropping the bars, “I got / I got / I got loyalty / Got royalty / Inside my DNA”. Kendrick starting with such a well-known track was a pleasant surprise. After all, many acts that I’d seen this festival season had opened with one of their more-obscure, or “deep”, tracks, so this commitment to getting the crowd up and moving early-on in the show was a nice change of pace. After starting with an earth-shattering performance of “DNA”, Kendrick rallied the audience once more in a full-fledged sing-a-long to his other hit rap anthems, “Swimming Pools”, “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” and “m.A.A.d City”. Although the crowd knew the lyrics to all of these songs, they sang none so passionately as the track Kendrick ultimately decided to close the show with: the mega-hit and pop culture staple, “Humble”. When the introductory guitar to Kendrick’s “Humble” began, the Compton-based rapper lifted his mic out to the audience. He didn’t say a word; he didn’t have to. I had never seen an audience (myself included) know every single word to a song as a unified body until that moment; sure, you’ll always have super fans of any band that know every word to even the most obscure tracks, but this was different. As Kendrick lifted the mic to each and every one of us in his audience, we all sang and rapped along, collectively. Not only did we all sing along, we all completed the song. That’s not an exaggeration: the fans completed the entire song, word for word, beat for beat, without Kendrick having to say a word. I’d never seen anything like that in my life, and probably never will again; if anything, it's a testament to the wild popularity of Kendrick and his latest LP release, DAMN. Kendrick Lamar just might be the most popular rapper alive today-- the proof was in his Firefly 2018 performance. After the crowd finished the song, Kendrick didn’t simply let it go: he then re-started the track, this time performing the song himself (well, in unison with the crowd who was more than ready to sing the whole thing over again), closing out the show as the song came to an end. Sadly, Kendrick Lamar didn’t do an encore song, but after a solid set like that? There was no need to. Still yet, fans hung around for many minutes after Kendrick left the stage, begging for an encore amidst shouts of glee at each passing shadow on the stage. Alas, Kendrick didn’t come back out to perform another song, and off to ODESZA’s set we all went. ODESZA closed out Firefly 2018 with a huge EDM performance on the Backyard Stage late Sunday night. Starting the show with their hit songs “Bloom” and “Say My Name”, the DJ duo played to a crowd of thousands of fans toting glowsticks, hula hoops, and other EDM-friendly fanfare. I was completely beat after three days of hiking through the festival venue in the June heat, so I didn’t stay for the entire performance. However, a great time was had by all as far as I could see, and it was definitely a memorable way to close out the festival’s 2018 season. Overall, Firefly 2018 was among one of the best festival experiences I’ve ever had. So, East Coast Live readers and fans, how was your Firefly 2018 experience? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts on this year’s lineup, experience, and more. Peace!

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