“How was Firefly?”––this is a question I have answered quite a bit over the last few days. Truthfully, Firefly was OK––I didn’t have the best time, but I certainly didn’t have the worst time. A large portion of my negative feelings towards the event are attributed to the unpredictable––everything that could have happened at a music festival, happened this past weekend at Firefly. Two high-profile acts, Charli XCX and Kings of Leon did not perform (the former removed from all online schedules, but kept in all print materials––the latter due to severe weather). Extreme weather on both ends of the spectrum hit The Woodlands (chilly, cloudy, rainy weather on Thursday gave way to extreme heat and––infamously––festival-ending severe thunderstorms on Saturday evening). Attendees trudged through ankle-deep mud that later dried and blew around Dover, DE like desert sand. Unpredictable weather conditions aside, I saw some truly excellent performers this year.
5) Falls // Forest Stage, June 21
Falls: I could not have asked for a better way to “chill out” on what seemed to be the hottest fucking day of the festival. Hailing from Australia, Falls is a folk duo comprising musicians Melinda Kirwin and Simon Rudston-Brown. The pair performed two sets at Firefly: one in StubHub’s “Coffee House” (an enclosed acoustic stage, replacing last year’s “Big Break Stage”), and later on “The Forest” stage––a small, intimate corner of The Woodlands, free from the mania which often plagued the rest of the festival. Falls’ set was my first (and aside from Benjamin Booker, my only) show on Sunday, and the two made it easy to forget the searing heat with their gorgeous harmonies. Kirwin and Rudston-Brown are touring the United States this summer, so be sure to check them out!
Highlight: “Hollywood,” a song written not about Los Angeles, but about the small bar in Sydney in which Falls held residency in for years. Kirwin provided an anecdote about its owner, an 84-year-old woman who was probably actually in her nineties, as she had been stating her age as “84” for years.
4) Big Data // Backyard Stage, June 20
Big Data is having a pretty awesome year––he topped the Billboard Alternative charts with the track “Dangerous,” which has become one of those “OH! I totally know this” songs. Brooklyn-based Big Data is self-described as “a paranoid electronic music project (helmed by producer Alan Wilkis) from the Internet, formed out of general distrust for technology and The Cloud (despite a growing dependency on them).” He’s spent the last year playing headlining shows, in addition to supporting bands such as Fitz & The Tantrums. Since a majority of his tracks feature guest artists, Big Data enlists a secret weapon when he tours––vocalist Lizy Ryan, who reports for duty each night to slay the featured vocals on every track. The on-stage chemistry between Wilkis and Ryan is immense, almost as immense as Ryan’s vocals. A Big Data show is an interactive, multimedia adventure, and seeing them live is always awesome––even outside in the heat.
Highlight: Dylan Rau of Bear Hands joining Big Data on stage to perform his part of “Sick For Me”
3) Milo Greene // Lawn Stage, June 20
Anyone who knows me will not be shocked to see Milo Greene on my list. I was first introduced to the Los Angeles-based quartet last year, while shooting Bombay Bicycle Club’s fall tour stop in New York (Milo Greene supported). “Who is this guy?” was the question du jour amongst the photographers in the pit that night, and imagine our surprise when five musicians came on stage. “Milo Greene” as a band name is derived from a made-up manager created by members Robbie Arnett, Andrew Heringer, and Marlana Sheetz, in an attempt to generate bookings at the beginning of their career. Milo Greene’s sophomore album, Control, was released this past January, and it is sonic bliss. The foursome plowed through a 45-minute set which consisted mostly of material from Control, but included two of their most well-known tracks from their debut album (namely the song “1957”).
Also, please watch the above video in which Marlana Sheetz accurately describes Firefly as a horde of “sweaty, pumped-up zombies.”
Highlight: Tie between the pop-flavored “On The Fence,” and Andrew Heringer’s haunting vocals on the track “Parents’ House.”
2) Hozier // Lawn Stage, June 21
I did not actually see Hozier‘s set in person––I watched the telecast on AXS TV, so I’m cheating a bit. Hozier’s set undoubtedly generated one of the largest crowds of the weekend, filling up the entire Lawn area (which included the “Porch Stage”) at around 6pm on Sunday. The 25-year-old Irish singer has been playing this summer’s festival circuit in support of his self-titled debut album, which features the massive hit “Take Me To Church.” Sunday’s performance two things––not only is Hozier is a brilliant songwriter, he is also an incredibly talented musician––cycling between guitar, bass, piano, synthesizer while providing hair-raising vocals. I was sold when he covered Ariana Grande’s “Problem,” because a good cover of a pop song always wins me over. Go Ireland.
Highlight: His cover of Ariana Grande’s “Problem.”
1) Paul McCartney // Firefly Stage, June 19
Magic––it sounds cliché, but it is the only word popping into my head when I pause to remember Sir Paul McCartney‘s 2.5 hour-long set. A mere 24 hours after celebrating his 73rd birthday, the 21-time Grammy Award-winner put on a show to end all shows. McCartney treated the audience to 33 songs hand-picked from his extensive back catalog with The Beatles, Wings, and as a solo artist. While I’m not the most hardcore Beatles fan (I know a good number of their hits), I found it difficult to curb my emotions. McCartney’s presence was remarkable: he packed the Firefly Stage area to the gills with a multi-generational crowd, comprised of those who remember when Beatlemania was in full swing, and those who have heard the stories from their parents (and possibly even their grandparents). Paul McCartney’s performance was a once-in-a-lifetime event––one I am still trying to process. The main stage exploded in a pyrotechnic display during “Live and Let Die,” and was immediately made to feel more intimate four minutes later during “Hey Jude.” If Firefly had ended right then and there, I would have been satisfied.