Leave Austin at 4:45 a.m. Having never been up before the sun, I’m only semi-lucid and aware that it is dark outside as we drive to the airport. Land in D.C. at 11 a.m. Get picked up by friends, short reunion on the sidewalk, and then it’s time to put on the Festival Game Face. Caravan to Dover, Delaware including multiple stops for food and water, then food and Gatorade, then to look for a bathroom. Bathroom is a single Port-a-Potty behind gas station… not ready to resort to that camping life yet. Pee on grass by fence. Get yelled at by woman for peeing on her property. After 2 hours in the car, arrive at our campsite. Since the festival technically started Thursday, we’re not the first ones here. We’re not even the first 150,000 here. Park and unpack. We have enough food and water to sustain a small city for a decade. Lay down tarp and construct giant 10-person tent with shocking teamwork and ingenuity. Slightly impressed with ourselves. Pop a beer in celebration. Guys pop the shirts off, girls glitter-bomb themselves and flash tat each other. Finally arrive in the mental state necessary to enjoy the festival, and walk from our campsite to the grounds.
Trashcans. That was literally my first thought. There were trashcans everywhere. They lined the walkway, the bridge, the entire stretch to the festival. That led me to my second discovery of the day: cleanliness. It would take me a minute to find it, but I’m pretty sure there’s a connection between my first and second realizations. Finkle. Einhorn. Finkle. Einhorn… Anyways. We arrive at the well-marked, clearly-signaged entrance, and then, once we’re through: paradise.
Firefly is nestled into tall, strong Pines in such a tender way it reminds me of the way I would cradle things precious to me- like food, or a joint. The stages are each set back into the treeline so your view of the stage encompasses both your artist of choice and a kick-ass nature scene. If you think that doesn’t sound incredible just stop reading this article now. It’s only going to get worse. Our first show was Odesza, in a tent. My experience with tents + festivals extends only as far as the Gospel Tent at ACL but this was pretty close to a religious experience. The foot-stomping, dance-jumping, and general debauchery set the tone for what we would later realize was our ‘EDM day.’ We all ended up dancing up a little harder than we realized, and no one did the proper stretching exercises before. So we hoofed it, slightly wheezing, back to the camp. By the time we drank beers and flipped burgers, Paul McCartney’s set was coming to a close. It remains one of my great regrets, but hearing “Can’t Buy Me Love” through the forest as the sun began to set sounded like my childhood. Next up: Kygo. There were a… let me search for the right word… ah yes, a shit ton of people there for a dude I’d never heard of. I was the fool. He put on an incredible show, for my eyes, my ears, and my body— which did not stop moving. My boyfriend, who has a habit of crushing hard on male artists (we’ll get more into that in Day 2) did a little research on this Norwegian rockstar. Turns out he’s solely responsible for coining the term ‘Tropical House.’ He’s 23. My greatest talent when I was 23 was pretending I didn’t hear relatives when they asked me what I planned on doing with my degree.
Last up was Zedd. The show started after midnight and I’m pretty sure there were more hamburgers consumed in the time between Kygo and Zedd. Our weekend diet can be best described in two words: alcohol and meat. Feel like I’m making Ron Swanson proud. This makes me walk with my head held a little higher on the way back to Zedd. Walking is starting to wear at our will to live. Keep walking. Keep bitching. Each time it gets longer, and I’m starting to have a questionable (and slightly painful) relationship with my Converse. We reach Zedd, and even though there are hundreds of thousands of sweaty people on all kinds of drugs, it is strangely calm. You can hear the excitement and the buzz from the crowd, but you can also hear the crickets chirping and the soft sounds of people hallucinating all around you. I think I see fireflies against the night sky but then I remember I’m tripping balls. This is what I remember: lights. sweat. cold beers. semi-professional mosh pits. confetti. smoke. yelling. smiling. dancing. laughing. euphoria.
No idea what time we woke. Hot, hot, hot. Momentarily think I woke up on the surface of the sun. No breeze in the tent. Raise my head off boyfriend’s chest, cheek peels off with a perfect imprint of his chest hair. Our twin blow-up mattress has deflated and there is a rock in my ass. Go outside. At the time, I said in my head “I have never been this disgusting.” That thought will seem hysterical to me two days from now. Friend and I grab a gallon of water and some shampoo and attempt to clean each other. In nothing but a bikini, we thought it would be unfair how sexy and flirty we’d look, soaping each other and pouring water on our heads. Almost comical how un-sexy we look. Ugh, reality. Breakfast of champions: burgers, screwdrivers, bust out the rose at 11 am. We’re classy, ok? Boys rise and don’t even attempt a shower, immediately start throwing a frisbee with one hand with a beer in the other.
Joe Pug played at noon, and since none of our friends were interested/drunk enough, boyfriend and I start the now-tortuous trek to the festival. Remember the part about him having huge crushes on male artists? This guy is the OG crush, and with good reason. The whole walk there, we have parallel conversation about how I think we’re already late and we probably won’t get close enough to see him and boyfriend thinks we’ll get really close and that Joe will recognize us from a show in Austin a month ago and say what’s up to us from the stage. Turns out we were both delusional.
There are like 20 people crowding the stage, which means we have enough time to get margaritas and walk directly to the front of the crowd with enough room around us for activities. This baffles me. There are 300,000 idiots at this festival who don’t know what they’re missing. Joe Pug has the voice of an angel if the angel took guitar lessons and could shred on the harmonica. He’s a perfect fusion of blues, rock, folk, and a hint of gospel. He finishes his set (shockingly, without recognizing us) and we walk back to the camp with big smiles, like we just got away with seeing a badass show to ourselves that everyone else slept through. Oh wait. That is what happened.
Ladies and gentlemen, Joe Pug.
Play games, drink alcohol, eat burgers. Play drink eat. Repeat. Don’t get our shit together until 6 for Matt & Kim. There’s no telling how many awesome shows we missed in the time between, but at festivals you can’t have FOMO, it’ll kill you. Just gotta have YOLO. Matt & Kim was, in a word: awesome. If you haven’t seen them live yet, go to your computer and google their tour dates right now. There’s nothing like it. She wrecks the drums like it’s her last show ever and leaves it all on the stage. We left that show, and saw Foster the People next. There was a food stop somewhere in there. This wasn’t my first time seeing Foster but it was when the sound guys actually did their job. Much more entertaining show when you can actually hear the band. Realize at this point that Firefly hasn’t had one technical error yet. Silently curse myself for potentially jinxing them. (Don’t worry, they kept their perfect record the whole weekend. It’s gotta be some kind of a record.) Leave for a good spot at Kid Cudi, which was insanely fun. When your expectations are on the lower end, the fun you have at the show seems to be at the higher end. If I knew anything about Excel, I’d demonstrate with a graph of an inverse relationship here. I don’t though, so we’ll all have to rely on our imaginations. After Cudi finishes, we all start to walk to see Kings.
Everyone’s got the jitters, this is one of the biggest names of the festival. Ominous clouds begin to form over the festival. We keep walking. Someone walking the other direction tells us that the last few shows of the night (it’s about 10 pm at this point) have been cancelled due to bad weather. Less of a rain scare, more of a we-don’t-want-the-audience-getting-struck-by-lightning-liability scare. Grumbling, 200,000 bottleneck and try to get out. Quickly, we drop our polite facade and turn into animals. People are tearing holes in the fence, other’s are pushing girls into the mud to get ahead. How lovely. We end up making it out with all of our limbs, and on the walk back to the campground enjoy a rowdy lightning storm. Now insanely grateful the shows were cancelled. Get to camp, start to tie canvas down over the tent, look like a Three Stooges skit. Push all the twin mattresses into the half of the tent that isn’t taking on water, pull in a lantern, and grab essentials like beer and weed. If you ever get stuck inside a tent, wet, sweaty, muddy, and sticky, with no entertainment but each other: this is the crew to do it with. Keep that in mind the next time you plan festival with friends. Change into dry sweatshirt and sweatpants, hotbox the car, blast the A/C, and fall into a blissful sleep.
Where the magic happens.
No idea what time we woke up. Am sure of nothing except the throbbing pain in my feet, the acute level of gross I’ve let myself come to, and that it’s now time to repeat the whole cycle again. And somehow, that makes me really excited. (That’s a sentiment you could probably only understand if you, too, have made the decision to camp at a music festival.)
These are called dunkaroos, and they are essential to survival at festivals. You submerge your head in a cooler of ice water, hold for 15 seconds, get up, and chug a beer. (Beer bonging is the preferred method, but shotgunning is acceptable when there’s no beer bong around.)
Getting our shit together is a foreign concept until about noon. Don’t even attempt a “water gallon” shower, instead enduring the oppressive heat by rubbing an ice cube across my neck and staying as drunk as I can. Shots of hot vodka, games of 20 questions. $5 sunglasses are now my most valuable possession. All of our belongings are soaking wet and drying on our tarp like the beach scene in Castaway. Thinking of myself as Tom Hanks makes me feel like a f*#&ing rockstar.
Steve Aoki and Kings of Leon were the two acts (that we wanted to see) that were cancelled due to the storm. Kings had something better to do on Sunday, but Steve filled in at a 2:30 slot. Get there just in time. Everyone’s moving a little slower, a little more grumbling, sunburn, and hangovers, but other than that - there’s a definite excitement in the air. It’s Steve fucking Aoki, ok? The set is awesome. Don’t remember much. He uses lights, confetti, and his classic cake prank that is now the mark of an Aoki show. Classic. Time creeps on, the sun stays brutally bright. Rude
Next show was Hozier, who, if I’m being entirely honest, I don’t remember much of. Bastille was great. The catchiness and the British-ness all totally translate from radio to live performances and he blew everyone away. It doesn’t hurt he was the most polite artist I’ve ever seen, saying “Thank you so much” after every single applause. Boyfriend develops his third male crush of the weekend. I don’t blame him, I smell like an armpit. I exhaust the last of my energy on dancing for Bastille. The crowd was big, but not huge. They scheduled Citizen Cope at the same time, whose familiar sound drifted over the treetops between sets. At some point we remembered to eat, sat in the middle of the festival in an open area of grass, and feasted on some seriously good trailer food. It ended up being one of my favorite moments: people watching, eating, and drinking… all my favorite things!
Tove Lo was next, in the same tent we saw Odesza in. The area was big, but not big enough that you’re not one sneeze away from face planting into a stranger’s back. I knew she was a big deal, but I didn’t know exactly why. Once at the show, however, I recognized almost all of her songs. The energy was great, and she’s easy on the eyes. Awesome show.
The Killers and White Panda are the last shows… struggling… towards… the… finish… line. Sentences aren’t really forming in my mouth or my head. Feet kill. No walk more. Can’t do. Showering and AC seem like luxuries so intense I’d have to pay the devil my soul in exchange for them and at this point it seems like a fair trade. Having seen The Killers back in 2008, I was excited to see them again. The show did not disappoint. His distinguishable voice rang through the festival, which all of a sudden felt massive in the darkness. I spent almost as much time looking at the stars as I did looking at the stage. It was magical. It transcended. My feet were fucking killing me. Three quarters of the way through the set, I gave boyfriend a look, and wordlessly, he understood: he was carrying me the 687 miles between us and our campsite.
Here’s the takeaway:
Go to Firefly. Seriously, go to it. If you consider yourself a “music fan” or a “festival regular” you’ll buy your ticket tomorrow. The lineup is almost overwhelming.. carrying easily more headliners than I’ve ever seen in a weekend. It’s well-organized, clean, and badass. Do it. Do it. And camp, too. Don’t let my slightly-biased city-mouse take on the experience sway you… if I could go back I wouldn’t change a thing.
All in all, we tallied our collective damage from the weekend:
Gallons of sweat expended: 390,000 tons
Beers chugged: 410,000 tons (hello, hydration)
Shots of Vodka: your guess is as good as mine
Hamburgers consumed: in the millions
Bottles of Gold Bond sprinkled on sweaty parts: 7 bottles
Baby wipes thrown into the tent once used: 86 muddy messes of dirt and tears
Shoes burned: 1 pair (mine)
# of times I verbally cursed my life: 3 (one for each hangover)
# of times I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be here, with the people I was with, listening to good music and being happy: infinite
What the first shower felt like after 3 days of grime: priceless