The Firefly Music Festival is relatively new to the music festival scene, having only begun back in 2012. My cousin and his wife went in 2013, which is how I first heard of it. I’ve wanted to go, but never had the opportunity or the means. Then in late 2016 I reconnected with an old high school friend, Ciara. We started hanging out more and, earlier this year, she mentioned how she had also wanted to go for years. She’d just never found anyone who would actually follow through and go. And so, we decided we’d go together. A few months later, and there we were, waking up at four in the morning so we could get there as early as possible (the campgrounds opened at six AM). I’d never been camping before, but Ciara assured me it was fun and I figured why not add one more new experience to the weekend? After an hour of being directed this way and that (none of the staff seemed to know where anyone was supposed to go), we got our place and pitched our tent and canopy. After that, we set off exploring.
Firefly is set up in a very unique way. There are several campgrounds. There’s the general admission campground, where you bring and pitch your own tent. Then there’s carefree camping, where they pitch a small tent and blow up an air mattress for you. The next step up is similar, but the tents are larger. The highest level is glamping, where the campers and RVs park. We, of course, were in one of the general admission lots. Bookending the campgrounds are the two gathering places, each known as The Hub. There, you can buy food, browse the market stalls, pick up any camping gear you may have forgotten (we bought an air mattress), and watch a few shows for lesser-known artists. The Hubs also house the showers and phone charging stations. In the very center and only a short walk away is the venue itself. The venue has seven main stages: The Porch, the Lawn Stage, the Treehouse, the Coffee House, the Backyard Stage, the Pavilion, and, the main event, the Firefly Stage. Scattered throughout the venue are eateries and places to buy drinks, as well as picnic tables, market tents, and many activities. They also provide several medical tents, just in case.
Because I did so much, I don’t really know where to start. So, I decided to break things down by category. That way I can talk about all the cool things I saw and did in a clear and organized manner. But you don’t want to hear me talk about how I’m going to tell you; you want me to just tell you. So, let’s just jump into it, shall we?
Artists/Bands I Saw: On Thursday, I saw O.A.R. and Glass Animals. On Friday, I saw Judah & the Lion, AFI, Franz Ferdinand, Weezer, and Twenty One Pilots (I know they fashion their name all lowercase, but I just can’t write it that way in a post. It bothers me too much because it’s a proper name.). On Saturday, I saw MUNA, T-Pain (half his set), Bishop Briggs, Capital Cities, Bob Dylan, The Weeknd, and Chance the Rapper. On Sunday, I saw Bleachers and Bishop Briggs (again).
Front Row Experiences: I saw all the above shows front row, except O.A.R., Glass Animals, Twenty One Pilots (because it got far too crowded for me), T-Pain, half of The Weeknd’s set (again because it got too crowded), Chance the Rapper, and Bishop Briggs’ second set. Granted, we pretty much had to sit up front all day and watch whoever came out, but it was worth it. Ciara was actually front row for Twenty One Pilots, The Weeknd, and T-Pain (we split up for different shows), as well as Busta Rhymes, The Strumbellas, and 30 Seconds to Mars.
Artist/Band(s) I Anticipated the Most: Easily Bishop Briggs and MUNA. Bishop Briggs is my favorite up-and-coming pop star. She’s got a real soulful voice and her music is dark pop. She sounds just like the record live and was so adorable. She couldn’t stop herself from grinning so hard when we’d cheer for her and kept saying things to herself like, “This is so cool!” This year’s Firefly was fan-curated, which Bishop brought up gratefully, noting how fans were the reason she got to perform not once, but twice (the first time on the biggest stage). MUNA is a band of queer queens (yes, all of them identify as some form of queer). They were excellent live as well and performed all my favorite songs of theirs (“Loudspeaker,” “Crying on the Bathroom Floor,” “Winterbreak,” and, queer anthem, “I Know a Place”), as well as a new one I need, like, yesterday.
Best Performance: I’m not going to lie… This one definitely needs to go to Twenty One Pilots. I went into this not liking them (I didn’t hate them or anything; I just didn’t get the hype), but Ciara is a huge fan, so we went. And oh my god. They put on an amazing show. They had such presence and the graphics, lighting, and fog they used were awesome. Tyler really endeared me to him when he spoke to us. Hell, even Josh was a dynamic presence, and he didn’t say a single word the entire night! At one point, Tyler was held up by the crowd, and at another point, Josh was held up by the crowd WHILE ON A DRUM SET. He later crowd surfed in a hamster ball. Then Tyler ran clear across the field and climbed all the way to the top of this tower. At one point Tyler brought out his dad (Father’s Day was a couple days away) and he got super into it. They also brought out Judah & the Lion to do a few covers with, as they once went on tour together. It was such a mind-blowing show! As soon as I got home, I downloaded their two most recent albums (I haven’t gotten to the first one yet because I also got a ton of other music). And yes, I get it now. And I’m so glad that I do.
Worst Performance: Bob Dylan. It was so boring and every song felt like it went on for ten thousand years. He’s also an awful singer and never once acknowledged the audience. We also weren’t allowed to film or photograph his set (although some of us got away with it). He wouldn’t even allow the media or the cameramen who projected the show onto the screen to film. The Firefly staff had to beg to get one solitary, faraway camera that shot the whole stage from a distance to put up on the screen. I thought it would be cool to see a living legend, but I can’t help but think maybe seeing Kesha would’ve been better.
Biggest Surprise: That’s got to be Judah & the Lion. While I don’t think I’ll be listening to them of my own accord, I do think they put on a great show. They’re an interesting mix of rock and bluegrass, which I didn’t think was something I could even remotely enjoy. The lead singer had great charisma and even climbed up on the gate right in front of Ciara and me! He was right there, just inches away! They even busted out a cover of a T-Pain song and lined up shaking their asses. It was amusing to see them just be themselves. They also understood that a lot of people wouldn’t know their music, but still wanted to give us a chance to sing along with them, so they did another cover. And it was, of course, the song of our people, “Mr. Brightside” by The Killers. No other song gets Millennials more hyped up than that one and they knew it. Plus, they said it was their favorite song in fourth grade. All in all, they knew what they were doing and put on a good show. I even recognized one of their songs, but I can’t for the life of me figure out where I heard it because I don’t listen to the radio. But they were a cute band that put on a good show. An honorable mention goes to Capital Cities, who had a dude just wailing on the xylophone and another one killing it on the trumpet.
Biggest Disappointment: I guess the fact that Bleachers didn’t sing “Hate That You Know Me,” one of my favorite songs by them. I thought they might, since it was one of the first songs released from their new album. But they still put on a good show and sang my number one favorite Bleachers song, “Rollercoaster,” so it wasn’t that much of a disappointment. I mean, these were all great shows, people. Except Bob Dylan. He sucked.
New Discovery: Glass Animals were the ones I really liked. I’d never heard of them before, but Ciara likes a few of their songs so we went. And they put on a great show. They do this cool, dark indie music. They also have great stage presence. I went home and bought a couple of their songs as well.
Coolest Thing to Happen: Besides the fact that The Weeknd saw me with his own two eyes? It definitely has to be something that happened to Ciara. When she went to see 30 Seconds to Mars, she got brought on stage. That’s right. She was on stage, mere feet behind Jared Leto. Now, I don’t like Jared Leto, but even I have to admit that was fucking cool. It didn’t even happen to me and I’m in elated disbelief. One of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. When we went to see The Weeknd, something else cool happened. While we were waiting for his set to start, a man in a hoodie walked by. Between the stage and the gate, there’s a small strip where security stands. The hooded man walked through this area with a few security guards. Once they’d passed, one of the security guards standing by the stage said, “You know, that was Chance the Rapper.” We didn’t believe him, but he kept insisting. He questioned why a random guy would be followed by security and claimed to have worked at one of Chance’s shows recently. The man came back by a little later, but we didn’t see his face. So, Chance the Rapper may or may not have walked right by us.
Favorite Non-Music Activities: There were a couple other things to do besides see bands and singers. There were lots of little market shops, body painting stations, and plenty of places to get drinks. I didn’t drink at all because I was too afraid of dehydrating myself, so I stuck to water and Gatorade. One of the things I liked best was this place called The Nook. It was an area in a small copse of trees filled with hammocks. I wound up taking a quick nap in one. It was very cozy and a nice respite from the heat. There was also a cool virtual reality ride sponsored by Toyota. You got into a car and put on the virtual reality goggles and rode through a surreal world without ever leaving your spot. If you got in with someone else, you would only see a floating helmet. It was cool and creepy at the same time. The last thing I really enjoyed was the headphone disco. While most silent discos let you change the station to whatever you want, this one had DJs playing a live set. It was still really cool and I had a good time. I’ve wanted to do a silent disco for a long time, so it was great to finally get the chance.
Artists/Bands I’d Like to See at Future Firefly Shows: Demi Lovato, Fall Out Boy, Paramore, The Killers (because I’m bitter they came in 2016, but not this year), Halsey, Dua Lipa, Hayley Kiyoko, Bruno Mars, Rihanna… Oh my god, so many. All the artists ever need to come to this festival.
Despite the heat and lack of proper bathrooms and showers, I had an amazing time. I love music, so spending four days among it was a dream. I want to go back next year so bad. I think, however, we’re going to try to bring a camper. Ciara’s aunt has one and she plans to practice driving it all year in anticipation. I also think we should bring more people. But I’m absolutely dying to go back and can’t wait to find out next year’s lineup. If you love music, please take the opportunity to attend a music festival. It’s a life-changing experience and a wonderful break from reality. I simply cannot wait to return to the Woodlands.
If you’re interested in seeing the pictures I took, check out my Instagram!