Nearly 30,000 music lovers from around the country gathered in Dover, Del., just two hours north of D.C., for the inaugural weekend of Firefly Music Festival, July 20-22.
The three-day outdoor camping festival featured live performances from 47 artists that represented virtually every genre.
The overcast skies and sporadic sprinkles didn’t seem to phase fans as they set up their tents, met their neighbors and hurriedly made their way toward the stages the evening of July 20. The overall vibe was comfortable and easy-going, but the air was buzzing with anticipation for all of the impending performances. Excitement was particularly high for the festival’s first headliner — Grammy-winning rock icon and former White Stripes frontman Jack White.
As the lights dimmed, an intermittent drizzle that cooled festival-goers throughout the day turned into a steady downpour the moment Mr. White took the stage for the first headlining set of the festival.
As the wind swirled through the treetops in Dover, it was obvious that a storm was looming — but the night’s only thunder came from the stage. Electric blue lights illuminated the stage and the intimidatingly tall, ghostly pale rocker emerged dressed entirely in black, with his Fender guitar in hand. White and his five-piece band launched into a ferocious set with the distorted roar of the White Stripes record, “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground.” It was shot of pure adrenaline, and the crowd responded with deafeningly ecstatic cheers.
There were minor sound glitches during the first song, which were later attributed to the rain, but by the middle of the second song, “Freedom at 21,” the technical issues were resolved. From that point on, every note played throughout the 90-minute set was utterly electrifying.
White tours with two bands — one all-male, one all-female – and he chooses which band to perform with the morning of the show. He swears by this unorthodox and presumably expensive touring strategy insisting that it makes each show unique and entirely unpredictable. Tonight was the guys’ night, and they certainly did not disappoint; the drummer, in particular, played like a one-man whirlwind.
White famously doesn’t use a setlist during his performances, so the band members kept their eyes focused on his every move throughout the set and adapted to whatever song he chose at a second’s notice, without losing an ounce of energy.
Although his roadies, (who were impeccably dressed in identical pinstripe suits, blue ties, and top hats,) tried their best to keep the stage dry — White didn’t want to take any chances. The 6’2 rocker sat down and removed his shoes and socks after the fourth song, and played the remainder of his set barefoot. He then gave the crowd credit for maintaining their enthusiasm amid the inclement weather.
“I know you’re standing out in the rain, but you kind of like it, right?” he said with a coy smile.
The 90-minute, spectacular set focused heavily on tracks from Blunderbuss, but also featured a generous sampling of his work with The White Stripes and The Raconteurs. “Steady As She Goes” was a highlight as White implored the audience to sing harmonizing background vocals during the chorus.
It seemed the highpoint of the show for most of the crowd was indeed the final song of the evening — The White
Stripes monster anthem, “Seven Nation Army.”
The crowd took up a thunderous chant that matched every note of what is arguably one of the most memorable guitar riffs ever composed. In fact, the crowd grew so loud that White silenced his band during the last verse and sang the lyrics while the crowd continued singing the guitar riff and clapping the drum beat.
The fevered response from the audience inspired White to lose himself in his most esoteric yet decidedly excited guitar solo of the night. The bombastic performance proved that although The White Stripes are gone, the legend of their music will only grow stronger so long as their creative force can still lift a guitar pick; let’s just hope he doesn’t put it down anytime soon.
The raven-haired rocker is so magnetically enigmatic that it was impossible not to be captivated by his stage presence. He seldom spoke throughout the set, but he didn’t have to; his sheer musicianship conveyed everything that needed to be said.
The man Rolling Stone named the ’17th Greatest Guitarist of All-Time,’ delivered a raw, visceral performance that defined what a modern rock show should be. In a lot of ways, it felt like the triumphant return of a king but with White, it was clear he never left.
Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
Freedom at 21
I Cut Like a Buffalo
Trash Tongue Talker
Weep Themselves to Sleep
Steady As She Goes
Ball and Biscuit
We’re Going to Be Friends
Catch Hell Blues
Seven Nation Army