DOVER, Del. (AP) — Tens of thousands of music fans converged on Delaware’s capital city Friday for the start of the three-day Firefly Music Festival, a rock ‘n’ roll gathering that is quickly stamping a new cultural identity on a site better known for its NASCAR races.
Traffic backed up for miles on roads leading into Dover as the festival opened on a wooded tract near Dover Downs speedway. A spokesman for the Department of Transportation said traffic at one point was backed up for 20 miles north of Dover, but the backup eased to about eight miles Friday afternoon.
Organizers are expecting at least 60,000 people a day at the festival, double the turnout at last year’s inaugural event.
“It’s going to be like a Sprint Cup race three days in a row, but it’s a great show,” DelDOT spokesman Jim Westhoff said.
Gov. Jack Markell joined festival director Greg Bostrom of Chicago-based Red Frog Events and Dover Motorsports CEO Denis McGlynn at a news conference Friday to kick off the festival.
“This has really put Delaware on the music map,” Markell said as his 18-year-old son roamed the festival grounds under a clear blue sky.
Markell said last year’s festival had an economic impact of more than $12 million in Delaware.
“This year’s twice as big, so we expect a really impressive figure this year, as well,” he said.
The artist lineup at this year’s festival includes the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Vampire Weekend, the Avett Brothers, Foster the People and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
“I’m looking forward to being down in the mosh pit with 60,000 of my new best friends,” said McGlynn, who usually masquerades as a button-downed businessman.
McGlynn attributed the early success of the festival in part to the 30,000 people who spread the word on social media about last year’s rain-soaked but popular event.
“The amazing thing is that this was a first-time event at a brand new facility put on by a bunch of kids from Chicago who had never done this before,” McGlynn said.
“These guys are professionals,” he said. “They’re smart, they’re organized, they’re disciplined, they’re energetic and they get things done.”
Firefly is just one of the latest ventures for Red Frog, which was founded in 2007 and established itself with events such as “The Great Urban Race,” a two-person scavenger hunt competition, and “Warrior Dash,” a 5K obstacle-course race, both held in major cities across the U.S.
Building off the event experience and fan base from “Warrior Dash,” Red Frog turned its sights to music, said Bostrom, 25.
“We saw an opportunity in the music space … and there’s this clear void in this region of the country,” he said.
Bostrom said Red Frog looked at 60 potential sites in 11 states before settling on Dover as the home for Firefly.
“The second we stepped on site here, we knew this was the place where Firefly was going to spread its wings,” he said.
“You draw a 2-hour radius around Dover, Delaware, you get to 10 percent of the U.S. population. Over 30 million people live within a two-hour drive,” Bostrom noted. “So that was a huge factor. We wanted to be a destination event, and we knew everyone could access Firefly if we were in Dover, Delaware.”
Bostrom recalled that after landing in Baltimore for a tour of potential sites for the inaugural Firefly festival, Red Frog officials got a voice mail from a Dover speedway representative urging them to take a look at what Delaware had to offer.
“We carved out 45 minutes in the trip,” Bostrom said.
But that was enough to convince Red Frog officials that the Dover speedway staff had the experience and know-how to help make a music festival happen.
“And the site itself spoke volumes,” Bostrom said of the sprawling 87-acre woodland tract. “It was definitely an ‘aha’ moment.”
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