Here's a glimpse into the memories of six Delaware artists that played Firefly, and an update on what they're each doing now.
There’s no place like home.
Firefly producers Red Frog Events have made a habit of recruiting rising and established Delaware artists to play the festival in front of their home crowd since 2012.
This year’s festival tapped Dover rapper Amillion The Poet as the lone artist to represent the state in The Woodlands on opening day, June 14.
Half a dozen Small Wonder acts have graced the festival, not including the renowned DJ Jazzy Jeff, who has a home in Bear and played the festival last year. He doesn’t really count, because he has too much clout.
But for other First State artists that played The Woodlands, here’s a glimpse into their festival memories and an update on what they’ve been doing since.
1. Lower Case Blues (2012)
The first Firefly was a big deal for Delaware.
But it wasn’t on everyone’s radar outside of the state, like it is now, until after 2012.
Lower Case Blues guitarist Jake Banaszak and his bandmates knew it was a great opportunity when they got a call to play the festival that featured headliners Jack White, The Killers and The Black Keys. But the gang was unsure of how things would pan out.
“Being the first one, nobody really knew what to expect and how big Firefly was going to actually be,” Banaszak said.
Lower Case Blues, based in Rehoboth Beach, is a Small Wonder favorite that’s shared the stage with big names like Buddy Guy and Robert Randolph.
They played a morning slot during the third and final day of the festival. For the first two years, Firefly was three days long.
Banaszak and his guys were treated like rock stars before their set.
“They gave us a dressing room in one of the trailers,” Banaszak said. “One of the coolest things was we walked out of the dressing room, because we knew it was time to go to the stage, and when we opened the door, there was this SUV sitting there with tinted windows.
“We got in and they drove us to the stage. It’s one of those things where I’ve never gotten a ride from a trailer to the stage before.”
LCB prepared for their set by drinking lots of Red Bull, Banaszak said.
“For being on one of the biggest stages we’ve ever been on, it was also the earliest in the morning I’ve ever played in my life,” he said. “I think the set was 11:30 a.m., which is early for us. Normally we sleep that late.”
In the distance, the guitarist noticed what looked like a crowd of walkers headed toward their show.
“It was like a herd of zombies walking toward us, everyone was so partied out,” he said. “You could tell everyone was wiped out from the weekend. Kudos to our fans for getting up and supporting us.”
Banaszak said Firefly has helped the band to land other big gigs in the Tri-state area, including opening slots for Grand Funk Railroad and the Blues Traveler, on the M&T Bank Grandstand at the Delaware State Fair.
The band was inducted into Delaware’s “Blues Hall of Fame” in December 2012.
Next on the horizon for Banaszak and his crew is lots of gigging this summer.
“Living at the beach now, summer time is coming and we’re going to be playing six or seven shows a week,” he said. “Then there’s some random festivals and things. We’re doing June Jam this year.”
2. The Spinto Band (2013) / Teen Men (2016)
Singer-songwriter Nick Krill has played Firefly twice – each time with a different band.
Krill first played with Wilmington-based indie rockers The Spinto Band, a veteran outfit that holds clout overseas.
Coming into the show, Krill said he and his bandmates were just focused on gaining more exposure.
“We didn’t have too high expectations, just the opportunity to reach a few new fans,” said Krill, who’s been with The Spintos since the late ‘90s.
Growing their audience is exactly what the band did.
“Given that it is a larger festival, there is an extra chance for some press beyond normal local coverage, so we made an effort to work with some of the national press outlets that were at the festival,” he said.
Krill later played Firefly again in 2016 with his band Teen Men. He was joined with bandmate Joey Hobson, also a member of The Spinto Band, who has played Firefly in both outfits.
“Each performance was pretty similar,” Krill said. “There is always a hectic atmosphere that accompanies festival shows. But in the end it was a fun opportunity to play for some new fans.”
The same year The Spintos played Firefly, they dropped their EP “Cool Cocoon.” Recently they released an anniversary edition of their LP “Nice and Nicely Done.”
“It is on double vinyl with a bonus disc full of outtakes and B-sides from the album,” Krill said.
As for Teen Men, they’re brewing up new tunes.
“Teen Men are working on a new album and hope to have it out later this year or early next year,” Krill said.
3. Mean Lady (2014)
Most acts use Firefly as leverage to play other big festivals and venues. The Newark duo Mean Lady, however, took a much different approach.
Heading into the festival, the duo -- Katie Dill (vocals) and Sam Nobles (multi-instrumentalist) -- knew Firefly was going to basically be the band’s last concert together. So they just rocked out in a blaze of glory.
“When I said ‘yes’ to playing Firefly, it was in January. And Sam said, ‘Don’t book any more shows after that,’” Dill said. “After that festival, Sam was done. It was kind of our last show.”
While the band played one more show together, Dill said their Firefly gig was essentially their last official gig together.
Nobles told Dill he wanted to stop playing because he was burnt out: “I think we had just been playing a bunch,” he said.
The multi-instrumentalist said he found himself at a crossroads after the festival that summer, during a month-long trip to Thailand.
“I think I just didn’t know what was next for me in the cards [regarding musical endeavors] after that trip, or if I’d be hanging out in Delaware or doing more traveling,” Nobles said.
Realizing her buddy’s heart wasn’t in the band anymore, Dill decided to relocate just a few weeks before the festival.
“After three years I was like, ‘It’s not going anywhere. Sam isn’t playing any more shows. I need to move to New York,’” Dill said.
She rode the bus from New York to Delaware for their Firefly swansong. Dill recalls it being a stressful ride back to Delaware, because her phone kept blowing up.
“I remember when I took the bus, everyone was texting me for the entire two hours, because we had 10 spots where we could give people free tickets,” she said.
Dill normally gets anxious before playing a show, she said. But because she was playing Firefly, the anxiety was greater than normal. She couldn’t get any time to relax before the show because her loved ones kept pulling on her from all angles.
“It’s like if you’re at your own party,” she said. “Sometimes you don’t get to have as much fun because there’s a lot of stuff you need to take care of. That was the feeling.”
But when it was time to hit the stage, Dill and Nobles were stoked.
“It was the one of the coolest shows I’ve ever gotten to play,” Nobles said. “They treated us super nice. We walked out onto the stage, looked down and saw so many friends of ours. We had so much support from our buds who were all there.”
Dill said she moved to New York because she wanted to reconnect with one of her old passions: improv comedy.
“It’s this really great love of mine,” said Dill, 29, who began practicing improv as a college freshman. “You watch it and say, ‘it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.’”
After a few months of improv in New York, Dill said, she moved to Los Angeles, because that’s where “all the cool people” she admired from the improv scene had migrated.
“I just felt like everyone I had been watching do improv all along had gotten to be a writer for ‘SNL’ or they’re in commercials and television or they’re acting or write for TV,” Dill said. “A lot of those connections come from being part of that community.”
Over the last few years, Los Angeles has remained home for Dill. Her goal is to create a one-woman comedy show that incorporates music.
What she’s learned from playing in a band is that comedy gives her much more of a rush than someone being touched by lyrics she’s penned.
“When you can make an audience laugh 100 times in an hour, it’s the most amazing feeling on the planet,” Dill said. “It’s 10 billion times better than making someone cry from a song you wrote.”
Meanwhile, Nobles has stayed. The Newark resident is back gigging again, playing with side outfits, including a duo with musician Bruce Anthony called “Bruce and Sam.”
“I’m doing a lot of music with a handful of groups, a lot of duo work playing in cafés and restaurants and little jazz gigs,” said Nobles, who plays throughout the state.
Though Nobles and Dill are more than 2,000 miles apart on different paths, and their band is gone, the two friends have fond memories of their Firefly swansong.
“You know, it was really fun,” Dill said.
“It was a really amazing feeling,” Nobles said.
4. New Sweden (2014)
Wilmington’s Americana/folk/indie outfit New Sweden played Firefly in 2014.
But since early 2016, activity for the band has slowed down. The group’s latest Facebook post was Oct. 1. The one prior was in April 2016.
Their last post reads: “It’s been a long while since the last hey or howdy. So, William [Dobies] and Dan [Weirauch] went off the deep end and became wild animals in a new project called Tiger Suits. Please go and give their page a like. A new show will be announced momentarily and we don’t want you to miss the rock. Please and thank you friends. We all miss you.”
The band could not be reached for comment.
5. Cypher Clique (2015)
Rapper and Dover native Amillion The Poet will carry the torch this summer for his fellow rap peers in Cypher Clique, a trio who in 2015 became Firefly’s first hip-hop act from Delaware.
Formed in 2007 in Dover, Cypher Clique features witty emcee Jamal James as “Relay,” his little brother/producer and rapper Daryl “D-Major” James, along with their friend and punchline artist Mike Thomas as “Mic Anthony.”
The trio entered the 2015 festival with a lengthy résumé, opening shows for rappers Meek Mill, Mac Miller, Wale and A$AP Rocky. The latter two have become Firefly alum.
“It was definitely a blessing to be the first hip-hop group out of Delaware to grace the Firefly stage,” said Relay, a Townsend resident.
His little brother started off the rap trio’s first tune, spitting the initial verse in their song “Rakim in ‘88.” He said there were about 1,000 people in the audience.
“It was crazy,” D-Major said. “I didn’t think there was going to be that many people, because we’re not that well-known in the grand scheme of things. But there was a great turnout, and our band was great. It was one of our top-five best shows of all time.”
Cypher Clique was invited to play the summer festival by a Red Frog rep, the group said.
They saw the opportunity as a means to grow their fan base and to build their portfolio.
“Honestly, it made our price for bookings and guest features go up,” Mic said. “It’s nice to add to the résumé. It makes people take us more seriously.”
The group decided to drop their project “Love The Universe” right after it ended, to build more buzz around their music.
“It definitely helped us a lot. Everybody bought it,” Mic said. “Looking back, I wish we would’ve dropped it the week before the festival, because we realized any time you can release music and can connect it to a moment, that’s the best way to do it.”
Since Firefly, Cypher Clique has opened for more big names, including a sold-out gig with Tory Lanez in 2015. Their new single “Mini Golf” was featured on Spotify’s Fire Emoji playlist.
Earlier this year the group signed a deal with Empire Distribution, a Los Angeles company that doubles as a record label and handles distribution for independent artists.
“Right now they’re working with Wale,” D-Major said. “It’s a real legit company, so we’re hoping they push us heavily when we drop our next product.”
Cypher Clique is slated to release “Vintage ‘07” in May. The trio also has a Vintage clothing line to coincide with the project.
They’re also hoping to get their new music on the Billboard charts.
“I think we have the possibility of doing that with Empire backing us,” Relay said. “If we can get on the charts, we can secure some business moves.”