Twice a year, Dover welcomes NASCAR and tens of thousands of race fans to town. This year, sandwiched between last weekend’s NASCAR visit and its next in September, Dover will see another major weekend event as Dover International Speedway tries its hand at hosting a music festival. This week, DFM News’ Larry Nagengast examines July’s Firefly Music Festival. Today, a look at how and why Dover International Speedway and Firefly’s organizers decide to team up.
Last weekend, 87 acres on the east side of Delaware Route 1 known as RV Lot 10 of the complex, became a home-away-from-home for thousands of devoted racing fans who were camping out while enjoying the annual spring NASCAR weekend in Dover.
In six weeks, on July 20-22, the huge tree-circled parking lot, distant enough from the famed “monster mile” that the cars zipping around the track during time trials could barely be heard, will have a new name: The Woodlands.
“It used to be Lot 10. Now it’s got a fancy name,” said Cindy Small, executive director of Kent County Tourism.
The reason behind the name change: a first-time music festival called Firefly, the product of a partnership between two enterprises that are dominant in their own fields, each stepping confidently a bit outside their comfort zones to create something they had never tried before.
Firefly, a three-day musical extravaganza featuring 48 bands in the tradition of Tennessee’s Bonnaroo and San Francisco’s Outside Lands festivals, is the offspring of a marriage of convenience between Dover International Speedway and Chicago-based Red Frog Events.
For the Speedway, Firefly offers a fresh revenue stream to offset NASCAR crowds that have been in decline since 2007. For five-year-old Red Frog, which has quickly leapfrogged to the forefront of the active adult lifestyle entertainment industry, the Speedway (or, more precisely, its hitherto unheralded RV lot) offers the ideal location for its first foray into the world of music festivals.
With attendance projected at 30,000 to 40,000, both the Speedway and Red Frog are already talking enthusiastically about a win-win partnership and, if their marriage endures, the prospect of more — and larger — festivals in the years ahead. State and Kent County officials eagerly anticipate an infusion of out-of-state dollars and hope the event signals that Dover, and the entire state, is equipped to handle big-time entertainment and sporting events, and larger conventions as well.
A unique convergence of factors brought the Speedway and Red Frog together.
Firefly Festival: Red Frog – Dover Speedway marriage offers promise of a rockin’ reception
Dover International Speedway COO Mike Tatoian discusses the creation of the Firefly Festival.
“Our stands aren’t as full [for NASCAR races] as they were five, six, seven years ago,” said Mike Tatoian, the Speedway’s chief operations officer. “Because of the challenging economy, we’ve had to look at how we can use this facility and our talented staff for things other than motorsports.”
Red Frog, meanwhile, had made a name for itself nationwide by organizing active, adventurous events targeted at the 18-to-35 demographic. The Warrior Dash, a three-mile obstacle course that is as grueling for the participants as it is enjoyable for the spectators, is its signature event. It also promotes the Great Urban Race, in which hundreds of teams traverse a city, solving clues and completing mental and physical challenges en route to a celebration that awaits at a mystery finish line.
With 65 Warrior Dashes and 21 Great Urban Races scheduled for this year, Red Frog wanted to branch out into the world of music festivals, Director of Firefly Music Festival Greg Bostrom said.
“One of the keys to a wonderful weekend music festival is going to be the site,” he said, noting that Red Frog spent much of the past year vetting 60 possible sites in the northeast, visiting 10 venues in nine states.
Dover made the final cut because of its central location — within three hours of metropolitan areas from New York to Washington, D.C. — and the size of the Speedway and its experience in handling large crowds, Bostrom said.
But the deal-clincher was something no one had expected. In touring the Speedway grounds, the Red Frog scouts crossed the bridge over Route 1 and took a look at the remote area with the nondescript name, RV Lot 10.
“It was kind of like a light from heaven, the perfect spot for this music festival,” Bostrom said.
Red Frog’s vision was something the Speedway team had never imagined. “That RV lot had just been a campground for a long time,” Tatoian said.
“The attraction for Red Frog wasn’t the track. It was the infrastructure around the track,” he said. “After a handful of meetings, we said, ‘we like your vision. Let’s see if we can make this happen.’”
To ensure a top-notch musical experience, Red Frog turned to Lambda Productions to handle the stage production, which Lambda also does for Bonnaroo. Integrity Events was brought in to provide assistance in booking the bands for Firefly, Bostrom said.
Firefly Festival: Red Frog – Dover Speedway marriage offers promise of a rockin’ reception
Some NASCAR fans may return to the Monster Mile for Firefly Music Festival.
While there’s a big difference between four bands playing simultaneously and 43 cars speeding at 160 mph around a one-mile oval, there are plenty of logistical parallels. “Food, safety, security — we provide that at the speedway, and we can transfer those services to events other than motorsports,” Tatoian said.
Neither side is talking about the financial details of their arrangement, but they have explained how the collaboration is coming together. In essence, Dover officials have leased the site to Red Frog and have shared with them their master template for running a three-day event; Red Frog has figured out what should be done differently for a music festival and now they’re in the process of bringing all the support crews and vendors on board. The Speedway team is making many of the calls and tidying up arrangements for Red Frog, but Red Frog will be footing the bills.
That means, for example, that the combination of state and Dover police and private security guards assembled for NASCAR events, as well as paramedics and volunteer firefighters, will be on hand for Firefly, Tatoian said. Many other vendors regularly used for NASCAR events — suppliers of portable toilets, for example — will also be hired for Firefly, but Red Frog does have the option of soliciting bids to seek better prices, he added.
One difference will be in the use of volunteers. For NASCAR events, the Speedway typically relies on service clubs and school groups to sell programs, assist in the parking lots and so on. For Firefly, as with many other music festivals, Red Frog is recruiting volunteers through the Firefly website. In exchange for working a specified number of hours, they will be able to watch the concerts while they’re off duty. Most of the opportunities involve customer service, recycling programs and assisting disabled festival guests, Bostrom said.
Another difference for Firefly will be in the special attractions that aren’t found at NASCAR events — hot-air balloon rides, for example. Firefly will also have pop-up restaurants and its own vineyard and brewery featuring locally made beers and wines. The full lineup hasn’t been announced but Linda Parkowski, state tourism director, said that Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton has been named the event’s official craft brewer.
Also, for those who prefer camping in a four-star hotel environment, Firefly offers “glamping,” the glamorous experience of a luxury tent outfitted with a queen-size bed, lamp and nightstand, access to an air-conditioned lounge, and all sorts of additional amenities. The cost: $1,500 for two (festival admission not included).
For all the similarities Tatoian sees between organizing auto racing events and music festivals, Speedway and Red Frog executives are leaving little to chance. A six-person team from the Speedway will head out to Bonnaroo, which runs from Thursday through Sunday, “to see what we can learn about the music festival business,” said Gary Camp, senior director of communications and one member of the group headed to Tennessee. Red Frog will also have a crew there, Bostrom said.
Parkowski is confident the collaboration will succeed. “The Speedway people know how to do large-scale events and Red Frog is really good at putting together specialty events,” she said.
Speedway officials are “planners extraordinaire,” said Small, the Kent County tourism chief. “I can’t imagine anything they won’t be able to handle.”
The first time, however, is always different.
“We’ve been doing motorsports for 43 years, and we always want to get better. But the timeline for us will be different for doing it 43 years in a row and for doing something the first time ever,” Tatoian said.
“This is our first foray into the strictly music world,” Bostrom said. “And we are supremely prepared to succeed.”
Tomorrow: Comparing the Firefly Festival’s potential economic impact to a NASCAR weekend.