Sneaking Into The Firefly Music Festival: Day 3

Firefly Day 3

The last day of a festival is an endurance test. This is even more true if you’ve been carrying around a backpack full of camera gear and whiskey all day for three days straight. My photographer Chloe Rice and I were starting to abuse the perks we had swindled our way into receiving – A fact I realized directly after my third plate of free catering in the VIP tent. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Chloe sat next to me on a couch while I ate, texting her friend Jorma who plays drums in the band The Bronx. They were making plans to meet up later that day before his band performed. I had no idea that The Bronx was even performing at the
The Firefly Music Festival and for good reason, they weren’t performing as The Bronx, they were performing as Mariachi El Bronx. *Translation: One of the coolest fucking things you will ever see in your life. The hardcore punk band’s alter ego is a full on mariachi band straight down to their matching charro outfits.

Chloe and I sat on cargo boxes and watched the show from behind the stage and had paper airplane making contests. After the show was over the band came off stage and greeted Chloe with hugs and beer. Jorma was nice enough to equip Chloe with an all access artist pass so she could hang out with the band in the Red Bull Artist Tent, which was hidden far in the back of the festival grounds, away from all the The Black Keys super-fans hoping to gawk their eyes out. Sadly there was no artist passes left for me to join in the fun (but not having the proper pass hadn’t stopped me yet, so why would I let it stop me now?)

We had about an hour and a half before Death Cab For Cutie would be taking the stage. Chloe and Jorma were headed back to the artist tent with me sticking close by. The security checking wristbands at the artist tent recognized Jorma by his ridiculously cool mariachi garb and waived him in – as he did, I quickly stepped up to Jorma and offered him a swig from my nearly empty handle of whiskey. Without slowing our stride we passed the bottle back and forth and as security guard called after me for my wristband I lifted the bottle of whiskey and gave him a thumbs up. My gesture showed off my general admission wristband just enough to where the security guard couldn’t make out the level of access it said I had. The fact that the security guard let me go through because he assumed that since I was sharing whiskey with one of the performing artists as we walked confidentally towards our destination isn’t my fault. He shouldn’t have assumed.

The Red Bull tent was nicer than any of the tents we had been in so far. Pulp Fiction played on a huge television towards center of the room and Awolnation’s crew played video games on another gigantic television in the corner. Thank You Andy Warhol by the artist X were hung all throughout the tent. Ryan Wilson of Hi Deaf spun records atop a glowing Red Bull podium – Plus there more free booze, Red Bull and candy than I could fit into every empty pouch of my backpack. I had finally found a place where I truly belonged.

After about my 4th vodka Red Bulls I heard Death Cab For Cutie fans cheering as the band took the stage. I ripped off my general admission wristband, hid my photo pass under my shirt and Chloe and I ran over to get our spot inside the photo pit. As we passed the security guard that had let us in I stopped and turned to him with a concerned look on my face.

“Hey man, I’m a complete moron and broke my wristband. My tour manager is going to grab me another one, but I really want to go see this band. Am I going to have trouble getting back in here?” I explained, hoping that he wouldn’t notice the square outline of my press pass under my shirt and the camera in my hand and put two and two together.

“Nah, you should be fine. I remember you from earlier. You’re the guy with the whiskey bottle, right?”

“Yep, that’s me”

The security guard laughed and said, “Well maybe if you would stop drinking in the middle of the day you wouldn’t have lost your pass.”

“You’re a wise man. Thanks a lot, I’ll see you later and we can finish that bottle of whiskey together.” I waved goodbye as I began running over to the stage to catch up with Chloe.

And that, my friends, is the story of how I made an invisible artist pass.

Death Cab opened with I Will Possess Your Heart, which isn’t my favorite song of theirs by a long shot, but seeing it played live while Ben Gibbard thumped away on the keys was a different story all together. I have also never been a fan of Ben’s weird haircut – it looked like a mop that had been parted down the middle and made him look more like an emotionally awkward bookstore clerk than an emotionally awkward rock star. I was happy that he had ditched the glasses and got himself a brand new hairdo. It might be strange for me to admit, but all I kept thinking to myself as I watched him performing was ‘Zooey Deschanel made a big mistake.’

After Death Cab had successfully filled me up with nostalgia I returned to the artist tent to meet up with Jorma and Chloe. The two of them were standing with the rest of Mariachi El Bronx, who had all changed into civilian attire. I ordered a drink, sat down on a couch and focused all my attention on the overdose scene in Pulp Fiction. Just as things were getting real intense, Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips sits down next to me.

The only other time I can say that I was truly star struck was when I shared a ridiculously awkward conversation with Thom Yorke. Wayne turned out to be a really friendly fellow though, and took time out to take pictures and have a friendly conversation with some adoring fans. When everyone’s drinks were finished Chloe, Jorma, Mariachi El Bronx and I followed behind Wayne to the back entrance of his stage. Chloe, Jorma and I positioned ourselves stage right. On one side of us there were around fifty gigantic balloons, on the other side were fifty girls that had been hand picked from the crowd and dressed up to look like Dorothy from the Wizard of OZ.

Chloe snapped a trillion photos before the band had even walked out in front of the crowd. Everywhere I looked there was something else more colorful and amazing that I had to film. You could feel everyone backstage tingling with electricity and excitement as we prepped ourselves for The Flaming Lips.

If you haven’t ever been to a Flaming Lips show, you are missing a giant piece of the puzzle of well lived life. It’s a religious experience. You’ll feel like you are ten years old again one minute, and feel like you are higher than God on five hits of acid the next. At times the overwhelming visceral experience becomes so much that you aren’t even sure your feet are touching the ground.

The fog machines were running full blast as the band came out in an explosion of confetti. Wayne himself carries a long, silver rod made for shooting confetti as he sees fit. I stood still with my mouth wide open as confetti fell all around me like rainbow colored snowflakes. I snapped back to reality as a stage hand tapped me on the shoulder. He carried the intensity of an army general in the heat of battle as he yelled to Mariachi El Bronx, Chloe and I to start throwing the giant balloons or get out of the way. We were all laughing hysterically as we hurled balloons bigger than us toward the crowd. Every so often someone would throw a balloon towards Wayne who would use his guitar like a sword to pop the giant balloon that was (of course) filled with sparkles and more rainbow colored confetti.

The sun began to set and the visuals being thrown at the crowd became even more intense and colorful. As the darkness closed the sky up it felt like the entire universe had it’s focus on The Flaming Lips. Wayne testified to the audience, exclaiming “If you have never gotten high at a Flaming Lips concert… now is the time to do it”. At this point, if the entire band rode off into outer space on the back of a massive pterodactyl, I wouldn’t have been all that surprised. Instead, Wayne put on giant Styrofoam hands three times as big as his head and held them up towards the audience. Lasers began to shoot out of the palms towards an audience full of kids with pupils the size of dinner plates.

I hadn’t looked away from the stage or my camera since the show started. When the band left to play their encore I looked around to find Chloe and noticed that she and everyone else was being escorted off the stage, along with all the photographers. I knew that the best was yet to come, so I hid myself behind a giant speaker until the person escorting everyone off the stage had left as well. I was now the only cameraman left on stage.
I know exactly where I was the first time I heard the song Do You Realize. I remember that tingles ran up and down my body and my arms were filled with goosebumps. The Flaming Lips’ anthem reminds us that everyone in the world must come to terms with their imminent departure from everything they know and love, so that they can enjoy the time they have and begin expressing their gratitude and joy for being lucky enough to have ever been alive in the first place. This song is the message that they ended their performance with. As more and more confetti rained down from the sky and the fog machines began to cover up any sign of a band or a stage, I felt the same exact tingling as I did the first time Wayne asked me “Do you realize…?”

Later that night, The Black Keys played.

Photos By: Chloe Rice

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