Firefly Music Festival Vice President and Director Stephanie Mezzano talks about the success of the Fest’s flashback in 2021
After weathering the COVID lockdown storm in 2020 and successfully planning a 50,000-seat festival in just four and a half months, nothing was going to stop the Firefly Music Festival from making a comeback after the lockdown in 2021 – even one literal thunderstorm.
“Of course it was a bit muddy that first day. And it was hard on everyone involved. But to me it felt like we were all trying to bring the live music back and do this great show and I’ll be damned if anything stops us! Vice President and Festival Director Stephanie Mezzano said Poll star to have to postpone the opening from Thursday to 8 p.m., some artists being rescheduled on other stages that evening. ” The show must continue ! And he did. And it was amazing.
In addition to Billie Eilish’s triumphant title on Thursday, lineup September 23-26 at Woodlands of Dover International Speedway included The Killers, Tame Impala, Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion and many more.
Mezzano joined AEG Presents after the company bought the shares of Red Frog Events in Firefly in 2018. She is one of the co-founders of Firefly and previously served as president of operations for Red Frog. Mezzano spoke to Pollstar about making Festival ’21 fast, hosting the first Firefly Pride Parade and introducing the event to his new super fan.
Poll star: You discovered Firefly’s house in 2011. What initially connected you to space?
Stephanie Mezzano: We were on tour along the East Coast. At the time, it was a fairly untapped market for festivals. We went to probably five or six other places. Our last visit was the Speedway. We probably spent the first 75% of the tour looking at the track itself and the infrastructure. In the last half hour of our visit, they were like, “Come and see our campgrounds”. We returned to this region of incredibly beautiful giant trees. Once in there, you don’t see anything else. As soon as we got in there, it was like, well, that’s it. This is what you want to feel in a music festival… completely off the grid of the rest of the world. …
Over the past 10 years we have slowly worked with the property and invested a lot in it … proper drainage and shower facilities and things like that, which have allowed us to make the festival a very good location for a festival of multi-day music where something like Thursday could happen where it was raining a lot.
What happened with the rain?
It rained pretty much all day Thursday and we pushed the doors back until 7:30 p.m. – the show was supposed to open at 3 p.m. and it rained pretty much all night. Our fans really appreciated it. It was really loud that first night. But then Billie Eilish took the stage and it was like, whatever happened that day ?! Everyone was there and everyone was in it. One of the coolest things I noticed was that no one had their phone on. Usually you go to a concert, you see everyone’s phones in the air. We all spent two years attached to our phones and Zoom meetings because that’s all we had. And everyone just came to put them in their pockets. They watched and lived the present moment. And that’s something I noticed all weekend… it was like a little sabbatical on screen.
Firefly automatically refunded tickets for 2020, so the festival basically started selling tickets from scratch for ’21. How did the planning process go?
2021 has long been a big question mark for us. This event was not really launched until mid-May. So this was the fastest year I have ever planned a music festival. Our whole team has never done anything like this. From mid-May to the festival weekend, four and a half months.
(Laughs) Yeah, it was a mad rush. … I need about a week’s sleep. And then I’ll be ready to plan for ’22.
Tell me about the programming.
We were able to bring some  acts more, but most of the talent was new. … I think our fans are really connected to the lineup. … We had a lot of women in the line up … a lot of people of color. We really wanted to focus this year on making Firefly as inclusive an event as possible.
Participants had to provide either proof of a COVID vaccine or a negative test for entry. Besides COVID protocols, what else new for ’21?
We did our very first pride parade. It was Sunday and we had a pride parade from one stopover to the next during the festival. Just the outpouring of love, support and emotions was so powerful. … We could feel the emotional weight of the joy of celebrating our LGBTQ + community at Firefly. This is our first time doing it and now we feel like a permanent part of our show. We also had a drag brunch, which sold out in less than an hour. And so we know we need to add more drag brunches next year. It was a really cool part of this part of our event called Supper Club, where we have these small dinners and sit down shows.
Did you get to see some sets during the festival?
I’m a huge fan of music, and so I definitely sneaked around every moment I could. I got to watch Sofi Tukker’s set, which was right at sunset, and [Sophie Hawley-Weld] wore this beautiful dress that looked like the sun was setting on her. It was a magical moment. I got to see pretty much all of my favorite acts over the weekend. Plus, I’m a new mom. I had a baby during the pandemic, so my 15 month old baby was here. I have to show him around the show, which is the coolest thing. So we made him a super fan from the first year.