The main goal of this trip is not to die. That sounds over dramatic, but it is how I felt. I know what’s up with these things, excessive drug and alcohol use, minimal security, and tens of thousands of people making questionable life decisions. Ellie Goulding (one of the festival performers) was right, anything could happen.
I decided to volunteer on a whim. It was February 2013, I had just begun my final semester as an undergrad at Towson University. I had/have no money and while the line-up looked amazing, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Vampire Weekend, Foster the People, Passion Pit, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, plus dozens of others, I just did not have the funds to attend.
The price of admission, a $258 ticket plus $148 for camping, was more than my entire bank account. And even though I had always dreamed of going to a music festival, I wasn’t sure I could handle four days of camping. I’m more of a champagne and shower chick than a moonshine and dirt one.
But then my friend found out that there was another option, volunteering. The cost to apply to be a volunteer was $45 and all we had to do if we were accepted was work three, six to nine hour shifts during the festival and we could go for free, camping and all. It seemed like a deal too good to be true. How could I pass that up? A ticket to just one of the headliners would easily cost at least twice that much. So my friend Stephanie and I decided to apply and two weeks later we found out we were in.
I waited in anticipation for four months. At first my anxiety about attending the event was curbed by the fact that I could always back out and not go. I mean this is America. But Red Frog Events, the company which produces Firefly, put a deadline on backing out, May 1. If you decided after May 1 that you could not attend or just didn’t show up you would be charged the price of a ticket, $258, plus $100 for camping.
When May 1 rolled around I was eager to go. But in the following weeks leading up to the event the thought of dying lingered over my head worse than the thought of a 15 year old having to tell her parents that she got knocked up. Still, the only thing worse than the thought of dying at Firefly was losing close to $400. Whether or not I was ready, I was going. It was decided.
We left Thursday, June 20 at 11 a.m. from my home in suburban Maryland for our 2 ½ hour drive to Dover, Delaware where the festival was being held. After a few pit stops, wrong turns and two miles driving behind a tractor carrying a bale of hay, we arrived at Firefly at 3:10 p.m., nearly two hours after our estimated arrival time.
Upon arriving, we were directed to a field on the edge of the festival grounds to wait for the campsite to open. They hadn’t finished creating the road that would lead to it yet (it was supposed to open at 11 a.m.). I hadn’t even parked yet when a Red Frog employee told me that I must get out of the car in that the very moment and board a yellow school bus to go to my shift that was starting at 4 p.m.
So I jumped out of the car, threw on a pair of shoes and waited by the side of an abandoned house in a dirt road for this school bus to pick me up. I was soon met by about 20 other volunteers who were also going to their shift. Everyone started talking about the other festivals they had and/or were going too. Ultra in Miami, Bonnaroo in Tennessee, Camp Bisco in Upstate New York, and a bunch of other festivals I hadn’t heard of yet.
One girl had wristbands from festivals she had attended on her arm all the way to her elbow. I didn’t have much to say. I had never been to a festival like this before. I felt like I was the awkward kid at summer camp. Plus I really had to pee.
Finally the school bus picked us up. I felt like I was in a dream. Where the heck was I? Why was I on a school bus? Who are these people? How am I going to survive this weekend?
I get to the credentials check, obtain my wristband and badge, then board another school bus which was going to take us to the location of our first shift. People were more friendly on this bus and everyone’s first name started with an “A.”
Then, a Red Frog employee gets on the bus to make an announcement. They made a mistake and the 20 of us on the bus only had to work this one four-hour shift we were about to go to and then we were free for the whole weekend. That’s right. I only had to work four hours the day before the festival and pay $45 to go. I did not believe her. In fact I asked four other Red Frog employees to confirm this news because it seemed so unreal.
On a high from this news and slightly apprehensive about what I was going to do with all this free time now as my friend that I came with still had to work all her shifts, I relaxed on the bus ride to the shift. It took about 10 minutes to drive to the campsite where we were to start checking in patrons who paid extra to get here early. The campsite we were at felt SOOOOO far away from the festival grounds. It must have easily been a 30 minute walk and was literally on the side of a highway. I couldn’t believe they actually had people camping here.
The shift wasn’t too bad.They had wayyyy to many people working at this check-in, about 15 Red Frog interns and 20 volunteers. There was hardly anyone checking in so they didn’t really have anything for us to do. So they gave us sheets of the paper wristbands to rip apart and that’s what we did for the whole time.
The volunteers really got to know each other during this process.There was an attractive male from New Jersey who was on an episode of Jerseylicious and a girl who drove 14 hours from Georgia. Another girl, Anna, lived only about 40 minutes away in Delaware. She was with a friend who came all the way from Florida. Anna was crazy and insane and I automatically loved her. I knew we’d be friends.
Three hours into our shift we were told we were being moved to the “Glamping” site to help finish setting up. The “Glamping” site was billed as a more upscaled version of camping. For $1300 patrons would receive an air conditioned tent furnished with a queen sized bed, a lamp, luggage rack and mints. Plus they got all the showers they wanted. We had to finish making the beds which was fine. I worked with a Red Frog intern from Ohio. She was friendly.
Before I knew it, it was 8 p.m. and I was finished with my volunteering duties. I couldn’t believe that all I had to do was rip wristbands apart, make some beds for four hours and pay $45 to go this.
I walked to the volunteer campsite, which was conveniently located right next to the premium “Glamping” site, located literally steps from the “Backyard” stage. So not only did I only pay $45 for a ticket, but I also got premium camping for free. Pretty sweet deal if you ask me.
At this point I was super exhausted after waking up at 6 a.m., packing, driving four hours, and working four hours. But this was the first night of what was suppose to be one of the best weekends of my life, I’d be damned if I went to be early.
When I got back to the campsite Stephanie already had the tent set up, thank god because if I would have did it, I would have broken something and we’d be sleeping on the grass all weekend. I made a drink and had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was divine.
The campsites were right next to each other and only 10 feet wide so if you didn’t like your neighbors you were screwed. We really lucked out. Our neighbors were so nice! On our left was four girls from Upstate New York, Liz, Erin, Megan and Lexi. On the right were two guys from New Jersey, Dan and Jon.
The girls from Upstate New York brought a canopy and turned it into a “living room” complete with tables and chairs. The next thing I know, we’re all sitting under the canopy playing Cards of Humanity. And then more people starting coming to canopy. Steven, Page, Jamie, Phil, and Kevin. I couldn’t believe how quickly everyone at our site came together. Everyone was so friendly, happy and chill. Where were these people my first semester of college??
After Cards of Humanity, Dan and Jon made us hot dogs, they were super prepared. Dan was a boy scout and all I have to say is thank god we were next to them because they had all the stuff we forgot to bring. Apparently I thought I was going to a hotel and didn’t even think to bring practical things like utensils, plates, and chairs.
It must have been after 3 a.m. when we finally went to bed, but it had become so cold that I had a very difficult time falling asleep. I tossed and turned for another couple hours thinking about the exciting things to happen that weekend and the bands I would see.
Little did I know what I was in for. It was only the beginning.
Tomorrow: Day 2: Ellie Goulding, more new friends, hitchhikers, lead singers of bands going insane on stage, personal hygiene problems, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and people doing drugs.