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Firefly Festival Grabs Corporate America's Attention

USA Today, June 21, 2013

By Margie Fishman

DOVER, Del. – Firefly fans swarming Dover this weekend will not only enjoy nearly double the number of bands as last year – and double the number of attendees elbowing their way to get closer to the stage.

There will also be three times the ka-ching opportunities, with vendors selling everything from crab cakes, to fresh produce, to Nepalese bracelets, to designer shoes.

In its second year, Firefly is growing up. And corporate America is taking notice.

MORE: Firefly Music Festival coverage

Entering The Woodlands behind Dover International Speedway, visitors can stock up on sunglasses, socks and deodorant at the general store presented by Walgreens. Keep walking straight and you've stumbled on the Garnier Fructis Salon, which will provide product samples and complimentary hair styling for sweat-matted 'dos.

If you've paid the nearly $600 price markup, you'll have access to the air-conditioned VIP lounge with catered meals and an exclusive Firefly cocktail served in a Mason jar, courtesy of Ketel One vodka.

Just beyond is the new Heineken Domes, featuring the popular Dutch beer with a side of thumping beats from 13 DJs. Toyota enthusiasts will appreciate the Toyota and SpinMedia Soundwave stage and the Toyota Hybrid House Party, including an audio remix station and phone charging outlets.

Still didn't get your branding fix? There's always the f.y.e. autograph tent, where you can meet your favorite artists; a merchandise booth presented by Gap; a mobile distillery by Jack Daniels, water refill stations from Kleen Kanteen; and a live music coffeehouse brought to you by Bearclaw Coffee Co., an Ann Arbor, Mich., outfit that also supplies legendary music festival Bonnaroo.

Last year, the only national brand on the festival map was Toms shoes. This year, the map resembles your neighborhood shopping mall.

Promoting Firefly as the "East Coast's Premier Music Experience," organizers realize that they need corporate backing to play in the big leagues.

"We look at brands that speak to our guests and align well with the Firefly Music Festival brand and music festival realm," said Lauren Shield, spokeswoman for Red Frog Events, the Chicago company behind Firefly.

Last year's Lollapalooza, with 270,000 attendees in Chicago, featured a State Farm bag check and stages sponsored by PlayStation, Google, Red Bull and Bud Light. Garnier Fructis is a Bonnaroo veteran. Another Tennessee event, the CMA Music Festival touts a Manwich open mic night. Austin's South by Southwest, an independent music bastion, erected a five-story stage in the shape of a Doritos vending machine for Snoop Dogg. Guess and Mulberry brands sponsor pool parties at Coachella in Los Angeles.

Rather than plaster their names on billboards that get ignored, companies are increasingly sponsoring themed areas at music festivals to "enhance the spectator experience," said William Chipps, senior editor for IEG, a Chicago-based sponsorship consulting firm.

North American-based companies will spend $1.28 billion to sponsor music venues, festivals and tours in 2013, a 5.4 percent increase from 2012, according to IEG's research arm.

And while the connection between a RAV4 and pop art photo booth is tenuous, the consumer could care less as long as the company is "bringing something to the table," according to Chipps.

Red Bull, which sponsored an artists' tent at Firefly last year, upped the ante this year by showcasing Red Bull Sound Select bands at The Hub stage. Local Walgreens stores are sponsoring two general stores this year, after hosting a campground-only location last year.

"We were approached by [Red Frog] last year, and we thought it would be a great idea to get involved in this local event," said Walgreens spokesman Emily Hartwig.

Music festivals are a rite of passage, even though the recent crop comes with mobile showers and arcades. And what better way for a company to stay top of mind than by aligning with a memorable experience, Chipps said.

Corporations scaled back their festival funding during the economic downturn, but now they spend five or six figures for the privilege of tapping into "influencers," he continued. Festivalgoers tend to be early adopters of technology who can spend several hundred dollars on one weekend because they aren't yet saddled with mortgages or kids. Also, it helps corporate advertising when thousands of Facebook friends monitor check-ins.

Firefly began promoting its corporate tie-ins earlier this year. Last week, the Gap's flagship store in New York offered a night of festival sample looks with an exclusive performance by The Last Royals, who will be performing at Firefly. For months, Dogfish Head has been promoting its Firefly Ale at bars from Connecticut to Virginia.

"From all accounts on our end, it was a huge success," Mariah Calagione, Dogfish Head's vice president, said of last year's festival. Dogfish sold at least 300 kegs and several varieties were sold out completely.

This year, The Brewery is double the size, offering live-streaming of concerts. Dogfish has customized tap handles with jars full of plastic bugs for its Firefly Ale. Festival-goers will be introduced to gluten-free Tweason'ale, along with award-winning varieties.

"We have 1,000 kegs ready," Calagione said.

Shield did not release the total number of Firefly vendors. Roughly a dozen are from Delaware. Several of the local vendors said they had no previous experience with a music festival, much less an event of this magnitude.

Last year's festival drew about 30,000. "We are over 60,000 right now and tickets are still flying," Shield said Tuesday.

Kathy Pasqualini, owner of Pasqualini's Bakery in Rehoboth Beach, started making puffed pastries on Monday and planned to bake 12 hours a day with her nephew leading up to the festival. She will be selling elephant ears, sausage-and-pepper cheese rolls, maple bacon-flavored cupcakes, chocolate caramel sticky buns, and, of course, brownies, priced from $1 to $5 each in the farmers market.

In tribute to "flower power," she's also preparing a stash of peanut butter-and-marshmallow-creme sandwiches on her signature rainbow bread, tie-dyed with food coloring. Since Firefly won't allow her to roam the campgrounds after-hours in a golf cart, she might just load up her bicycle to satisfy late-night cravings.

Another farmers market vendor, the family-run Fifer Orchards in Camden-Wyoming, will sell $5 quarts of homegrown strawberries, pints of blueberries and apple cider doughnuts, along with supplying fresh ingredients to other vendors on-site.

"We really don't have any clue what to expect," said owner Michael Fennemore. "It's neat that folks that come from out of state will get a flavor of what Delaware is all about."

Red Frog initially approached Fennemore several years ago to use his 2,500-acre farm for a mud run race. Fennemore declined because it was in the middle of harvest season, but he did recommend Dover Downs. That nudge, he acknowledged, might have ultimately brought Firefly to Dover.

Greenman Juice Bar will sell $7 fresh-squeezed juices in various combinations at the festival, including carrot-apple-ginger and apple-kale-cucumber, in compostable cups.

"We're literally expecting to sell thousands and thousands of pounds of produce a day," said owner Jeremy Brockway. "Everybody is going to be on their feet. It's going to give them an energy boost."

Mother-daughter entrepreneurs Dee and Haley Cairo will sell their beaded bracelets made by Nepalese women. Their Mae Movement supports co-ops that pay workers above a fair trade wage, said 19-year-old Haley. The pair discovered the bracelets while vacationing in Florida. Carried by several Delaware boutiques, they will be sold at Firefly for $15 each or $35 for a set of three.

To ease the camping crunch, Dover Mall and Delaware State University agreed to lease a portion of their properties to Red Frog, as they do for NASCAR races. Both sites, located about a mile from the festival grounds, are sold out.

Dover Mall can accommodate 4,400 Firefly campers on its 40-acre site behind Ring Road. That's more campers than at NASCAR, according to mall spokeswoman Tricia Southard.

Across the highway, Delaware State University will provide space for 700 tents and 40 RVs next to the Agricultural Museum. The university receives between $30,000 to $150,000 in camping fees during NASCAR season, which help fund student scholarships, said university spokesman Carlos Holmes. He did not know what the university was charging Red Frog.

With reduced state support, "we've got to be creative to raise money to help our kids," he said.