Firefly Music Festival’s VP & Festival Director Stephanie Mezzano Talks Success Of Fest’s Lightning-Fast 2021 Return

Courtesy Firefly Music Festival
Sophie Hawley-Weld performs at Firefly Music Festival at The Woodlands in Dover, Del., Sept. 26.
After weathering the storm of COVID’s 2020 lockdown and managing to pull off planning a 50,000-capacity festival in just four and a half months, nothing was going to stop Firefly Music Festival from making its grand, post-lockdown return in 2021 – even a literal lightning storm. 

“Sure, it was a little bit muddy that first day. And it was tough for everybody involved. But to me, it was like we were all trying to bring live music back and put this big show on and I’ll be damned if anything stops us!” vice president and festival director Stephanie Mezzano told Pollstar about having to push Thursday’s opening to 8 p.m., with some artists rescheduled to other stages that evening.“The show must go on! And it did. And it felt incredible.”

Along with Billie Eilish’s triumphant headline set Thursday, the Sept. 23-26 lineup at The Woodlands of Dover International Speedway featured The Killers, Tame Impala, Lizzo, Megan Thee Stallion and many more. 

Mezzano joined AEG Presents after the company bought Red Frog Events’ shares of 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 quickly making the ’21 festival happen, hosting Firefly’s first Pride Parade and introducing the event to its newest super fan.  

Firefly VP & Festival Director Stephanie Mezzano
– Firefly VP & Festival Director Stephanie Mezzano
introduces her son Ezra to his first music fest at Firefly 2021.

Pollstar: You discovered Firefly’s home in 2011. What initially connected you to the space?

Stephanie Mezzano: We had been touring up and down the East Coast. At the time, it was a fairly untapped market for festivals. We went to probably about five or six other venues. Our last visit was the Speedway. We spent probably the first 75% of the tour looking at the actual track itself and the infrastructure. In the last maybe half hour of our visit they were like, “Come see our campgrounds.” We drove back to this area of unbelievably gorgeous, giant trees. Once you’re in there, you don’t see anything else. As soon as we stepped in there, it was like, well this is it. This is what you want to feel at a music festival … completely off the grid from the rest of the world. … 
Over the last, now it’s coming up on 10 years, we’ve slowly been working with the property and putting a lot of investment into it … proper drainage and shower facilities and things like that, that have allowed us to grow the festival into a really good location for a multi-day music festival where something like Thursday could happen where you get a lot of rain.  

What happened with the rain?
It rained pretty much all day on Thursday, and we pushed back the gates to 7:30 p.m. – the show was supposed to open at 3 and it pretty much rained all night. Our fans really trooped it. There definitely was some muss that first night. But then Billie Eilish got on stage and it was like, who cares what happened that day?! Everybody was there and everybody was in it. One of the coolest things I noticed is no one had their phones up. Usually you go to a concert, you see everybody’s phones in the air. We’ve all spent two years attached to our phones and on Zoom meetings because that’s all we had. And everybody just came and put them in their pockets. They were watching and living in the moment. And it was something I noticed all weekend long … it was like a little screen sabbatical.
Firefly automatically refunded 2020 tickets and so the festival essentially started selling tickets from scratch for ’21. What was the planning process like?
2021 was a big question mark for a long time for us. This event wasn’t actually launched until the middle of May. So, this was the fastest year I’ve ever planned a music festival. Our entire team has never done anything quite like it. From the middle of May to the actual festival weekend – so four and a half months.   
(laughs) Yeah, it was a wild ride. … I need to sleep for about a week. And then I’ll be ready to plan ’22. 
Tell me about the lineup.
We were able to bring some [2020] acts over, but most of the talent was new. … I think our fans really connected to the lineup. … We had a heavy amount of females on the lineup … a heavy amount of people of color. We really wanted to focus this year on making Firefly as inclusive as an event as we possibly could. 
Attendees had to provide either proof of a COVID vaccine or a negative test for entry. Besides the COVID protocols, what else was new for ’21?
We did our first ever pride parade. That was on Sunday and we ran a pride parade from one stage through the festival to the other. Just the outpouring of love and support and emotions was so powerful. … We could feel the emotional weight of how great it was to celebrate our LGBTQ+ community at Firefly. It’s the first time we did it and now just feels like a permanent part of our show. We also did a drag brunch, which sold out in less than an hour. And so we definitely know we need to add more drag brunches next year. It was a really cool part of this portion of our event called Supper Club, where we do these small, seated dinners and shows.  
Were you able to catch some sets during the festival?   
I’m a huge music fan, and so I definitely snuck away every moment that I could. I got to watch Sofi Tukker’s set, which was right at sunset, and [Sophie Hawley-Weld] was wearing this gorgeous dress that looked like the sun was actually setting on her. It was a magical moment. I got to see pretty much all of my favorite acts over the weekend. Also, I am a new mom. I had a baby during the pandemic, so my 15-month-old was actually there. I got to show him around the show, which is the coolest thing. So, we made him a super fan from year one.