Firefly's Top 10 Finest Moments

3:33 PM PST 06/23/2014 by M. Tye Comer, Billboard, Alex Gale, Billboard, Frank DiGiacomo, Billboard
Owen Sweeney/Invision/AP

Foo Fighters, Outkast, Arctic Monkeys and Weezer all brought their A-games. But who ranks no. 1?

Third time was indeed the charm for Delaware's Firefly Music festival. The 2014 edition of First State’s now-massive four-day event was a weekend punctuated by stellar performances spread across the seven stages nestled on a 154-acre plot of forest land behind the Dover International Speedway. With so much going on for Firefly’s 80,000 attendees, it was impossible to catch every single act — but they sure had fun trying. When all was said and done, these were the 10 sets that made Firefly 2014 worth the price of admission.

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10. Childish Gambino (Sunday, 8:40 pm, Lawn Stage): Childish Gambino, the rap persona of actor/comedian/writer Donald Glover, has grown from a curiosity to a contender for one of the most intriguing rap albums of 2013 with Because the Internet. On Sunday night, he added another notch to his belt: festival closer. Yes, it was the smaller Lawn Stage, opposite the folk-blues of main stage headliner Jack Johnson, but Gambino was the one who gave Firefly the send-off it deserved. The sometimes-awkward rapper behind "Freaks and Geeks” was gone — here, a shirtless and toned Glover rapped with breathless, crowd-commanding confidence over a full band, while pyrotechnics exploded around him.

9. tUnE-yArDs (Saturday, 7:15 pm, Lawn Stage): In the past, tUnE-yArDs, aka Merrill Garbus, would bring her quirky world-music/folk/lo-fi blend to fruition onstage with herself, bassist Nate Brenner, and on-the-spot loops. But at Firefly’s Lawn Stage, she muscled up with three more players who banged out African percussion, backed her wild vocals, and wore her signature face paint. It made her music, already a welcoming grab bag of global influences, even more communal, and a happy Firefly crowd responded by singing, dancing and shouting right along.

8. Pretty Lights (Saturday, 12:15 am, Backyard Stage): While rock undoubtedly ruled at Firefly, there were several acts that brought the beats to the big stages for late-night dance parties throughout the weekend. Girl Talk, Martin Garrix, White Panda and Big Gigantic all got feet shuffling and asses shaking in the forest, but the dazzling display of Pretty Lights was hard for any act to top. Lifting off right after the night’s headliners Outkast wound down, the Colorado-bred artist (real name: Derek Vincent Smith) immediately lived up to his moniker and illuminated the field around the Backyard Stage in a wash of cascading lasers that rivaled Pink Floyd at their peak. Fans started shouting toward the heavens as Smith’s funky grooves kept the party going until 2 a.m.

7. Jake Bugg (Sunday, 2:45 pm, Backyard Stage): Singer-songwriter-guitarist Jake Bugg is a chart-topping, One-Direction-dissing, tabloid-covering rock star in his native U.K., but here in the States, he’s still a fresh face to most. Presumably looking to change that, he played two strong sets at Firefly, and the one on the secondary Backyard stage was a standout. Backed just by bass and drums, Bugg provided the perfect soundtrack for a hazy, dusty mid-afternoon set, with his Dylan-esque voice (remarkably wizened for a 20-year-old), and sweeping guitar chords that conjured visions of driving through an Arizona desert.

6. Arctic Monkeys (Friday, 6:45 pm, Firefly Stage):  “How ya feelin’ Fireflyyyyy?” asked Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner as he sauntered onto the main stage with the bravado of a bullfighter and seduced the audience of swooning fans during the group’s late-afternoon set on Friday. The British quartet set the pace with their first Firefly appearance, packing their set with sexy singles from their acclaimed AM album, as well as well-worn favorites from their rowdier teenage years. The show simmered with songs like “Do I Wanna Know,” “Arabella” and “Fireside” and boiled over when the band broke into old faves like “Flourescent Adolescent” and “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor,” proving the Monkeys can drive festival crowds apeshit on either side of the pond.

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5. Phantogram (Sunday, 7:00 pm, Backyard Stage): Phantogram, the dream-pop-meets-trip-hop duo from upstate New York, brought their ethereal mix of chopped-up samples, floating vocals and lush chords to the Backyard Stage — a beautiful, transporting alternative to the hammering beat drops and four-on-the-floor kick drums that Martin Garrix was dealing to a jumping crowd on the other side of the festival grounds. Sarah Barthel looked gorgeous in a black red and gold, multi-tasking on vocals, keys, tambourine and some bouncy dance moves. 2009 track "As Far As I Can See" was among the standouts, with the band playing the jerky samples live and then blanketing them in galactic, new wave-y guitar chords.

4. Weezer (Sunday, 3:45 pm, Firefly Stage): Third Eye Blind took the Firefly crowd on a nostalgic trip back to the ‘90s with their Saturday afternoon set of classic sing-along hits. But the San Fran group’s set proved only a primer once Weezer took the stage on Sunday. The quartet, led by the affable Rivers Cuomo, wasted no time heading down memory lane, opening the set with a back-to-back string of college-rock gems “My Name Is Jonas,” “Hash Pipe,” and “Dope Nose.” Fans stayed in a frenzy for the band’s entire set, which included a rousing cover of Blur’s “Song 2” and concluded with a mighty one-two punch of “Undone (The Sweater Song) and “Buddy Holly.”

3. Outkast (Saturday, 10:20 pm, Firefly Stage): Andre 3000 and Big Boi didn't play any new music or promise any. Instead, they threw a funk-tastic dance party that celebrated 20 years of collaboration and included most of their crowd favorites, including "Ms. Jackson," "The Way You Move," "So Fresh, So Clean" and "Roses," which had Andre, who was dressed in a waist-flattering jumpsuit that read "Children of the Cornbread," apologizing to all of the Carolines in the audience. How danceable was it? At one point, half a dozen security guards had to be chastised by their superior because they were letting their freak flags fly instead of watching the crowd. Nine shows in, the Oukast reunion gets better and more fun at every festival stop.

2. Cage the Elephant (Saturday, 6:15 pm, Backyard Stage): After the Foo Fighters kicked out the jams on Friday night, they were the band to beat when it came to Firefly's best live performance. Enter Bowling Green, Kentucky's Cage the Elephant, the only band who came close to taking Dave Grohl and crew to the mat. On Saturday evening, frontman Matt Shultz owned the stage like the love child of Mick Jagger and Iggy Pop, dancing spastically and shirtless while the band tore though an exuberantly punky and danceable set — "Spiderhead," "Ain't No Rest for the Wicked" and "Cigarette Daydreams" included — that had the crowd giddily jerking back and forth to the beat. At one point, Shultz told them, "I will be as crazy as possible," and dared them to match his mania. "I will win," he promised. And he did.

1. Foo Fighters (Friday, 9:45 pm, Firefly Stage): Dave Grohl promised the crowd that the band would play “until they tell us to shut the fuck up” — and he kept his promise. Performing a good 15 minutes past their scheduled 11:45 p.m. end time, the Foo Fighters treated the cheek-to-jowl crowd with a two-hour-plus endorphin rush-of-a nightcap on Friday that left festival-goers singing on the way to the parking lot. Expectedly, the band brought their mighty catalog of hits that included show-stoppers like “Monkey Wrench” (which Grohl dedicated to the Arctic Monkeys), “My Hero,” a stripped-down version of “Big Me” and a balls-to-the-wall rendition of “Everlong.” But the highlight for the group’s older-demo fans in the crowd came when the Foos returned to the stage for a encore of covers that included Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out,” the Rolling Stones’ “Miss You,” David Bowie & Queen’s “Under Pressure,” Van Halen’s “Ain’t Talking ‘Bout Love.” "There are times where I love my life... and then I do this and I realize I really am the luckiest person in the world," said Dave Grohl before breaking into set closer "Everlong." "I can't wait to come back and play all the new shit for you." Neither can we, Dave.

This article originally appeared on Billboard.com

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