The Cool Parents' Guide to Sending Your Kid to Firefly
Three local moms dish on how and why they've allowed their teens to attend the four-day music fest.
Nervous about sending your kid to the 2018 Firefly Music Festival? Don’t be.
The four-day music fest, now in its seventh incarnation, attracts in the neighborhood of 90,000 attendees. It’s a relatively diverse crowd, but the primary audience is teenagers and college-aged kids. In fact, it’s become a rite of passage for thousands of suburban teens.
Such a massive event, along with the palpable mix of sun, sweat, poorly assembled tents, alcohol, hormones and Axe body spray—it’s enough to make any parent anxious.
So we enlisted three cool moms to tell us how to avoid trouble before it starts. (They know what they’re talking about: They were kids once, too!)
1. Do some homework.
Jill Abbott knows a thing or two about throwing a big party. The senior events planner at Winterthur Museum leads Delaware’s lavish springtime soirée Point-to-Point for upwards of 15,000 fancy-hatted tailgaters each May.
So when her daughter Mikki asked if she could attend Firefly at age 14, Abbott knew she need to case the scene—and what to look for. “I went to scout it out, do my homework,” she says. “I wanted to check it out from a parent’s perspective, and an events perspective.”
Mom actually liked what she saw. “I didn’t see too many drunk kids or bad elements; people were just there for the music,” she says.
Still, a crushing crowd of 80,000 fans in the pounding sun for 12-plus hours can be tough on anyone. “If a young person is not used to that, it can be disorienting,” she says. “Just the enormity of it.” So, armed with the lay of the land, Jill let Mikki and her friends attend the following summer. Jill tagged along on day one to serve as tour guide (it was cool, though; Mikki even posted pictures on Instagram).
Today Jill has another one of Delaware’s monster parties in her back pocket. “Parents call me, asking ‘should I allow my kid?’ I’ve been a resource.”
2. Give some structure.
One saving grace for anxious parents is the festival itself. Firefly and the events team behind it, Red Frog Events, have a strong national reputation for a safe and relatively incident-free environment. Water and medical stations are plentiful. Security is tight but reasonable.
But cool moms know what often goes on behind the scenes at music festivals.
“One rule I shared with [the] kids and their friends is: No drugs, no alcohol, no sex,” says Estelle Monahan of Bear with a laugh.
In other words: “No fun? Exactly.”
When her son Kieran attended Firefly last year at 16, Monahan set some sensible guidelines: Check in once in a while, stick with your friends, stay away from unknown substances, use your head.
Luckily Kieran earned his stripes in year one while commuting with his parents to and from nearby Jellystone Campground in Lincoln. Enough so that he’ll be camping out in the Woodlands with his friends this summer.
“Same set of rules with camping,” Estelle says. “I say, ‘This is an opportunity, and you don’t want to mess it up by doing something stupid.”
3. Show some trust.
Around the Woodlands, Denise Hyde and her friends are known as "the FOMO Moms."
But there is no fear of missing out for Hyde. “If the kids are having fun, we want to have fun,” she says. “We’ve been to almost every one.”
Denise and her daughter Sarah are Firefly regulars. Sarah’s first shot was a day trip in 2014 to catch Jack Johnson. Denise—a former Grateful Dead acolyte—threw down the following year and never looked back. Sarah and her friends returned every year since to camp out on the fields adjacent to the venue.
“My daughter has a good head on her shoulders,” Hyde says. “If I had a troubled teen, I wouldn’t let her go. “But knowing what I was doing at her age, going to concerts and Dead shows, I was worried about the surroundings, so to speak. Because I’d never been to it and didn’t know many people who had been, I was a little nervous, and her father [was], too.”
But Denise knew Sarah would stick to a short list of practical policies, like carrying non-aerosol suntan lotion, refusing any open drinks from strangers and checking in occasionally with the FOMO Moms, who commuted to and from Rehoboth Beach.
Denise says that a trusting, tight-knit group of friends is a good safety net at massive events like Firefly. “They look out for each other,” she says. “It’s so well-coordinated, and they were able to all camp together. And they have boyfriends who can look out for them.”
The beauty of having such a big party in such a tiny state, Hyde says, is that local support systems abound. In other words: There are cool moms everywhere. “Everybody goes to this thing now, so many people we know,” she says. “So we have just so many parents and friends who are just a phone call away.”