There are thousands of stories that happen at Firefly, not all of them inside the festival. The following is an inspirational story submitted by one of our fans about a remarkable individual that you may have walked right by and not even realized it; a fan that embodies the very spirit we all want to possess when we come to a festival like Firefly.
For most attendees of Firefly 2012, entering the festival grounds meant hiking over the Route 1 overpass from the general camping areas. At the end of the bridge, right before the entrance, many people got their first live performance of the weekend. There, in the middle of Leipsic Road, stood a lone guitarist wearing a baseball cap playing excitedly against a backdrop of Delaware State Police guiding traffic, while golf carts buzzed about.
The man with the guitar, Mike Rocket, wasn’t the biggest performer of the weekend. In fact, he’s never played on any of of Firefly’s stages, has never been on a lineup poster, nor has he actually ever stepped inside the festival gates. In spite of all this, he’s the only performer to play every Firefly since the beginning.
Every. Single. Year.
So, why have so many Firefly fans never heard of Mike Rocket??
Probably, because he’s not actually been on any official lineup. Instead, Mike drove down from northern New Jersey and enthusiastically took a chance on a piece of sidewalk as his stage. With a determination and work ethic that puts many other performers to shame, he’s been trying to prove that following your dreams with passion can ultimately pay off, no matter how big your stage is.
“I heard about Firefly in Delaware,” said Rocket, “and I thought,‘this is it!’ I’m gonna set up outside the entrance and see what happens.” After a two-hour drive from Atlantic City, where Rocket performed the previous night, he arrived in Dover and began singing and playing his guitar right in front of the main entrance.
After a few moves over the years, he’s been there ever since, playing between five and ten hours per day, for three or four days a festival, in the hot Dover sun. At first glance, one might mistake Mike for a busker, anyone with a guitar who belts out covers for tips; however, Mike’s life and professional experiences show a deeper appreciation for music than his yearly parking lot performances may let on. The elementary school teacher by day, rocker by night, was the first official act to play at SXSW in 2012, and though he’s played at other festivals, Firefly has always been different.
“I asked myself what can I try, outside the box, that no one else does?” Rocket said. “I was inspired after SXSW to find not just a concert, but the largest festival around. Over several years, I had previously played outside numerous Springsteen concerts in Jersey, but Bruce fans only go to see Bruce, so I took the chance that music fans at Firefly would want to see someone outside the gates as they were coming and leaving.”
Every day, thousands of festival goers pass by Rocket. Some stop for a minute to listen, take a picture, or chat, but most enjoy just a few moments of his music as they walk by on their way to the gates. Mike plays his own songs, music influenced by Bruce, Cage the Elephant, or even El Vey, regardless of the audience, or how much time they’re able to give him. Occasionally, someone may be rude, but the vast majority of people who see him are respectful. That respect only grows as they realize that beyond his talent, Mike shows up. Hour after hour, day after day, Mike is out in the sun (and rain) playing his guitar with the heart of a dedicated performer. By Sunday, their view of him has changed.
“People have no idea who I am on Thursday or Friday,” Mike said, “ but by Sunday people are cheering me on. It’s kind of a Rocky thing.”
Occasionally people ask for more than their favorite song.
Rocket recounted one of his most meaningful Firefly experiences, which occurred last year. “With less than a week before Firefly, a fan, Nate, asked me for a favor,” he said. “Nate wanted to propose to his girlfriend, Melissa, while I performed Sam Hunt’s Take Your Time. I told him I didn’t know the song, but I’d do my best to learn it. To make a long story short, I was able to get it together by Sunday morning, and Melissa said, ‘Yes.’ That was something that really helped me understand people’s love of music.”
Of course, it’s not all rosy – Rocket has faced obstacles too. The rain storm last year had him rushing to take refuge in his car, and he often has to trust strangers to watch his guitar while he runs to the bathroom, an ignominy unknown to headliners like Paul McCartney, or Foo Fighters. It’s a ridiculously difficult endeavour, but Mike has an unshakeable belief that his work means something to the people who hear him.
“I try my best to make each song I play count, whether it’s an open mic with just a handful of people, or the thousands at the end of a night at Firefly headed back to camp. If I play just the right song, maybe that one person will hear me, and I’ll make their day.”
There will probably come a point this year, when Mike will put down his guitar near his spot near the bridge, a small break during Mumford and Sons, or maybe Kings of Leon. He’ll think about a challenging day entertaining festival goers. He’ll take a moment to listen in the direction of the lights far behind the trees. He’ll pause for a second, enjoy the music, and then pick up his guitar and wait patiently for those thousands of fans returning to their campsites. During that one brief but gratifying moment, Mike Rocket, the man who in five years has been happy playing outside the gates, will be the biggest star of the weekend.