My wingman, the seriously talented and ridiculously hard-working photographer Henry Engelbrecht, drove us there after a red-eye flight on Friday morning. As the valleys unfolded we found ourselves in the middle of farmland with a secret ingredient: a gorgeous river. It was only knee-deep when we got there, but lilos (and festival-goers) don’t care.
Tent, mattress & bedding – check, check, check. I went off exploring the river stage, food stalls, bars and landscape. It’s such great venue and setting, everything is close together but never too crowded, and in the event of you needing to be alone for a little while, there’s plenty of space for that too. The organisers cap the event at 2500 tickets, and this number is just right.
Cashless Howler RFID armbands were a stroke of genius. I first saw these in 2016 at Panorama NYC, and have been singing their praises since. Being able to walk around without having to remember to look after a wallet or card is a liberating experience, and the process of cashing out took me less than 5 minutes (funds clear in 1-2 days). It’s a transparent, crime-diminishing feature that makes it as easy as possible for festival-goers to trust a payment system.
Liny Kruger from LK Mediabook ran the media and held a feast of a breakfast for us on Saturday morning, despite a bit of a drizzle. I kept hearing from people that Swellendam is always hot as hell, but this year the rain and clouds broke the usual 40-degree Celsius temperatures. There was always something to do, whether missioning between the stages or getting food or going to a bar or bumping into someone you know. And of course, all the excellent music!
It was a treat seeing bands that aren’t usually on the Gauteng circuit. BRYNN was a breath of fresh air, friendly and incredibly intense on stage. With Hezron Chetty on violin, it felt like the crowd might orgasm. Dave van Vuuren is also a band member in Southern Wild, and these two bands are both at the top of their game.
Fokofpolisiekar were luxurious to watch. Not only did they perform my favourite song Tiny Town (first time I’ve ever seen it live), they also audibly shifted a gear into AC, while showing people they’re the same on-stage rockers you remember from varsity. Cape Town crowds are different, and it was good seeing them in their natural habitat.
Other highlights included Retro Dizzy, a glorious hot mess of bodies and rock guitars, as well as the Sublime Tribute Project (so much fun and bouncing, don’t think I’ve ever smiled or sung as much at a festival). I missed The Shabs, but I hear they’re a hoot. Crimson House played on Thursday before I got there, and I missed my beloved Bongeziwe Mabandla on Sunday in order to rush back to Cape Town (so that I could climb The Mountain).
Leaving the festival was a piece of pie. Without an early lift back, I hitchhiked for the first time in my life. Gail, A carefree middle-age woman in a Mazda 2 piled full of lilos, gave me a lift all the way to my Airbnb in Rondebosch. I would never dream of hiking for a lift with a stranger, but the festival seemed so open and trusting that I was convinced the universe would serve up an interesting experience (it did – “It’s later than you think” is the casual wisdom tucked into Gail’s sun visor).
Next year I’ll go from the Thursday and be the last to leave on Sunday. It’s so pleasant and relaxed, you can call it a holiday, not just a festival. Cheers, and thank you, Up The Creek.