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Up The Creek: Wrap Up

2009-02-10 16:12
Up The Creek 2009
It must be love – it must be Up The Creek.

South Africa’s most chilled out music festival (or is that you, Splashy?) is 50% weekend away, 50% top local rock fest. The set-up is simple: 2,000 people camp by the shark-infested Breede River, not far from Swellendam. They spend their time listening to the talent, devouring the offerings at the spit braai and mucking about in the creek. This will set you back R400 – about fourteen bucks per performance.

As far as the music goes, UTC 09 was a treat, especially for blues fans.

(Watch our Up The Creek video walkabout)

Dan Patlansky and his red Fender were simply phenomenal. “Dan The Man”, as fans like to call him, is tied first for South Africa’s best guitarist and his stunning change of gears from slow blues to classic rock ‘n roll on the main stage convinced many festival goers that getting his face tattooed on their chests might be a good idea. His obligatory Hendrix cover, “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)”, would be the highlight of any festival, and at Up The Creek it drove the crowd wild.

Speaking of great guitarists, the other Seffrican axe legend, Albert Frost, had also come to do some damage. An acoustic outing with Dan Patlansky and Tidal Waves’ Jaco Mans did more than whet everyone’s appetite for plugged in rock: it was a soothing break from the glut of electric fare. Later, Frost re-united with Die Blues Broers for their first gig in ten odd years, bringing tears to the eyes of a muscle-bound former Reccie.

Sketching a soundtrack to hundreds of Sunday morning hangovers isn’t exactly a prime time festival slot for someone of Piet Botha’s status. Not that it bothered “The General” though who showed just why fans regard him as the original ‘mystic blues boer’. His respectful cover of Johnny Cash covering Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” may have got the armchair critics in the crowd gushing, but it was a pair of narcotic blues rock originals off his killer new album Highway 13 that nailed why Piet remains pretty much unparalleled when it comes to navigating the dark side of blues rock’s street. Like Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler – whom he sounded a dead ringer for at times – he knows that narrating a good blues ballad is all about embracing the moment the blues turn black.

Spare a thought for Lonesome Dave Ferguson. Poor Davey boy appeared three times in one night, after Hot Water took a wrong turn on the way to Swellendam, creating quite the scheduling balls-up. Ferguson and his effects-heavy bluegrass harmonica stylings were popular on all three occasions – and geat fun to dance to.

Performances by the Fake Leather Blues Band, Boulevard BluesBlack Cat Bone and more rounded out a meaty blues offering that delighted everyone who thinks BB King could and should drink Mick Jagger under the table.

If that’s where it wrapped up, Up The Creek would be no more than a great destination for blues lovers. But there was much more to see.

Prime Circle
, arguably the biggest act at the festival, played on Friday to a packed main tent. Their radio rock sound remains as divisive as ever among the festival hard core, but critics should admit that their new material takes them to a higher level on the live stage – even if “Hello” now sounds flat by comparison.

And speaking of taking the excitement up a notch, one band who should sound flat after belting out the same repertoire for the past decade is Wonderboom. But they weren’t. Something seems to happen to Cito and his band of modern rock brothers on stage that you just don’t get to hear on CD. Ask one of the 30-something moms in the audience and they’ll probably smile and tell you with a wink that it’s probably simply a case of seeing Cito strip off his shirt and belt out that panty-moistening power ballad crowd pleaser “she cried with the light on all night”? Ah, well guys, we can’t have it all. After all, it’s not like the ladies are going to go gaga over Taxi Violence’s increasingly raw bluesy rock bravado….or are they?

After failing to resonate at Rocking The Daisies, Taxi Violence found their form again by the Breede River. Transparently in-love with classic hard rock, they managed to strike a chord with both the younger, post-Nudies crowd in the pit and the rock veterans at the back, who saw perhaps a biltong-flavoured Led Zep in George van der Spuy and his merry men’s antics. Two fools missed their stage dives.

It has been said before, but the Tidal Waves pack a massive amount of affirmative power into their music. Their appeal lies beyond political bullshit, beyond good vibes reggae, beyond the novelty of a (mostly) black band having a great time in a sea of white faces. Something about the way they say “one love” is transformative. Of course, while being transformed, everyone was shaking their booty at the same time.

If anyone seemed out of place it was The Dirty Skirts: too hip, too bright to make a biker’s blood boil when all he wants is a Muddy Waters encore. Make no mistake, their festival-fave finale, “Homewrecker”, is the essence of rock ‘n roll lewdness. But all but the cream of their Daddy Don’t Disco material failed to raise the collective temperature.

The Beams and The Plastics had the same problem: representing the “new school” among a distinctly “old school” crowd. It could have gone worse, but it also could have been better: maybe it was just too damn hot for tight-fitting hipster attire.

The singer songwriters are always around at these festivals, aren’t they? Strumming away, trying to make an impression with their four chord poetry amidst the 2,000 Watt ramblings of rockers with Marshall amps.

But nothing quite prepared us for Andra. If her cutesy tweed Trilby, (surprisingly clean) Ramones T-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers were any indication, she should’ve been one of those annoyingly confessional post-Tori meets Alanis styled singer songwriters digging deep into their manic depressive “dear diary” clichés. But she wasn’t. The Namibian-born, Pretoria-based singer musician’s set on the Bar stage on Saturday afternoon was a minor revelation that had more than one journalist falling over themselves trying to do justice to her atonal guitar strum ‘n scraped serenades. “Broken blues”? Almost there, but we reckon “fractured folk” is better.

Despite the news reports and all the wise cracks down at the river, no one did go on to see a shark, unless you count inflatables. But there was so much else to see: good local music, fascinating punters from all over the country (and outside of it), ridiculous tan-lines. At fourteen Rand a performance, you could do much, much worse with your hard-earned dosh. So don't. Up The Creek 2010 is a must-attend for all fans of traditional rock and blues, and pretty much everyone who struggles to get the most out of their lilo.

Whisky-fied blues cats in their sixties drift among sun-creamed toddlers, unwitting accessories to their parents’ rock ‘n roll fix. There’s burning fat and barre chords in the air. Lilos everywhere.
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