Splashy Fen-tastic!

2008-04-07 16:46
By Friday Midday Splashy Fen is so muddy that the earthworms are coming up for air, wriggling their way out to lie twisting in the rain.

Watch Splashy Fen 2008 Videos
- Syd Kitchen does "Wash Your Socks"
- Tree 63's backstage interview

The first Friday band hasn’t started yet, but the place is pumping as 4500 music fans mill around, while another 4000-odd are still stuck on the road leading to the farm, their tires mired in the swamps-formerly-known-as-dirt-roads, waiting for quad bikes and laughing local farmers in tractors to haul them to drier land.

The 19th splashy is the wettest Splashy ever, and as hundreds of waterlogged and badly shod punters run from stall to stall trying to buy wellingtons, all you can hear is shloop shloop shloop shloop…. the real soundtrack of Splashy Fen music festival.

I’m running too, as the stash of wellies runs out. Just in time to save my socks, I manage to score primo size sixes from a merchant operating out of the back of the chip ‘n dip stand. The galoshes cost me R60. By Sunday, bidding wars had driven the price of a pair of plain blacks up to R150. They were worth a lot more to me, even if they weren’t trendy or beautifully decorated like some others.

Over excellent coffee on Friday morning from one of the many food stands, my man and I have a rush of Festival Feeling (it’s like finding God, but without the praying and with Sunday lie-ins). We do the 'who did you like Thursday night?' thing. The fast rootsy rockers Captain Stu – all the way from our own home town – are easily the favourites, and their stage (the second stage, but both have brilliant sound and pull great crowds) was definitely the place to be that night. The Grant Erskine main marquee featured an amusing but tired collection of bands called stuff like 'Hairy Legged Lentil Eaters', who all seemed to be differently dressed arrangements of the same musicians (old Angus Burns played with three of them). Warning: listening to too much Traffic can permanently damage your judgement.

This warning needs to go out to whoever choose the "Splashy Song" winner, and (I suspect the same person) books the Friday main marquee early-afternoon line-up. As the rain comes down, hippie after aging hippie sings mournful ballads to a scattered crowd of seated festizens sheltering from the rain. Don Clark’s cheesy lentils, boobs-and-preaches anthem blares over the speakers in between sets. And Miriam Backhouse, 2008’s featured artist, only draws a few hundred people. That’s not to say she’s bad at what she does, but she’s no headliner.

Luckily, all this change by 6pm Friday, when it’s becoming hard to choose between stages. There’s multi-talented jailbait in the form of Zoe and Somebody’s child in one tent, and Aiden Cornhill (ex-Deluxe) coaxing singer songwriter fans to heaven on the other. While the marquee moves into rock mode, Syd Kitchen (who’s played every single Splashy) packs Grant Erskine full of fans chanting "Wash Your Socks" and feeling his take on the world.
Up next, Dan Patlansky has the boys in the crowd straining with love, eyes to the ceiling as they imagine they are up there starring. Sloppy smiles all round! Next, a dash through the downpour for Durban’s lovely City Bowl Mizers, while Plush overstay their sympathy by three encores, then back again for KZN hip-hop / dance maestros Spitmunkey – they’re apparently not new, but they are the best group I’ve discovered in years. These guys make white men cry, cheer and punch the air with their calls for justice, old fashioned non-racial unity and SA pride. Goldfish, indisputably brilliant as usual, finish an amazing night’s music before the DJs begin their vigil.

Splashy Saturday peaks late, although some jollers had peaked too early and passed out by 2pm. The passed out miss a steady diet of low-fi quality in the form of Cabins in the Forest, Roly Struckmeyer (another ex-Deluxe ou), Guy Buttery, and Josie Field – don’t get that girl’s appeal, although she looks pretty hot in a Native American headdress. The night really begins with Gonzo Republic, whose cannily home-grown charm and energetic live licks hook the crowed and reel them in.

Last year’s best discovery The Kiff are cute, too – a real spectacle of bikinis and rocking cheese. A few hundred metres slosh to the next tent, The Arrows put out for Jesus with songs about sin, like a voodoo Harris Tweed. Lovely. And Tree63 just make their show after sitting in the mud for hours. They fight for my attention with Brazilian-SA colab Napalma. Napalma’s warm and wild energy win my vote, but you can’t argue with the power of Tree63, who instantly convert the tent into a stadium full of waving palms.

Sunday: we’re blessed with sun. Mudcaked music fans emerge from tents for (in many cases) the first hot shower of the festival, or a swim in the icy, racing, river. Beanies and raincoats are cautiously ditched for hats and sun cream, but the galoshes stay on. Some drivers take the gap in the weather and leave for town. But the line-up is promising so we stick around. It’s worth it for the swim in the top dam (a short hike from camp), seeing the entire Fataar family onstage in one go. There’s also a welcome reminder from overseas act The Redflecks flanked by The Beams and Kidofdoom that local’s just as lekker if not mostly better, and a gentle reggae comedown from the The Meditators. After a final skinny-dip in the dam by moonlight, it’s time to crash.

Verdict? The best festival I’ve ever been to. Well organised, friendlier than any other, with a definite focus on local bands, and new discoveries. Add to that awesome, cheap food, proper coffee, delicious local beers, and the most beautiful venue imaginable. Despite the rain (or because of it, perhaps?) this one is a winner. See you at the 20th Anniversary, where organiser Pedro’s threatening to 'dredge up' and feature previous hit headline bands from the past on a special stage. It’s going to be, literally, the experience of a lifetime.

- Jean Barker

Muddy, musical, and mostly amazing. Splashy Fen Music Festival is the one to go to before you die. Just bring your own galoshes and a good attitude. Beer and bands will do the rest.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.