Empty Belly of the Bewilderbeastby Rob Cockcroft / 06.08.2013
It’s my fifth day posted here in the warm, albeit still empty, belly of the Bewilderbeast, the latest reincarnation of the Oppikoppi animal, and I’m beginning to realise the reason for my smirking friends’ sadistic glee when hearing about my 11 day expedition as part of the social media team for Mzansi’s most gruelling festival. I’m a complete festival rookie who never even makes it to festivals an hour out of town, I hardly even jol on a Saturday night these days. So for my sins I’ve come a week in advance to face the most unforgiving terrain a city slicking kid like me will ever have to endure and hopefully earn my party stripes or be crushed into dust.
On Friday morning I got up at 3:30, rushed to the grandparents to drop off my sleeping laaitie and held back some man-sized teardrops as I said goodbye and jetted out to catch my flight to Jozi. Not being the most well-travelled man, I was filled with excitement at the prospect of experiencing the far Northern reaches of the country for the first time as well as getting the chance to watch the greatest collection of live acts the country has to offer.
Upon arrival in these Northern parts my day couldn’t have gone any smoother. From O.R Thambo airport the ever dependable iron steed, the Gautrain, whisked me to Pretoria Station in no less than 30 minutes. I got briefed at the Hilltop Live HQ and then hopped a ride into Northam with the Oppikoppi founder, Carel Hoffmann, who even put me up in a chalet with a flatscreen TV, air conditioning and en-suite bathroom. You cannot get a more stately welcoming than that.
Whilst my host offloaded his things I took the time to explore the festival grounds in all its naked splendour. I soaked up the views of the bushveld from the newly built decks on the koppies overlooking the main stage and felt a creepy sensation walking through the veritable ghost town of tented hotels, some that will house up to 1000 people in just a few days.
That night I was invited to the Klein Kroeg, a bar on the highest point of the venue where we ate a full spread and the wine flowed like there was no tomorrow. If the stories about Oppikoppi’s pervading sense of brotherhood are true then it definitely starts from the festival’s organising team up. Later we were joined by the stage building crew and the Kreef Hotel owner, ballies who have been involved in the building of the annual temporary city in the Northam bushveld since its inception. They couldn’t believe that a guy of my age was an Oppikoppi virgin so I received a guided tour of the Klein Kroeg’s 19 years of memorabilia. They showed me pictures of them back in the day with more hair and less boep and of bands and punters looking so grunge it hurts.
Then the party moved down to the camp below. Totally wasted, I asked respectfully if I could bow out, but my unknown brothers wouldn’t hear it. So I jumped in the car with two wine glasses in hand, somehow managing not to spill a drop on the way and joined the general lackeys and roadie types who were guzzling down beers. These dudes are tough as nails. Many of them have been out here for two weeks already, looking like they all made it to the finals of Survivor and still going strong. They will put you to shame by drinking you under the table and then make you feel guilty the next morning when they’re doing hard labour and you’re too weak to even get out of bed.
Saturday morning began with an excruciating hangover and to make things worse I had to move out of the chalet to take my rightful place in the media camping section. Unable to function under the midday heat, fellow campers helped me pitch my tent and pump up my blow-up mattress. I was literally falling apart. This place is brutal. I then went about the business of obtaining all the access codes for Oppikoppi’s social media accounts and hooking up a stable internet connection, an ordeal that caused me much exasperation over the next two days . Bushveld internet achieved, I retired back to my makeshift home to get some longed for sleep only to find that huge thorns had pierced my tent and punctured my mattress. I’ve been sleeping on a pile of rocks ever since.
This place is rugged, but there are a few small comforts. I recently joined the production team in their camping quarters. Closer to fire, food and people. Mornings are for laughing about how kak we slept the night before and the awkwardness of performing basic bodily functions innie bos. (The portaloos suck, but the thorn trees don’t provide enough privacy for a boskak.) As my new mate said, “Nee, I’m not going for a veldie, ou. I don’t wanna lose my asshole.” Nights are for cooling off with beers and rof campfire humour like: “Hoe weet jy ‘n ou het by Oppikoppi ge-score? Sy middle vinger is skoon.”
Not much else to report at the moment. The workload is expected to spike today as we gear up for the final push and roll out the finishing touches. Wednesday should see the first load of revellers. Time to start drinking. I’ll report back soon.
* Images © Oppikoppi