Low Expectations and a Riverby Chris Mason, images by Athena Lamberis / 14.02.2011
Up the Creek quickly became Up the Crack, in the lead up to the festival. It was an inevitable play on words that highlighted my expectations of the festival. I had none. So (as humans are prone to do when strapped for knowledge) I talked shit about it. Granted, it was playful shit, cheeky little nuggets, but shit nonetheless. Ignorance may be bliss, but it often breeds contempt.
The road uncoiled out in front of us, climbing up the hill, but we were wedged in. Young black guys hawked a plethora of imported Chinese items on the hot tar, which was jammed with vehicles. Somerset West was constipated, it’s large intestine blocked up by humans escaping the city, the office, their lives, on a Friday afternoon. We too were escapees, our goods packed into the back of an old Land Cruiser called the Whale-fish, desperate to get out of the crush. It was hot and stifled in the traffic, and the marijuana we had just smoked was not mixing well with the heat and the crowds. “Where the fuck are we?!” I shouted, falling out of my reverie to land in the passenger seat, sweating and anxious to get away from all the forlorn faces and into the country.
The road finally opened up, cars thinned. We were out, navigating the interim spaces between cities. Farmlands and birds of prey perched on electricity poles filled me with a sense of calm, while the whale- fish patiently swallowed up the road, taking us along with it.
The destination, found two and a half hours later, was a shale and quartz hillside slanting into the Breede river. Humans abounded, setting up temporary abodes on the rocky terrain. Tents in their hundreds, 2000 temporary inhabitants, and no more, as apparently the tickets were limited.
We drove around in a big circle, cursing the sharp, sloping ground as terrible for sleeping on. The river was unreachable, and all the camp sites close to the epicentre were taken. Only the outskirts, the deserted peripheries remained. Overlooking everything was the hilltop, crowned with a tuft of aloes and prickly pairs. No one had attempted to get to the top. With the Whale-fish we trundled up and found a flat spot at the very top.
Glib in our new status of land owners with the best view, we cheered and slapped backs. Loud, friendly rock wafted up from the stage, above the tents, and laughter followed it.
The Doctor, who was also the driver, said “I don’t know much, but I know this is no place for acid.” He may have been right. It was not a drug-fuelled neo-hippy stomp to power up Mother Earth. (There were drugs, but they drowned in beer). It was far from the mystic intentions of the money-less give and take of Africa Burns. Yet it was almost equally far from the giant heaving mass of beautiful youngsters that is Rocking the Daisies. It reminded me of a young Splashy Fen. Small, intimate, somewhat uncool. Full to the brim with beer and cheer.
The main tent looked like a giant open-sided barn, made with thick wooden poles and covered in green plastic. Like the enormous spit-braai that fed half the festival, it was home-made, with the distinct marks of a farmer’s ingenuity.
Under that green plastic the music started early on Friday night. As is my wont at music festivals, I didn’t put too much sway in seeing everything. Initial impressions of the line up had been unremarkable, but to their collective credit, and from what I saw, all of the bands gave enthusiastic performances. In a tender moment that evening I even felt an affectionate admiration for the resilience of our embattled musicians. Karen Zoid and Hot Water we heard only from a distance. Watching the Dirty Skirts left me unmoved, sadly, but the Rudimentals stood out with their energetic performance and loud, funky horns. Fade to black.
On Saturday morning animals of all shapes and sizes emerged. Placid things with bright colours and taut plastic skin. Killer whales, Merdogs and a penis the size of a man all joined the throng of humans carrying inflatable objects to the water. No one had mentioned this in their non-descriptions of Up the Creek! It was fantastic, in a Roald Dahl way. The river looked like Rooibos. The bank on one side sported a make-shift stage and in the middle there was a sand island the size of a rugby field. The sun was fierce, a 30 plus desert heat. In the dark, cool water people teemed around each other and their floatation devices. Laughing and drinking, their grins flashing and wet bodies gleaming. Everyone euphoric in this newly found paradise. The excitement died down as the day wore on. The wind picked up fresh. The river emptied slowly as revellers sought shelter under beach umbrellas. We stayed there all day, on that magic little beach.
The evening started with Jack Parrow shouting his name and sweating a lot. I heard some people say they didn’t like him, mostly foreigners. It was the first time I had seen him, and a lot of the Afrikaans was lost on me, and the shouting. But I did feel the need to protect him. His ballsy attempt to do something different, however loud and unmusical, seemed worthy of some appreciation. So I told the complainers that they needed to think about him as a parody of himself (I was proud of that one). This placated the Americans and impressed the Swede, but the Soutpiel was left convinced. Boo! Yes, that skinny, flamboyant man Chris Chameleon, his long-haired trumpeting compatriot Ampie and the drummer with the crazy eyes. Fucking Boo! back from the dead, and rocking! Chameleon looked a little older and world-weathered but was still the consummate performer, with all his voices and in his tight pink and black sequined jumpsuit. The crowd booed with glee. At the back of the stage a middle-aged security guard in a red shirt stared at Chameleon, his face showing obvious distaste. A scowl had formed, pulling the sides of his mouth down. I project-read his mind, “This guy is a fokken moffie. And why the fuck are these people booing? Jussis man.”
I couldn’t help feeling sad when they played, “I’m gonna get lucky someday”. The youthful hope that used to drive the song was replaced with something darker, the experience of disappointment, and for a moment I saw Chameleon as the struggling artist, looking for the big break that may never come.
Bed on Bricks. Taxi Violence. He’ll steal your baby. You may get shot. These bands passed without incident, and I drank whiskey out the bottle. What the fuck is up with these band names? In a state of distrustful inebriation I questioned the legitimacy of the names, trying to probe the possible meanings imbedded in what they represented and the reasons behind them being used. I failed. Flash Republic came on. A fan blew the lead singers hair up, like something out of a music video. She sang with gusto, her shirt looked like a toga. Some strong hash was passed around. It was my turn to stare, to wonder if this was good or bad music. In the murk of the late hour it was hard to tell. The people seemed to like it. To me it sounded like pop, something on 5FM. I wobbled to what I suspected was the beat. It ended in cheers. Soon afterwards the darkness swallowed me up.
We left early the next morning, before the oppressive heat got us, and after one final dip and a blood-red detox juice. Already we were recounting reasons why the weekend had been so good. Low expectations and a fantastic river, mainly.
*Images by Athena Lamberis.