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Up the Freaks

by Jannike Bergh / 15.02.2010

A winding dirt road passes neighbouring farms for quite a while until you reach your destination. The closer you get to the festival, the hotter it gets, but for that, there’s the Breede River. To many people, Up the Creek recalls infamous memories of middle-age hippies floating around on the river on anything from blow-up orcas to wooden tables and, of course, the more conventional canoes. This year was no exception. And, true to form the line-up featured South Africa’s main blues, rock, reggae and indie acts.

The Pretty Blue Guns opened the Friday evening with, well, their pretty blues. The guns have gone missing though.

Ryno Velvet surprised with a rather heavy, energetic set. Alongside Zinkplaat’s Basson Laubsher (on bass guitar this time) and Neil Basson from Foto Na Dans on lead guitar, the Ryno Velvet Band delivered a well-oiled performance.

The Gods is a new all-stars band, fronted by Pärri Luckhoff (Billygoat), with Albert Frost on lead guitar; Schalk van der Merwe (Bed on Bricks) on bass and Francois Kruger (Springbok Nude Girls) on drums. The sound deviates a lot from the members’ other projects, maybe it’s still early days, but despite the great expectations, the band is neither daring nor original.

The highlights of the evening had to be Bed on Bricks, who got people jumping around to their tokkelossie funk; and Dan Patlansky, who performed some slick guitar voodoo on the crowd.

Dan Patlansky

The second round of the night took place way past midnight at Die Burger Bar Stage, where things got a little more eccentric. Dave Ferguson is known for having learnt the harmonica on another planet. With his vast selection of harmonicas and effects pedals, this one-man band got the die-hard Up the Creekers grooving to his mouth harp magic.

Mr Cat and the Jackal followed with their blend of freaky pirate folk. Armed with a lap steel guitar, banjo, accordion, xylophone and all kinds of objects that can ring or shake, they were kitted out to entertain the nightwolves and did so until four in the morning.

At noon on Saturday, th madness continued at Die Burger River Stage, constructed on a sand bank in the middle of the river. The stage can only be reached by descending a very steep hill and then by treading knee-deep through a shallow spot in the river.

Andra opened her set with some whimsical folk tunes and then laid on some lead as her show progressed. This created an interesting contrast between her heavier songs and the colourful blotches happily floating on the river. For a moment, when she bowed out with her last song, it seemed as though the setting was transported to the late sixties, as the river crowd sang along to her cover of Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’.

Piet Botha and friends

Piet Botha and Friends – or the aptly named Lizard Kings, a combo featuring members of Jack Hammer and Akkedis – took to the Main Stage in the late afternoon. Both bands have become part of the festival’s soil throughout the years. Elated guitar solos all round (by Piet Botha, Johnathan Martin and Arthur Dennis) and an appreciative crowd set the atmosphere alight.

For fans of reggae and ska, Nelspruit’s No One’s Arc and Cape Town’s Rudimentals played their respective blends of brassy tunes.

Pretoria’s hoodoo children The Black Cat Bones played their characteristic mix of up-beat rock ’n roll and jump-around blues. Frontman Kobus de Kock Jr – who looks like a bizarre mixture of Jesus and Charles Manson – darted across the stage with his harmonica like a Tasmanian devil. Doc John from The Boulevard Blues Band hit the stage and took Up the Creek all the way to the Mississippi Delta. Johnathan Martin joined the BCBs on a cover of Neil Young’s Cortez the Killer and reaffirmed why he is one of the country’s greatest – and all too unsung – rock guitarists and vocalists.

Taxi Violence followed suit. They whipped out their pistols and played a blasting set.

The graveyard shift was given to Van Coke Kartel and Akkedis who continued the party until the wee hours of the morning. Van Coke Kartel played an acoustic set with guest musician Gerald Clark on vocals and guitar. They played quite a cool version of JJ Cale’s “Cocaine” – but the vibe of this song seems to be the only middle ground between the two acts, as it is quite an odd combination.

By the time Akkedis hit the stage – most people, including the band – struggled to pace themselves. The 3 am timeslot would inevitably result in a blur for the last people standing.

The Boulevard Blues Band, or perhaps in this case – The Breakfast Blues Band – played at 09:30 on Sunday morning. Some people were already taking down their tents and heading home, while others just cracked open some cold beers, getting ready for the final stretch.

Hot stuff

Despite the scorching February heat, Up the Creek has an indefinable aura and this is why people return each year. As it is written, on the UTC website, “You might have noticed that we’re not trying to sell Up the Creek as a life-style festival. In fact, we believe that if you live the rest of your life like you do at Up the Creek, it would probably not be a long one. But man – it would have been good.”

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