“Some one once told me of a place, a magical place in the heart of the mountains
With it’s peaks so high and valleys so low. Oh splashy Fen.
It’s a place where the sun kisses you one the cheek,
But when it goes to sleep and the stars come out
They wrap you like the blanket that you long for.
At night the camp fires light up the sky and smoke fills the air.
Down by the river we party until the morning dew hits our tents
Yes, down by the fen we are free.”
Okay, sure, I’m stealing lines from a not so famous band’s song, but I really could not describe the 27th rendition of the oldest music festival in the country in a better way.
This year, 2016, saw me travelling down to the grassy hills of Underberg for the third year running. I won’t lie – I was excited, anxious, and a little bit nervous about it. You see, this year was going to be slightly different. Splashy Fen, my festival of festivals, was now under new management, and boy, was it noticeable.The first thing I said as we drove down the winding ground road through the festival was, “Man, but this looks like Daisies.” Now, if you know anything about the South African festival scene, you will know that Rocking the Daisies is the closest thing we have to a Coachella, and is arguably the best festival in the country. So, for me, seeing how the new organisers had pulled out the stops and managed to focus on the small (but highly noticeable) things was a massive +1 in my books. There were flags, and little wooden picket fences, and signs, and colourful poles, and well structured event layouts. It was absolutely great. Speaking to Paul, the head honcho over at Red Frogs SA, he mentioned the exact same thing. Everyone took notice of it, and everyone loved it.Okay, so love at first site (see what I did there? ;) ) was definitely on the cards. But I had to see how the rest of the festival unfolded.
The line-up was already a mishmash of some of the best south African talent (names such as Albert Frost, Dan Patlansky, Civil Twilight, Mango Groove, Niskerone, Veranda Panda) and with Lush festival lending a hand at bringing down some international finesse (Xavier Rudd), there was definitely enough groovy music to go around. Another +1.Something else I took notice of immediately was the loud speaker system. It would later go on to become the hungover festival-goer’s worst wake up call. Seriously, waking up to carnival-style loud speaker announcements and tinny music, is not the way to wake people up. Stu Berry, commander in chief in the Impi Concept Events team, has a background in sports event co-ordination, and I can understand where he came from. But I can tell you that festival goers, drunkards and artists alike, were somewhat put off by the tinny drone. It did get better as the weekend progressed, and the management team started to only use the loud speaker for announcements and safety (which is a massive plus in my books), but it was a bit tedious at times. Minus 1 for that.There was plenty to do at this year’s Splashy. Many the active fanatic joined in on the morning trail run (I looked on passively, beer in hand) and many others participated in the daily yoga session. There was a drumming circle vibe every morning, and even a competition for the best camp site flag (we nearly “fucken” won that). But some might say that the lack of a comedy tent was a major subtraction to festivals gone by. Even the massive beanbags from the Acoustic Stage were missed this year.
In 2014 I mentioned that: “When you rock up at Splashy, you notice a few things. The mountains, the trees, tents, stages and then there is a RIVER! Okay granted I did not get much time to head down there myself (because the climb seemed like too much effort and the walk between my camping chair and my cooler box filled with alcohol was exercise enough) but I have been informed that the atmosphere down there was amazing. DJ’s, beach balls, floating devices of all sorts and girls in bikinis! Need I say more?”This stills holds true, but I must admit, I finally sucked up the courage and actually made my way down to the river stage. Needless to say, it was totally worth the effort, even if the river was a touch cold.
One thing I DESPERATELY need to mention is the number of people who simply got up and left on the final day. An entire day of musical acts awaited these paying festival goers, yet 60% of them just got up, packed their things, and left. I was physically, and emotionally distraught. Saying this though, I know the reason behind their early bail – the lack of a headliner act and gripping music. Splashy has always been a four-day festival (or at least, it has been for me), but I think it may be time that the new management consider shortening their prestigious event. The costs incurred for hosting an event an extra day are rather large when you consider only a fraction of your audience is still around. Either that, or consider changing up the line-up and ensuring that your crowd is going to stick around for the longest while. And another thing, only being able to access the main stage from one entrance, was a bit of a hack.With the new management taking over, and doing a mighty fine job, I can’t help but feel that this year’s growing pains will all be dealt with and handled in the best way possible, and that Splashy Fen 2017 will be one for the books!