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This year’s Splashy Fen was a mixture of new finds and heart-breaking nostalgia. But what was clear was that many of the newer bands have to work on their stage presence to keep up with the older groups.
Aside from Gangs of Ballet, not one young artist could compete with the dynamic energy of older artists. There are a few, like Paige Mac, Mickey Burn and Flint, Meet Spark who have great potential but they have yet to unlock that special it factor which will turn them into superstars.
Wonderboom, however, showed them how it’s done. They were the highlight of the festival from lead singer Wonderboom’s con- stantly gyrating hips to guitarist Martin Schofield and bassist Wade Williams’ low-down axe handling.
What makes this band even cooler is the irony with which they portray their rock star showmanship. Plus they have so much fun.
Then there was Gangs of Ballet. Never have monitors been used like that. The band turned them into their second stage, leaping on them with the agility of springbuck.
In contrast, the sitdown acoustic feel of Arno Carstens and Francois van Coke was a quiet but equally intense experience.
Van Coke Kartel’s guitarist Jedd Kossew gave their renditions of each other’s hits a distorted guitar edge. Carstens and Van Coke demonstrated why they are South African icons. They also ably covered Battery 9’s Kom Hier and Sugardrive’s Disco Lazarus. What was surprising was that when they did Van Coke and Fokofpolisiekar tracks, the predominantly English crowd sang every word of the Afrikaans lyrics.
The only disappointment was their rendition of ACDC’s Highway to Hell. Not even Soft Cell nor Boys 11 Men could turn such a cool hard rock track into something so naff. What were those two thinking?
Chris Chameleon also chose a stripped-down version of his music and played both songs from Boo! as well as his big Afrikaans hits. It was just Chameleon and his axe but that acrobatic voice and his bizarre, eccentric energy filled the entire tent.
Vusi Mahlasela and his voice and his gentle giant stage presence was yet another highlight. His rendition of Bright Blue’s Weeping still brings a lump to the throat.
Jeremy Loops was a big hit with the younger audience, who held on to every word.
Daytime acts that inspired included Flint, Meet Spark, a sweet duo who make music hipsters will love. She multi-tasks playing a bass drum with her foot with a guitar strapped to her upper torso, regularly beating a tambourine and with a voice that would melt butter.
He plays a support role with vocals and acoustic guitar. They are a big hit waiting to be discovered. Plus they have unusual, quirky lyrics.
Staying with lyrics, Pietermaritzburg-born Paige Mac was also a daytime highlight and it was just her and her guitar. She has a massive voice with a wide range which could turn her international. Mac’s talent is not fleeting and she will be around for many successful years to come.
Durban favourites The Accidentals gave us their unique mix of ska punk which includes a violin, saxophone and Matt Wilson and his lyrics on vocals.
Their punk roots showed when they leapt and headbanged around the stage. Fun stuff.
The Hinds Brothers were simply beautiful, so much so that they should have played much later during the evening to a larger audience. They are such a find when it comes to great songwriting.
Then there were activities on the side. This included craft beer tents where you could watch tennis legend Huck Auben, crimplene pants and headband, set up a tennis court for the Huck Auben Invitational, Splashy Meadows.
Many a passer-by joined in the fun by smacking a ball or two over the net, equipment all supplied by Mr Auben, the unofficial mayor of Underberg and Splashy Fen.
The dynamic duo of Laurie Levine and Josie Field performed daily at the Sedgwicks Old Brown Sherry tent and attracted a large crowd.
It was so relaxing to lie around on bales experiencing such wonderful chilled music as the sun was setting.
In fact, the weather behaved itself and much swimming and lilo-ing was done at the river as it was really hot during the day.
Last year’s rain flooded out the second stage which in the middle of the festival had to be cancelled. This year the sun smiled on the 10 000 revellers and the bright moon lit up the campsites by night.
It was a happy 25th birthday for South Africa’s oldest, prettiest festival. May they have many more.