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As is now part of folk lore, Splashy Fen was originally an acoustic festival which was started by trout farmer Peter Ferraz as well as the Durban and Pietermaritzburg Folk Club. Back then, there were few platforms for live music and there certainly weren’t any camping festivals like they are now.
The first Splashy Fen stage had no roof and was run via a generator with the aid of a tractor. Every time the tractor ran out of diesel, the performers would stop and wait while the tractor was filled up.
Twenty-five years later, Splashy is a different festival. This is in large part thanks to Pedro Carlo (pictured) and his vision.
Carlo, who is a well-known and controversial figure in the KwaZulu-Natal music industry, started out as a DJ before working for Universal Music which was then known as Teal Trutone.
At the time the Durban rock music scene was exploding and Carlo, in his truly pro-active manner, got behind the music. He did this by managing Arapaho, who were not particularly liked by the alternative hard rockers who characterised the scene.
However, they did have an army of models and jocks who believed they were cool. In 1995 they were the first rock band to play Splashy.
He also compiled and released the successful Durban compilation CD called C-Weed.
His now wife, Mandy, lived next to one of the previous organisers, Bart Fokkens. When Arapaho was invited to play Splashy that year, Carlo went along. He takes up the story: “I didn’t know what to expect when I got there. The vibe and the atmosphere was amazing and I haven’t missed one Splashy since 1995.”
Being a visionary, Carlo saw that Splashy Fen could be so much more and ended up as general manager of the festival. He then took it upon himself to persuade the other organiser to go electric. This was met with much resistance and I remember him taking me along to meet Farmer Ferraz to help persuade them that electric was the way forward, it being two years till the 21st century and all. The compromise was that there would be both a folk and electric stage.
In 1998 he bought in a big marquee.
“That’s when all hell broke lose,” Carlo laughs. “I brought in rock. People wrote nasty campfire songs about me.”
In 2000 he really angered the traditionalists when he invited Ready D and Brasse Vannie Kaap to perform. Cape Flats rappers and break dancers twirling on their heads and doing turtles and windmills. Who would have thought!
Carlo decided to experiment with international artists and brought out the Hothouse Flowers with great success.
This year (thankfully) there will be no Dance Valley and its tedious, selfish music. In fact, Carlo has reduced the venues from four to just two.
In terms of performances he will be bringing back the best from the past 25 years which will include some of the top bands of today: Bittereinde, Gangs of Ballet, Black Cat Bones, Jeremy Loops and Matthew Mole. There will also be popular Splashy Fen acts who are a must like Nibs van der Spuy, The Guy Buttery Band, Dan Patlansky and Haggis & Bong.
Then the legends of rock will also be performing: Just Jinjer, Wonderboom, Squeal and Tree63. Stand-up comedy and some of the best food stalls on the country’s festival calendar will be on offer. This will include healthy options and food to keep you warm on the foothills of the Drakensberg. Potjiekos and glühwein are popular options.
“Splashy Fen brings people together. When that full moon comes out and 10 000 people are howling at the moon, it’s amazing. The bands also enjoy themselves and many of them stay to enjoy the experience.”
When I ask him about his favourite performances over the years, he is hesitant.
“Tree63 have had amazing performances. I remember years ago when Tony Cox first played, no one knew who he was, but he went on to be popular at the festival. In 2003 we booked Fokofpolisiekar and it was the first time an Afrikaans band had played Splashy. Just Jinjer in 1998 were also amazing. Jack Parow had the biggest audience I have ever seen at Splashy.”
He ends by saying Splashy is an all encompassing festival: “We have the mountains, the rivers, the dams, the food and the music. It’s a whole package. Nowadays we have flushing loos, paying showers. It’s not roughing it anymore.
“With the food stalls, we hand-pick them and make sure the quality is good.”