By Sebastian Ammon –
It was finally time – time for me to attend my first Splashy Fen. South of the Drakensberg in Underberg, KwaZulu-Natal, on a farm approximately 6000 people gathered to enjoy this year’s Splashy Fen festival from 13 to 16 April.
Since it was my first Splashy, I didn’t know what to expect. The weather forecast wasn’t promising – overcast and freezing cold at night. Not ideal for a four day festival. Upon arrival we were greeted by a beautifully coloured sign that read ‘Splashy’ – I felt right at home.
A camping spot was scouted quickly and soon enough our camp was erected with a beautiful flag of our own. The view was picturesque with the mountains climbing high all around us.
Not much was happening on the first night. Some artists were tinkling away at the Treehouse stage while back at the campsites everyone had their own parties going. This would be the only early night I thought as I finally zipped up my tent and crept in my sleeping bag.
The next morning I was ready to see what Splashy Fen had in store for me. Navigating around the festival grounds was easy enough with signs directing me. On the way down to the River Stage a massive sculpture offered a pit-stop and an opportunity to take in the view. The Treehouse stage was equally impressive – it served as a combination of art installation and stage. Before entering the Main Stage grounds, a graffiti wall was sure to stop you dead in your tracks with an intricate spray painted piece. These were only a few of the attractions around the festival but it was clear that the organisers aimed to create unique experiences at various locations. I actually spoke to Stu Berry, one of the organisers of the festival, and he said that that was exactly what they tried to achieve – ‘pockets of experiences’ he called them. For him Splashy Fen isn’t only a music festival with the purpose of getting numbers through the gates but rather an arts and culture festival where people can move around the festival and experience different things – a participation festival.
Unfortunately I was greeted with disappointment when I missioned down to the River Stage to soak up the music. The line-up did not coincide with the Splashy Fen app and the stage was running an hour late. Spoiler: this was the case for the next days too. In fact, there were technical issues at every stage over the duration of the festival. But a beer here and there seemed to calm my nerves and eased me into the ‘splash’ (read swing) of things. The evening was brought to an end at the main stage by the performances of Nibs van der Spuy, Michael Franti, Jack Parrow, Jeremy Loops and finally Veranda Panda.
The next few days saw some fantastic performances by Opposite The Other, We Are Charlie, Sutherland, Jackal And Wind, Josh Kempen, Rodney Branigan, Rubber Duc, The Temper Trap, December Streets, Desmond And The Tutus, The Parlotones, Shortstraw, Ben Day And The Concrete Lions. Besides the music performances there were other interactive activities offered too: a didgeridoo workshop at the Treehouse stage and drum workshop at the Acoustic stage allowed for a slow start to the morning while a ‘Splashion Show’ allowed some festival goers to get creative and dress up. It was unfortunate that the weather didn’t permit much time during the day to explore the river and its surroundings because it’s certainly a selling attraction for the festival.
Overall, the line-up included a good mix of genres and the attractions created an interactive experience for the festival goers. The organisers can be praised for managing the cleanliness of the festival grounds and the toilets. As with anything in life there is always room for improvement. Allow me to make some suggestions the organisers could address next year:
- A later programme for after the main performances. Although the line-up was great, I found the events somewhat poor, especially in the evening. After the last band at main stage had finished, there wasn’t much happening around the festival grounds.
- There could definitely be more ‘pockets of experiences’ around the festival. For example more art installations, craft markets or interaction in general. I am actually very excited to see this come alive over the next years.
- Time management of stage performances could be improved.
All in all Splashy Fen 2017 was a success. I am keen to see what next year’s event has lined up!
Pictures: Henry Marsh