Big cars, band boys and streaking in a field of flowers on the New Tracks Tour with Leah Jasmine Reed
5AM was the call to make tracks, bleary eyes and clumsy arms packing tents in silence. We hit the Golden Gate National Park like a sleepy hurricane and stopped just as the dark night gave way to milky day. We shot with the light of the rising sun and it smiled as it met us in the distance. In a single moment I realised a few things: 1. That these are some of the best days of our lives; I really don’t know if it gets better than this. 2. We were squad deep with some of the most incredible people we’ll ever meet. 3. Rising before the sun is always, always worth it.
The trip to Splashy Fen was a 5hour+ journey, so we were lucky to be rolling in both style and comfort. I’m usually a very grumpy driver, but no road could dampen the glorious mood. The tour was fully underway now, and the magnitude of our task had started to set in. “Really?” we thought, “No one’s ever done this before? They should.” Our cheesy tourist cosmos shots at highway’s edge even showed bare butts to the sky.
Rolling into Splashy Fen was a familiar experience, but the usual horror of its dimpled driveway was missing; our Captiva sailed so smoothly over the bumps. I heard later that a friend of mine, in a thirst for speed, landed not one, but two flat tyres en route.
Be safe out there. All I’m saying is it wouldn’t have happened in a Chev.
As I drove through the gates of my 14th Splashy Fen, I was faced with all kinds of nostalgia, overrun with an urgency to get the band to the stage. That’s tour life.
The venue was set up in a manner totally fit for revival. Splashy Fen’s deterioration in the last few years has been no secret, with many die-hard fans (myself included) hesitant to return. Alas, like that one evil ex I find myself going back when I say I won’t and I’m so grateful. Everything from layout to line-up was impressive, with the intimate Splashy vibe permeating the air in a way I haven’t felt in recent years. This festival could truly be called The Revival of Splashy Fen.
The line-up at Splashy was a one-up from Lush, featuring many of the same artists and a few of their own. We heard that we had missed a legendary performance from Mango Groove, surprisingly their debut at the fest. We had tragically also missed BCUC, but we are fortunate to see them regularly in Gauteng. What a treat this must have been for KZN, in such a setting. I also heard that Civil Twilight brought an incredible performance to the stage. A one-day festival has its perks, but you miss so much.
We checked out headliner Xavier Rudd, whose laid-back tunes were well received by an adoring crowd. I wasn’t so impressed. He embodies “I never went to Woodstock but I can pretend, even though it’s 2016.” It’s hard to pinpoint what I don’t like about him, maybe I just wasn’t feeling his insipidly repetitive sound. Credit where it’s due though, the audience seemed to really enjoy it, though the wiser prefered to skip down to the electro stage and caught a dance to Half ‘n Half.
Around midnight we fell into Splashy’s latest dance floor, Boma. Haezer & Niskerone working the decks confirmed that Boma belongs at Splashy Fen, and we danced here until they shut it down. Naturally a mass migration ensued to random campsites, where lifetime friendships were born.
Despite rising the next day with no real urgency, 8AM saw me plunge into the freezing river. This is a Splashy essential. I proceeded to yoga at the river stage, kicking off the day connecting to the ground and stretching out my sins. People hit it hard, and it’s great to start your day with good, clean energy so you can pollute yourself with alcohol again that night.
Some of our crew left back to Johannesburg, but the bravest and most undaunted by the Jol piled up and made the last new tracks to Outland Festival in Mooi River.
The gravity of a brand new festival was apparent as we arrived to a mostly empty, but spectacular venue. We heard that most folks had left by Sunday, oblivious that the best was yet to come. Sierra Ranch family resort is just that: a lush green featuring family cabins, campsites, a swimming pool, putt-putt and some ponies. We spent the afternoon floating on tubes in the pool; it was small and comfortable enough to not feel crowded. We had just arrived at the best festival of the weekend.
Desmond and the Tutus launched into a tame crowd, intimate enough to interact with each one and get down and dirty amidst the audience, who didn’t stay tame at all. The vibe was light, there was no “preppy in the wild” or pseudo-hippy-revival, just a down-to-earth festival that felt real and sincere.
Time ticked over to the magic hour. The moment had arrived.
Local rap queen Push Push took to a small podium with Thor Rixon underneath a lapa at the pool bar. If you missed her because you were picking your nose or passing out at some other festival, you suck. She’s only 5’3” but she’s the baddest B this side of the equator. She was flawless as her well-crafted rhymes filled the air with eloquence over Thor’s smooth beats. Every heart was jumping, every jaw casually waiting on the floor.
When her set ended we missioned to catch an hour of Durban’s Black Math. Push Push was practically enamoured with their phenomenal lady drummer, Acacia Van Wyk. The stage almost caught fire.
Unbeknownst to most, putt-putt is the ultimate Sunday night festival activity. If you were on your couch falling asleep after the 8 o’clock movie, I feel sorry for you. The journey home was quiet. We had exhausted all of our energy, all that remained was the approaching skyline and our memories on repeat. If I did this again, I’d skip Lush (though I wish them the best). The ideal festival pilgrimage is a mission between Outland and Splashy Fen. These festivals are so different and they both offer so much, and they’re close enough to one another to hop between them. Splashy Fen has most definitely brought back the magic they had lost, and I foresee the rivalry here becoming healthy, each driving excellence within the other.
The local music scene is alive and well, thriving, in fact, and competing for attendance over the same weekend means booking better acts and bring stellar game in the future. I’m excited, and I can’t wait to go back to these festivals again.
Written by Leah Jasmine Reed