Meet My Old Friend Splashy

WORDS & IMAGES: LEAH SOLOMON

As my boyfriend, Chris, and I were gearing up for the drive to Splashy Fen, I zoned out and fell into a whirlpool of memories. It was my ninth time grocery shopping, booze shopping, checking if the camping gear was intact and packing the car for a weekend of good music in the beautiful Underberg. Every year since my first year has been completely different. The memories and experiences that I have taken from each Splashy have contributed to the reason I am writing about it. I’m not sure when I’ll be going back to the Splashy Fen farm, as I’m not entirely sure where I’ll end up in the next couple of years, but I can confidently say that Splashy 2015 was a good year to bring my Splashy chapter to a close.

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I’ve always loved the drive from Pietermaritzburg to Underberg. Besides the fact that it feels like a quick zip down the road, it’s absolutely breath-taking. The change in scenery from city to countryside is mesmerising; you can get lost in the rolling hills for hours. We left early Saturday morning to catch the last two nights of the festival. The night before was my favourite Jewish holiday, Pesach, so we managed to score a treasure chest of leftovers to accompany us on our journey. We made the trip in my old trusty Toyota Corolla, her name is Maggie and she’s a tough old gal. Due to her age she isn’t equipped with the latest technology, so we had to settle with the 5FM dj’s filling the lulls in conversation.

As we made our way through the windy roads I chattered Chris’s ear off about previous Splashy’s. He was a Splashy virgin so I felt it was my duty to ‘show him the ropes’. I have a really deep, protective feeling over Splashy – I boasted about the festival like a proud mother. I came to a point in our conversation where I realised that I had lost him, but I became so excited by my own memories that I didn’t even realise.

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I told him about having my first kiss at Splashy in 2008 with The Parlotones playing in the background. Splashy saw me get drunk for the first time, meet people and make friends with great ease, and, most importantly, it introduced me to all of the South African bands and musicians that I love so dearly. I’m certain that Splashy is one of the main reasons I decided to study journalism and become a music journalist. It was just that extra tightening of the screw on my dream of becoming a journo that I needed. We finally made it to the venue, got our media passes and then made our way to set up camp as quickly as possible so that we could go exploring.

The first thing that I noticed as we were driving around the camping areas was how small it was. The decrease in numbers was clearly noticeable and, to be frank, I was a little disheartened. I wasn’t enveloped by the ‘gees’ of festivals that hits you like a brick wall. Besides being somewhat disappointed, I was completely thrown off. It wasn’t a vibe that I was used to, I didn’t know what to expect. After driving around the campsites trying to spot a friendly face amongst the unfamiliar we found a perfect spot. We drove in with some friends so before we even thought about setting up camp we cracked open a beer and admired the stunning surroundings we were in.

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Once we got through all the admin of finding the right tent poles, accidentally jabbing each other with them, pumping up the mattress and unloading our mountain of blankets, a strange guy wandered into our campsite. It was four in the afternoon yet he looked like he had just come back from a hectic jol. Slurring and swaying he chatted to us for a bit, telling us about engineering in Durban and how he’s been drunk for two days straight. This was pretty obvious when it took us a good couple of minutes to convince him that it wasn’t four in the morning. After that news he decided it was best if he had a Red bull. As he stumbled off we made our way to the main festival area for the night’s festivities.

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After my first negative impression when we arrived I was determined to turn myself around. As I analysed the programme for that night I became overwhelmed with excitement. The line-up was fantastic. Bands of that calibre, one right after the other, sent a swarm of butterflies into my stomach that made my hair stand on end. After grabbing our drinks and putting a tight seal on our bladders we took a firm stand in the main marquee and watched our night unfold in front of us. Mickey Burns was up first, a Durban favourite. Being a KZN local and having spent much of my rebellious youth partying in the same social circle as the band, I was pretty eager for their performance. Their energy was electric and their engagement with the crowd was personal and funny. The frontman’s dance moves and facial expressions were on point; they were enough to tell the audience how much fun he was having.

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The Plastics and Shortstraw nailed their performances. I hadn’t seen The Plastics in a really long time so it was a real treat to see them again on my soil. Their lanky bodies awkwardly owned the stage, fascinating and intriguing the crowd. Their hair covered faces made them kind of mysterious, like the suffering yet alluring musicians your mom told you not to get involved with. Shortstraw was a good follow, their shows are always very upbeat and jumpy – their ability to make an entire crowd of drunk people find their coordination to jump in unison is pretty commendable. Everyone sang along with eyes closed and drinks in the air. It was great.

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Having lost our friends to the beer tent, Chris and I ventured off to the Sedgwick’s Old Brown Sherry tent for a change of scenery and hopefully a seat next to the gas heaters. Luckily, as we got there, Pan Latino was about to take the stage. Having grown up in Pietermaritzburg I was introduced to the Maritzburg Musician’s Club at The Red Door from a young age, of which Pan Latino frequented. If any band is going to get your hips moving, it’s them. Their “Latino ethnic music” bring out your inner salsa dancer. They’re like a South African Buena Vista Social Club. Chris and I spent the rest of the night trying to salsa and tango to Pan Latino until our knees and feet ached. We were transported so far into the heart of a smoky salsa club in Havana that we missed BEAST and Taxi Violence, but hey, we still had a great time.

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We woke up the next day in much need of a greasy breakfast and a litre of water each. The tent had turned into Dante’s Inferno and our blow-up mattress had deflated. We were overheating, hungover and in physical pain – all signs of a good first night. We took a slow stroll up to the food court, we didn’t want to aggravate our growing nausea with moving too quickly. We grabbed some food and settled in the main marquee to watch Luke Wyngaard. I have known Luke for years, we have been friends since our early high school days. I am always filled with pride whenever I see him perform and I feel so excited whenever my friends see him too.

He was excellent. His guitar skills are too good to fathom or describe – I was taken on a ride by his quick moving fingers and old time blues feel. He performed an array of original songs and covers, neither outshining the other. His cover of a B.B. King song and his bassist’s cover of ‘Hey Joe’ by Jimi Hendrix were really impressive. His original songs show great emotional awareness and maturity and his banter with the crowd showed great professionalism. Once he finished up we started getting ourselves ready for the evening. The sun was going down and there was a sudden nip in the air that was biting at our exposed skin. We briskly walked to our camp to change and fill our drinks up.

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We spent a lot of time at the Sedgwick’s tent in the early evening. We sipped on sherry and watched people tentatively play big Jenga. What we were really waiting for that night was for Dan Patlansky to perform. We were constantly checking our watches, making sure that we didn’t miss one second of his show. As the night went on our tummies were warmed and our minds made fuzzy by the constant flow of sherry. Before we knew it we were in the main marquee once again, right at the front, watching Dan Patlansky do what he does best. I have seen him a number of times and this performance wasn’t his best.

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You could tell that it was just another gig to check off the list. He was still amazing, don’t get me wrong, his talent is undeniable, but he was incredibly disconnected. He hardly engaged with the audience, just playing one song after the other. He did a few tricks with his guitar at the end and then that was that, Splashy was over. His performance was quite anticlimactic, but it was still amazing to watch his talent in action. After lingering for a bit, we made our way back to our camp and bid the festival a good night.

As we left the festival venue my initial impression was left somewhere deep within the mud we trudged in. It wasn’t the biggest or loudest or most drunken Splashy but it was still a lot of fun. Their line-up was brilliant and the people they attracted this year made the space a really warm and welcoming space to be in. It may be my last Splashy for a while, but I hope that it grows in popularity even more for another 26 years.

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