Getting down at Up The Creek 2019

Posted by Matt Sterne on 20 February 2019

Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

I’m lying on my float with my arms and legs dangling in the Breede River, listening to another band strut their stuff on Up The Creek‘s River Stage. I’m surrounded by inflatable unicorns, flamingos, dolphins and pizza slices, all piloted by bopping revellers with drinks in their hands and dazed smiles on their faces. Some people are sitting in camping chairs under umbrellas, waist-deep in the water, while others stand and dance, draped in sarongs and fist-pumping in unison. A few festival-goers choose to drift with the current, floating away from the crowd, happy to let their conversations wander like the river. Others, still dealing with the excesses of last night, sleep off hangovers on the sandbank.

Strangers quickly become pals on the river. The upbeat music, beautiful setting and mass of floats create a laid-back party vibe that seems to put everyone at ease. As day turns to night, pruned bodies swap the river for the main stage, and people slide into full festival mode. In between the Jagermeisters and midnight swims, we chatted to the organisers and artists about what makes South Africa’s second-oldest music festival so special. Here’s a collection of this year’s best photos.

Over the course of four days, over 50 local bands perform across four stages. 1,800 people attended the 2019 festival. Photo credit: The Blonde Abroad

Sean Koch gets feet tapping and hands clapping on the River Stage. The festival was started by Annie Snowden in 1990, who threw a party for her boyfriend, which ended up being attended by about 100 people. Everyone chipped in to pay for the bands. Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

‘As an up-and-coming South African artist, Up The Creek gives us a platform to reach new audiences,’ says George Kirkinis of The Steezies. ‘It’s particularly awesome because the festivalgoers are so receptive and so encouraging of local music.’  Photo credit: Paige Fiddes

George adds, ‘The great thing about the river stage is that there’s an air of joviality about it. Everyone is there to relax, have a good time and listen to music. I think there’s something about being in the water in the heat of the day surrounded by so many other people having a good time that makes people generally more receptive to good vibes.’ Photo credit: Paige Fiddes

The water level has been lower than usual in recent years due to the drought. The festival director, Caitlin Hanley says, ‘There are often big rumours about sluice gates, but we have no control over the water. We need rain a week or two before the festival for the river to rise. This year was great because even though we had low water everyone still had a great time.’ Photo credit: Abby du Toit

‘Of the 50-odd bands that perform, 20 will have played the previous year, 10 have played in the past 10 years, and 20 are fresh,’ Caitlin says. Photo credit: Paige Fiddes

‘Because there are no VIPs at Up the Creek, there’s very limited security. So it’s a very relaxed festival,’ Caitlin says. ‘There’s not a separate artists’ camp or bar so it’s all very intimate. Because of the small size, you keep seeing the same people over and over again. You’re floating next to them on the lilos and then you’re having a burger next to them in the food court.’ Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

Beware of the dinosaurs. And the water pistols. Photo credit: Paige Fiddes

R10 a pomp! Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

Jeffrey the Jam Van is a festival icon. Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

People come out of the river feeling pretty funky. Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

‘A lot of people say that the minute you come through the gate, everyone is so nice to you that it puts everyone in a good mood,’ says Caitlin. ‘And then our slogan of “Don’t be kak, be lekker” was started a few years ago when we began to see a large number of younger people coming to Up The Creek. Not lots and lots, but it was almost like they needed to be educated in the ways. If everyone is lekker, everyone has a good time.’ Photo credit: Henry Englebrecht

‘Shut up liver you’re fine.’ Photo credit: Paige Fiddes

Just a note on organisation: the whole festival runs really smoothly. The wait at the bar is never more than five minutes, and the amount of people is never overwhelming. A major charm of Up The Creek is its smaller size. The organisers know this and have scaled back the capacity of the festival since 2015, when 2,900 people attended and things felt a bit cramped. Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

‘A lovely hoppy taste, with a slight aftertaste of diesel.’ Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

‘It’s become tradition for us to open the festival on the Thursday with a festival stalwart. This year it was Koos Kombuis. Some wild cards play on the Thursday as well as established bands,’ Caitlin says. Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

Peter Kruger from Jackal and the Wind says, ‘The thing about Up The Creek is that it’s really inclusive. As an artist, you don’t feel separated from the festivalgoers. They’ve gotten that right because everyone just has a good time regardless of who you are. It’s really cool to be included in the festivities.’ Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

Sun Xa Experiment gets things going on the main stage. ‘A big thing for us is building the flow of the festival and the gradual build. We need to be really careful with our lineup due to only having one stage at a time,’ Caitlin says of the festival strategy. Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

‘It was one of the best crowds I’ve ever played to. They were so open to everything we did. It felt like we could go anywhere with that set and were changing up all the way,’ says Gareth Wilson of Southern Gypsey Queen, who had a reunion, playing together for the first time in three years. Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

Hot Water brings the heat on Saturday night. Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

‘It’s such a lekker festival. You get to go see all the old favourites in a very laid-back setting,’ says Gareth. ‘It’s like going to a little family reunion with people you haven’t seen for a few years. Well, that’s what it felt like to me. And the vibe amongst the people is great. I don’t think I saw any shitty things going down. It’s a nice chilled vibe. There’s no security but no one steps out of line.’ Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

Kobus de Kock of the Black Cat Bones shares a drink with a punter. ‘We played on Saturday but half of the band was there on Thursday already chilling in the water and watching other bands play,’ says Peter Kruger. ‘The cool thing about Up The Creek is that it’s some of the best acts in South Africa so you get to check what everyone else is doing. It’s not often you get to see so many other SA artists all together in one place. So a lot of the artists stay for the full weekend to check what everyone is doing.’ Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

Femi Koya and his pan-African Afrobeat band gave one of the standout performances of the weekend. Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht

Grassy Spark light it up. George Kirkinis of The Steezies says, ‘The special thing about Up The Creek is that it’s one of two or three festivals that genuinely support local music. It’s empowering to be trusted like that and given the chance to do our thing.’ Photo credit: Paige Fiddes

Hellcats show the crowd how it’s done on Saturday night. Photo credit: Henry Engelbrecht


Image: Henry Engelbrecht

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