We’re All Going to Die (But Up the Creek Might Live On)

I attended the 30th anniversary of Up the Creek Music Festival, on the banks of the Breede River in Swellendam between 6-9 February. Myself a veteran of more than half of them, I was caught contemplating the fearful prospect of running (and attending) a music festival beyond 30 years. [Main image courtesy UpTheCreek.co.za]

I don’t envy the job of a music festival promoter. 

The difficulties of the practicalities are obvious: Make sure everything services well, people are happy and safe, and that there’s a modicum of preservation for the location and surroundings. But there’s also a more abstract, creative difficulty, which makes the work of the team at a festival like Up the Creek presumably rather difficult.

On the one hand, a festival so loved for 30 years by its patrons demands that it maintain a certain respect for that legacy. The old guard that is its original audience holds onto a diminishing return ever more strongly and tends to lash out when it feels betrayed.

We all want our festival to survive

On the other hand, it’s just an act of self-preservation to constantly look to new audiences as old ones die out (or at least become too old and decrepit to strike tents). We all want our festival to survive, after all. 

So it is with much of our stalwarts literally dying out (RIP Piet Botha and Johnny Clegg), we’ re left to contemplate whether there will, in fact, be a place for us – as a veteran audience – five or ten years from now.

But then… are we really entitled to such morbid thoughts? Many of my peers and forbears have moved on. Many still inhabit not only the tents but also still the stages (admittedly Albert Frost got a head start at 14).

Now, one could argue that a vibe or location – in this case, the river – supercedes all. But in truth, entertainment by way of key attractions is still the main issue when constructing the makeup of the patrons.  

Up the Creek in 2020 continues to negotiate that fine balance, in my view. There’s a healthy dose of older acts, many of whom really do show the way. But there’s also more than a handful of younger acts, many of whom show true potential beyond their younger fanbases. And the equilibrium – though precarious – was somehow just right this year. 

The point of attending festivals

Maybe the point isn’t to wonder about what has changed or what remains. Maybe the point is to try to engage what there is. Which brings me to the point of attending festivals – at least for me. 

It’s a given that the most experienced or well-known – the headliners – will be expected to deliver the goods. This year at the Creek, the likes of Nick Turner, Albert, WONDERboom and others did so in fine style. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the scheduling of these acts in the prime main stage slots was an improvement over 2019, when BED ON BRICKS and WILLEM WELSYN – two experienced and entertaining acts – were sadly pushed to post-midnight slots on smaller stages. 

But it’s also true that the newer, younger acts have a place – a very important place – at festivals like these. I actually love watching smaller daytime stages at festivals, as they can reveal some interesting prospects. They have a tougher job to do, and if they succeed, kudos to them! 

I also rather enjoy the act that opens the stage or plays the afternoon slot. The act that few have heard of or fewer still have even seen before. They may not even be young, but at least new to the city, country or festival itself. 

So for me to be upfront and center in the heat of the big action is a secondary concern. It’s true that I try to see as many acts as I can, but that excludes the artists that already have secured their main slot. For every Francois van Coke or Mango Groove or Johnny Clegg, there is a Waronx or a Flying Bantu or Rockskandi Kings.

For what it’s worth, these were my favourite performances (in no particular ranking) of the UP THE CREEK 2020. 

  • WONDERboom
  • Albert Frost & Tubatsi Mpho Moloi 
  • Basson Laubscher (seemed to be everywhere!)
  • Jägermeister Brass Cartel
  • Rob van Vuuren
  • Bombshelter Beast
  • El Cantante
  • Flying Bantu
  • Nick Turner
  • Rockskandi Kings
  • The Blues Broers
  • Warongx
  • Francois van Coke

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