The Oppikoppi Festival turned 20 this year and, for various reasons, I decided to venture out of Joburg and brave the dust bowl for the first time in many years. I tried to figure out when last I actually went to a festival there, and how many festivals I actually went to, and every time I came up with a different answers. I was there in the early days, when Oppikoppi was just a bar on top of the hill where bands played to entertain the local farmers. Those were really wild days. I strongly recall a man putting his cigarette out on his forehead while Urban Creep played, and the following morning people being dragged through the mud behind a bakkie, wearing only leopard skin underwear. Maybe those were two separate occasions. Check out a blast from the past here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yN-IzY24pvA
Carel Hoffman (then-future son-in-law of farm owners Tess and Boors Bornmann) had the genius idea to turn the gigs into a festival. Initially, I remember there being absolute chaos. At one of the early festivals, there were 20-something reported cases of sexual harassment, a rape and a suicide at the top bar. Thankfully, the power of the music presided over the chaos, and Carel and his awesome team developed a brilliant, well-organised, world-class festival. I’ve been to the Primavera Sound festival in Barcelona. At the time, I thought it was like a paved Oppikoppi, minus the dust and with Jagermeister on tap. In terms of organisation, I think Oppikoppi stands its ground. But those civilised Europeans will never know the joy of great music in the bushveld and the craziness that comes with setting South Africans of all ages, sizes and races loose at a festival. There is plenty of sponsorship – big brands like Ray Bans, Red Bull, Dr Martens, Windhoek Lager – and as far as I can see that ensures there is plenty of everything that is needed – drinks, cleaners, good sound, water…
So last Friday, I sat in final assembly like an excited school girl, willing the headmistress to dismiss the school. I dashed out as soon as I could, raced home, packed the car and headed out of Joburg. My aim was to get to Northam in time to watch Urban Creep’s gig at 4 – their first together in many, many years. Sadly, getting out of Joburg on a Friday afternoon is a very slow process. Everyone and his uncle is heading to his other home at Hartebeespoort Dam or something. It soon became apparent that I wasn’t going to get there for Urban Creep, so I just resigned myself to enjoying the ride. There are some beautiful spots on the way, but driving through the platinum belt, past the Marikana district, was pretty bleak. I consoled myself by listening to Chris Letcher’s Spectroscope while Urban Creep played, and a friend sent me pictures of the gig.
I made it through the customary road blocks, joined the queue at the gate and bought a R40 bag of ice from the enterprising locals. The system allowed for an easy flow onto the farm and into the madness. Miraculously I found my camping mates, set up my tent, had a cold GnT (while things were still cold) and cheersed the bush veld sunset. I marvelled at how seriously people took the Oppikoppi experience, decorating their cars and bodies (and even couches) in the most interesting ways.
I found my way to the Redbull Stage to watch Mr Sakitumi and the Grrrl. They were so awesome, I threw my phone on a rock!
I joined some friends on the great trek up the hill to the top bar, to the Rayban Stage to watch Gert Vlok Nel play. I love his songs. Beautiful in Beaufort Wes makes me cry sometimes. Not this night though – I played interpreter for my English friend and just enjoyed the lyricism and the beer.
I had to brave it alone at that point, because my top-bar friends were taking it easy and (as usual) I wanted to continue the party, so I made my way down to the main stage and watched the Springbok Nude Girls, all dressed in their mothers’ best frocks, rock out like it was 1997 or something. They were awesome.
In an attempt to find the exit back towards the campsite, I stumbled upon the PHfat gig. Those white boys confused the hell out of me, but I thoroughly enjoyed their set.
The campsite was inordinately far in the dark, but I found my way back and listened to revellers who continued all through the night. Fellow-campers in my group danced non-stop at the Redbull stage and returned to set their shoes on fire next to my tent. I had a couple of hours sleep and emerged at 6.30 in desperate search of ablutions and coffee. I met up with two very sweet young people on the same mission, and we walked around the now-quiet farm, watching vendors clean up their stalls and prepare for the next onslaught.
I found the most beautiful and interesting people wandering around on a similar mission to mine. Someone with a real coffee machine saved my life. Later, having had a cold shower and fresh oranges for breakfast, I braved the koppie again, tested out how much my calves would support me, and went up to the top bar to watch Gary Herselman and Die Lemme. I’m so glad I did. What a wonderful gig to witness! A stellar line up including Chris Letcher, Victoria Hume, Ampie Omo and Albert Frost and more accompanied Herselman while he sang his lovely songs and cracked jokes and made magic happen. Niiiiice!
After a short rest (with Aloe Black belting it out in the distance), I was introduced to the awesomeness of a very cool band called BCUC. Later on, Bra Hugh Masekela graced the stage and I was overwhelmed by his spirit. Cat Power blew my mind, despite serious sound issues which threw her off guard a little. Or maybe it was the crazy dust-covered fans. I kept going. Editors. Wolfmother. Too much awesomeness to mention. I lost track of myself. I think Oppikoppi has that effect on one.
Suffice it to say that the music was really spectacular. One can’t possibly take in all there is to offer – there are 7 stages, for god’s sake! Besides the brilliant music, there is much people-spotting to do, and many beautiful surprises if you just open your eyes. There is amazing food on sale. Enterprising people were charging cell phones for R25 a pop. There’s a cash-free system, that worked well most of the time (I did hear some complaints that people couldn’t load cash onto their cards at 1am, which is, I guess, a desperate time to load money – when you neeeeeed that pizza to save your life!) There were volunteer medics, who strapped my friend’s foot after she got very excited greeting a long-lost friend. And this awesome group called The Red Frog Crew definitely saved some people’s lives – they’re a volunteer organisation who make coffee/pancakes/give hugs and sweets to people who are falling off the rails. There were plenty of those.
So you might have noticed that I’ve said “Awesome” many times throughout this blog. I recently watched the Lego movie, and “Everything is Awesome” has stuck in my head. But Oppikoppi is not awesome in the same conformist way that the Lego people sing about. Oppikoppi is awesome because, 20 years on, you can be a solo Joburg woman on a mission to find some magic in the bushveld, and you’ll find it. I am so glad I started my birthday celebrations early and went to the bush to catch the vibes and the tunes. If I’ve recovered this time next year, and have got rid of that dust up my nose, I’ll try to convince a few friends to join me at the country’s greatest festival.
P.S. Will post another blog with more cool pics from the Oppikoppi Odyssey Festival as soon as I’ve sorted out my internet woes.