Up The Creek music festival has become something of an institution for local music fans. We chatted to four people integral to the whole event – the founder, two musos and the camp manager – to get their insights on this annual riverside party
The river in question is the Breede, specifically the part midway between Swellendam and Malgas. You’ll need to take a ten-kilometre gravel road from the N2 to get to that particular dogleg, which becomes a hive of activity around the start of February each year.
Once you get there, you’ll find some three thousand other cossie-clad revellers intent on little more than smiling and laughing and singing for four whole days. For the deeply tanned Up the Creek regular, the sweltering Breede River in the middle of Cape Town’s sweatiest month feels more like an annual family get-together. Many greet each other with hugs and kisses, just like real families do when they only see each other once a year.
ANNIE SOWDEN is one of those who started it all in 1990 when the event first took place as a privately organised birthday party. Despite now being one of the longest-running music festivals in the country, the weekend has somehow kept about it that atmosphere of private celebration, like a birthday party for three thousand of your closest friends.
“Up The Creek punters feel that they have ownership in our festival,” Annie reasons. “We have always worked hard to promote the ‘everyone’s a VIP’ feeling, so punters get to interact with their favourite musicians. Unlike some events where musicians are stuck backstage or in the green room, our festival encourages everyone to ‘play’ together.”
For South African guitar icon and Creek veteran ALBERT FROST, this approach has provided very special memories. “This is the only festival I’ve ever attended as a punter. My father Frank D. Frost’s band Blues Broers played here, so as a 13-year-old it was all about the river for me. I think my first official performance was in 1994.
“So much happened over the years… One of the most special moments of my life happened at the 1999 UTC. My father passed away from cancer just three days before the festival that year. On Sunday morning we gathered as many musicians we could find (not an easy task) and held a minute of noise as a sign of respect. Classic!”
The festival is known for its quirky sense of fun, too. It has occasionally hosted celebrity weddings, pop-up riverside opera performances, musicians playing on a Pied Piper-like jam van’s rooftop and even ballet on the beach.
Relative newcomer artists like JOSH RILEY are quickly won over by the atmosphere. Josh first played Up the Creek five years ago. “A boat took us to the stage with all our gear and we felt really special. The stage was in the middle of the river and people were going nuts – early days, so this was quite something for us.”
Four years later Riley played on the main stage, with a sense of having grown into the role of a main eventer every year in between. “We played while the sun was setting, which made things feel magical, ethereal – as if everyone there were living a daydream. It felt like they knew us, and we knew them; we were tight, we were home.”
Still, a home requires homemaking and housekeeping, which is where Camp and Site Manager KEITH SIBANDA and his team work miracles. “We are a team of six responsible for set-up and break down of the festival area,“ Keith explains. “We make it spacious in such a way that no one area will be overcrowded, from the parking area, Hillbilly campsite, Ellis Park, Hilton and Country club, bars, food court area, main, second, food and river stages…”
“But the single most debated production topic is where the river stage will be positioned, as the river changes every year. This is normally a decision that can only be made the Monday of the festival week.”
It all comes together to create magic, Annie believes. “We even get fans’ opinions about all aspects and where possible incorporate those ideas. For example, one big change for the 2019 festival will be the addition of a late night rock n roll style stage. There’s also a new fully functional bar in the food court.”
“There is nothing more powerful than hearing 3000 people laughing together during the comedy stage, or the wild splashing in the river when 3000 weekenders show their appreciation for the amazing music. This helps to create the feeling that it is a festival specially made just for you.”
UP THE CREEK 2019 ESSENTIALS
DATE 7-10 February
WHERE Breede River, Swellendam
COSTS R970-R1 800
The Black Cat Bones, Femi Koya, Grassy Spark, Gerald Clark and the boys from Prague, Stoker, Jackal and the Wind, Crosscurrent, Lo Ghost, Stone Jets, Koos Kombuis, BRYNN, Bam Bam Brown, Zengeance, Piet Botha, Greg Georgiades & Ultra Natives, The Steezies, Diamond Thug and Money for Bali.