By Marley
Photos by RMAN Photography

As I sat thinking about Mieliepop 2014 a few days later, I forced myself to be calm whilst listening to Woodstock Mafia’s “Defiance” album. Sometimes you just have to try something in order to know it will work out or not. And sometimes you have to wonder if all festivals are worth writing home about?

I really hope things work out, though, as there aren’t enough festivals in Mpumalanga. Mieliepop is very young, and to think of competing with other festivals like Rocking the Daisies (that took the same time just in the Cape) you need to know your stuff.

I initially didn’t want to go due to finances, but my arm was twisted just 3 weeks before the festival. And naturally, excitement built up as it does for any road trip. The bosses were nice enough to let us leave a couple of hours early, so off we went, 4 friends with hope and a promise for a weekend filled with lekker times.

The weather was shit in Nelsparta and on the way to the small town of Lothair we had fog, rain and Audi-drive-up-your-ass-road users. The road that the festival told us to take was filled potholes so deep a giraffe could seriously disappear into one of them. Serious. Hitting the first one at 80 km/h was no joke and luckily no damage was done. Some were not as fortunate as we heard from another Nelspartan on the way who burst a tyre in one of the above-mentioned craters.

After the longest 13km’s we finally managed to get on the road to Mieliepop. In the dark, we could make out that the venue was beautiful, such a place that you’ve never seen the likes of, so they weren’t joking about that. However, we got crazy lost in the campsite! You see, one of our friends took our tents to get us a nice spot with her earlier on that day. She was camping at number 8, and since there were no directions on the grounds locating her turned out to be a nightmare.

Let’s just say we took a wrong turn that almost ended us up in the middle of the main festival. Security guards not knowing what to do. A couple of boertjies from Ermelo helped us out when the car got stuck. We managed to get the right directions to our campsite.

Main stage crowd at Mieliepop 2014 - photo by RMAN Photography
Main stage crowd at Mieliepop 2014

After we got settled in and walked down towards the stage. It was the first time I’d been to a festival with a bridge that high, which reminded me of ancient Rome. We were just in time for Pretoria based band SAARKIE, and while it was chilly and slightly misty we found the bar for our first round of drinks and off we went to enjoy the girls. As always SAARKIE had us singing along to “Another brick in the wall” while greeting fellow Nelspartans and festival friends. I must say thanks to my friend Richard for providing me with the name “La Raca Wine” man we loved that wine. Shortstraw’s gig made me feel like I was in the ocean and dancing on beach sand. I still love Shortstraw’s vibe and they really delivered an awesome gig. Los Harmones (meaning brothers in Portuguese) really started the party where Shortstraw left off. Pedro Barbosa of famed Mrs B had us all singing in Portuguese. Being the girlfriend of a porra, we both agreed that his 4-foot mother would have loved the show.

It gets a little blurry after that as the La Raca red wine went down better than a glass of water in the desert. I’d heard so much about the venue that we wanted to explore more so decided that food stalls were first to be discovered. I was a little bummed that we only had 3 choices but all was forgiven with the Marley Coffee stand. Yes, I was in heaven both name wise and coffee wise, thank you, Rohan Marley.

Gareth Wilson -SGQ - photo by RMAN Photography
Gareth Wilson -SGQ

Having not seen Southern Gypsey Queen since before Paul Wilson’s sudden death almost 2 years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. I have huge amounts of respect for Gareth Wilson, Tammy Wilson and Jaco Mans. I was in tears during “Angles Wings” and rocked on to “Stop Running Away”, two of my favourite songs from SGQ. I couldn’t get enough of their show and hope to see them again soon.

Southern Gypsey Queen - photo by RMAN PHotography
Southern Gypsey Queen

The Cave Bar was next but the line was too long so we followed Louise Pieterse as she leads us down into the Rave Cave. My word, it’s like you step into a time capsule and just get lost. We partied there till around 03:00 before making our way in the mist to an ice cold tent.

Enjoying the music at Mieliepop 2014 - photo by RMAN Photography
Enjoying the music at Mieliepop 2014

The next morning just after 7 am the music started and the sun prompted us out of the tents. We brought our own food and gas braai – a festival first for us. What a life (and money saver)! After a cup of coffee and a hearty breakfast, we looked for the showers. Our neighbours directed us across the river… That meant we had to walk with our towels and toiletries across the bridge, through the festival to the showers. They must be joking right? If you are a girl you will know, you have a whole bag of shit you have to take with to the showers. In the end, we chose a baby wipe and hand sanitizer bath. We hit the main stage but didn’t really watch bands, one friend headed off to sail with one of the skippers. One friend was on a mission to find a vegetarian meal while the other two disappeared. I, on the other hand, caught up with friends from Gauteng and even bumped into my old boss.

What I couldn’t understand was why Die Straatligkinders was put on at midday. They ended up chasing people away as I don’t think there were many Afrikaans punk rock band fans out there. Anyhow, after them the brilliant Smoking Mojo’s were up and they were perfect for the afternoon vibe. The music got lost in translation for me as I accidentally got suntan lotion in my eyes. I needed to wash it out pronto, and so thought it was a good time for a shower, while another my favourites, Nahkane Toure was setting up.

Nahkane Toure - photo by RMAN Photography
Nahkane Toure

The showers were fine, not as fine as the fact that some girl lifted the shower curtains and I got to flash 4 strangers. I didn’t want to miss one more moment of Nahkane’s set and decided to put on my shoes in front of the stage. It turned out that he’d had some sound and guitar problems and the set was running a bit late.

RMAN, The Riddler and Raquel of Small Town Music - photo by RMAN Photography
RMAN, The Riddler and Raquel of Small Town Music

By the time he finished the coldest wind appeared despite the sun’s rays still shining brightly. A couple of weird characters showed up, 3 minions, 2 Spanish dancers, The Riddler and a crocodile. Interesting bunch… Which happened to be our neighbours as we discovered when we arrived back at camp for dinner and seeking something warm to wear. We bumped into Jamie of Naming James and had a short chat with him.

Cooking in the freeze at Mieliepop 2014 - photo by RMAN Photography
Cooking in the freeze at Mieliepop 2014

Dave Ferguson was next and anyone who has seen this master will tell you that he is also an entertainer and not only a musician. With his loop pedal and a case of harmonicas, he’s a guy any band would want to work with. We heard his set as we were cooking our meat and realised we are going to miss another favourite, Naming James. We finally managed to eat dinner in the dark while freezing our asses off. Let me put this way, in comparison, the Dullstroom Winter Festival seemed like a summer holiday memory. We decided the best way to warm up was to listen to music, and there was no way we were missing The Blues Broers, Wonderboom and Woodstock Mafia.

Shawn Jacobs - photo by RMAN Photogrpahy
Shawn Jacobs

I saw Shawn Jacobs for the first time and I was well impressed. I didn’t realise I knew who he was until he sang one of his most famous songs. I was captured right there and then by this amazing artist. For many, it was also the first time seeing The Blues Broers and they were fantastic as always. Albert Frost once again showed us why he is one of our guitar playing maestros. By the end of their show, the stage area was packed for the rest of the night. Since no one could get a program (except online but there was zero reception) we had to guess who was next. I felt there was some festival spirit missing as there were no fires and it was truly freezing by then.

The Blues Broers - photo by RMAN Photography
The Blues Broers

Desmond and the Tutus were up and had a lot of the Gauteng crowd flocking to the stage. I didn’t really pay attention. Despite having listened to their new album, I’m not a fan.

Cito Martin - Wonderboom - photo by RMAN Photography
Cito Martin – Wonderboom

Wonderboom came next and they were, as always, the ‘godfathers’ of performers. Cito is like a bottle of good red wine that gets better and better with age. We were all holding our breath for Mandoza, yes he featured with Wonderboom on the lineup. What we got was something insane and almost everyone’s highlight – “Nakanhle” performed live. Mandoza together with Wonderboom was just like “OMW what just happened to my face?!” Mandoza didn’t stop there, he gave it all and had the crowd jumping with him more than Jack Parow could hope to.

Mandoza with Martin Schofield (Wonderboom) - photo by RMAN Photogrpahy
Mandoza with Martin Schofield (Wonderboom)
Mandoza - photo RMAN Photography

We moved to the back of the dance floor and watched as a group of people came out the darkness carrying a steel drum with a fire burning brightly inside it. “Ja sit net hier neer boetie”, Ian Roberts of Radio Kalahari Orkes ordered, giving the freezing masses some much-needed warmth. Like moths to a flame, the fire pulled people closer, providing a welcome relief from the cold. But “Swaer” didn’t stop there, another fire was made on his order and I can’t tell you how many people were grateful for this. After Mandoza, we all needed a drink and soon realised that outside of those fires it was still icy cold. Also by this time, the stage was about an hour and a half behind schedule…oh boy.

We headed to camp to pile on more clothes to fight the cold. I felt sorry for those who chose to camp on the water’s edge. But then again when I opened up our tent it was frosted too, yes, Dullstroom was the Caribbean right now.

We headed back for Radio Kalahari Orkes and I thought they should have put RKO earlier in the night. Their market was asleep at that time, in any case, I enjoyed them none the less and they even did the Afrikaans version of “Ice Ice Baby” (Ys Ys Baba). After the show, Ian thanked the fans for watching their first-ever show in Siberia.

Thinking it was time for Woodstock Mafia, Shadowclub still had to play. One of our friends took the words out of my mouth when he said: “Did they book a shit load of bands or just run out of time?” It was just too cold at this stage to watch any bands play onwards. A lot of people had left by then and it saddened me that a great band like Woodstock Mafia was put up dead last (again).

As we headed to the tent we didn’t dare take out our hands of our pockets. Then again they were frozen in that position. Sleep didn’t come easy as we listened to Woodstock Mafia giving a fantastic show, all the while wishing I could feel my feet again.

By 7 am on Sunday it was stupid degrees hot again and we peeled off the layers of clothes from the night before. After breakfast and coffee it was time to pack up and we sunburnt like viennas in the process. We decided to leave earlier than discussed due to the drive back and at this point, we were honestly ready to go home. Before we left, we decided to take a ride on the ferry that had been ferrying people across the lake the entire festival. What a pleasure, enjoying a view of the whole lake while listening to a cool cover band.

All in all, I was disappointed with the organisation. The shower set up, the lack of festival programs, the lack of directions in the campsite, the lack of fires aka gas heaters, the media tent that also served as the merchandise area (that you had to look for) as well as not meeting anyone from the team of organisers. Someone put it so well – in order to run a successful festival you have to go to festivals. Mieliepop with it’s great SA line up reminded me of the wolf who ate so much he got stuck in a hole. They booked so many great artists that there wasn’t enough time to watch them all. Also, the flow of the bands wasn’t planned too well but you learn from your mistakes. Did we mention the dance tent was up a steep hill?

I really hope Mieliepop survives its growing pains because festivals are an important tool in the promotion of SA music. I also hope that the Mieliepop team gets to attend other festivals and seeks advice. Team Mieliepop is great, the staff at the bar was super friendly and the beers were cold. The service was great and the toilets were super clean at all times. It will be up to you as the reader to go to the next Mieliepop, but for me, it’s a “Been there, didn’t get the t-shirt” memory.

Marley is the founder and owner of Small Town Music. Born and bred in Nelspruit aka Nelsparta. Marley loves music (rock being a firm favourite), tattoos, festivals, animals and South Africa. Self-taught photographer and writer.