October 4, 2011 – 22:34 by Samantha Dawe
I love how music festivals manage to create their own little world. As soon as we got to White Mountain and had set up camp, it suddenly felt like we’d always been there. And the chilled atmosphere sets in straight away, it doesn’t matter how long you’d been travelling, or how hard it was to set up your tent, when you look around and see all the other festival goers and hear the music already in full swing, you can’t help but become a part of it.
Ok, that sounded really soppy, but it’s true! And there was the added happiness of finding out that there were proper bathrooms with showers and everything….even the portaloos had sinks in them. I don’t think I’ve ever been to such a clean and well-kept up festival. I was even happy when the bad weather set in on Friday night, I mean, what’s a festival without rain, mud and gumboots? (or maybe I’m just used to Splashy Fen?)
This was my first White Mountain Folk Festival, and what I really liked was the close-knit feel of it. It’s not as big as some of the other festivals, and there was only one main tent, but that made it feel like a whole community was gathered in that tent when it was full. Everyone had come to listen to the chilled out acoustic music and there was a great atmosphere around the main tent, as well as outside it at the craft and food stalls.
The MC for the festival was local Durban band Catlike Thieves’ frontman, Shane Strachan, and as far as I know this was his first MCing gig and he did really well, managing to get the crowd revved up just the right amount before each act started. The first band that I heard was The Wilderness Act, who were seriously brilliant, because when the singer’s voice failed her, the guitarist carried the rest of the act just by entertaining the crowd with all sorts of fun songs and stories….he even played an acoustic version of the theme to The Bold and The Beautiful, I’ll just pretend I didn’t recognise it or love that he did that. He had the crowd in the palm of his hand and other performers even took to the stage to sing some improvised songs with him.
Another highlight from Friday night was Rory Eliot’s set. This guy has the most infectious enthusiasm, and you could tell that the acoustic setting really suited him, with him sitting there telling stories about how each song came about and what they meant. Towards the end of his set two of his band members joined him on stage and they played some Plush favourites. It’s so great to watch musicians who openly love their music so much, and in the end they basically had to be dragged off the stage, I’m convinced they would have happily played all night.
Saturday brought with it incredibly strong winds, with many tents being bent in amazing shapes. I learnt then that camping at the top of a hill might not be such a great idea, as our tent was getting hit with full force. But amazingly it held up (and also after some failed attempts at trying to shield it, we decided that if it was out of sight, it would be out of our minds, so we ventured back to the main festival area and let the wind do what it may).
By evening the wind turned into rain, and the rain turned into an almighty storm. It didn’t dampen the show though, with each acoustic act having the steady beat of the rain on the marquee added to their performances. I used to think that acoustic music was a bit boring if it was a whole set, but there was something really special about it. It creates such a friendly, community atmosphere. The crowd is really able to connect with the musicians, because the setting is so casual and you feel like you’re just sitting around having a good time with the musicians.
One half of the Hinds Brothers
Saturday was filled with some really good acts, with some highlights and crowd favourites being Nate Mainguard, The Kickstands as well as the Hinds Brothers, who did a special tribute song to the late folk festival veteran Syd Kitchen. It isn’t a proper festival without Syd’s presence, it was great that they played his song for him.
Margaret’s Daughter were also very entertaining, singing English songs, Afrikaans songs, some well known covers, as well as some very good originals. They even had a little “guitar off” on stage.
Rooibaardt were the surprise gem of the evening for me though. I had never heard of them before, and almost left the tent to go get supper before the last three main acts. But then they started playing, and were so interesting and zany that I had to stay. They had more variety of instruments than I think I’ve ever seen one band pull off in one set. The one guy flipped between a violin, a guitar and then even the panpipes, while the leadman brought out the harmonica every now and again, and even played an accordion for one song. Their music was infectiously fun, and for a band that looked pretty casual, they were highly professional and in sync with each other. They pulled off a really well executed set. They were the first set that got the crowd up and dancing in the front, before that everyone had just been chilled out enjoying the music from their camping chairs.
After Rooibaardt came the three main acts, the Jesse Clegg Band, Josie Field and aKING. This was the Jesse Clegg Band’s first acoustic performance, and you could see the band members were getting a bit frustrated with their equipment, but they sounded great. Not sure the guitarist should have been so violently shredding on an acoustic guitar though, but I guess this band just couldn’t calm their intensity and feeling, which is great to watch.
Jesse Clegg Band
Next up was Josie Field, who has recently released her fourth album, called 1984, which I will be reviewing soon. She has a very soulful voice, and the acoustic guitar really suited her music. Her music was so accessible, I haven’t really heard much of her stuff before, but every single song was easy to get into and enjoy. To prove this fact, she had the crowd almost breaking down the barrier with their enthusiastic dancing, all of them were singing all happily, with a lot of them knowing every word to every song. The last act of the festival was the popular Cape Town band, aKING, and I thought the crowd was keen before them, but as soon as they took to the stage the crowd suddenly managed to swell in size! These guys are real rockstars, they were in just normal clothes, just took to the stage without any gimmicks, looking completely at ease, and somehow they managed to have a presence that captivated everyone. And they definitely knew how to use it. There was no acoustic for these guys, they just rocked out, drowned out the sound of the rain even, and ended the festival on the highest (and loudest) note possible.
I think the festival organisers did a great job this past weekend, White Mountain has definitely won me over as my new favourite music festival. And for those who don’t like the idea of roughing it in a tent, there were even chalets available. Talk about the whole package.
This happy camper is signing out. Can’t wait for next year.