What’s the first thing you think of when you hear the term “music festival”? If you’re from Gauteng, it’s most likely dust. And crowds. And drunk youths. But then there’s Mieliepop.
Beforehand, it looked like bad weather might intrude on the weekend. But the sunshine arrived just on time. A simple, 270 km/3 hour drive from Pretoria leads you to the beautiful Tolderia Resort – a real majestic, beautiful, peaceful, green hilly area in the middle of nowhere. The trek into the resort was slightly rough after the rain, and arriving there in the dark isn’t recommended – though that really applies to any festival.
But once you’re there and your tent is set up, the music grabs you and invites you to the stage area. Gerald Clark was one of the Friday night highlights, and together with Bittereinder‘s literal bouncing set (Wat kan ons tot einde bring as almal dink en dans?), I wondered aloud why such great acts were wasted on the first night.
Until I realised that every day at Mieiliepop is the big, main day. It’s been two weeks since the festival, and people are still raving about Mieliepop’s amazing lineup. Saturday continued with stellar acts: fun, sexy, jazzy gypsy-funk from Sea of Green, urban, driven synthy rock from Late Night Fox, exciting reggae-funk from Grassy Spark, blues from Bright Lights Big City, poetic Afrikaans psychedelia with Die See, technically masterful bluesy-rock from Bark, alternative-alternative rock with Blazin Gooch and The Hellcats, and must-sees Manouche and Napalma.
But while Shortstraw and Fuzigish closed the main stage on Saturday, my personal highlight was BCUC… again. BCUC delivers an exciting, energetic, enthusiastic set every time you see them, and that’s got to be commended and recommended. Go check them out at the earliest opportunity if you haven’t yet. Their percussion-heavy, uniquely African set has gained an electric guitar since I last saw them (pushing the amount of instruments with actual musical notes in the band to TWO), but their passionate, energetic core remains. And the smiles in the pool of faces in front of the stage attest – they’re going to be gargantuan any day now.
If live music isn’t the only reason you’ve come to the festival, don’t worry. In addition to swimming, daily yoga, the “Rave Cave” dance floor, and a mountain bike challenge, they’ve also outdone themselves with stalls. There are plenty of artsy/crafty/curio stalls, where items of clothing, hats, sunglasses, or accessories could be bought, and a range of delicious, high-quality food options – this, specifically, is what I think gives Mieliepop the right to brand itself as a “boutique” festival, rather than just “small”. And speaking of size, Mieliepop had the right amount of attendees. No stall ever had a significant queue, and camping was comfortable and spacious. In terms of stalls and selection, the only thing I found lacking was the bar. Just like with plenty of events and venues that focus on live music, their bar selection wasn’t great. In stark opposition to the great selection of dinner options (from amazing paninis, stew, Braaiboy’s boerewors rolls, chicken wings and pulled pork sandwiches, classy fried chicken dishes, pizzas, and even a vegan option), only three beers to choose from (if you can call light and lemon-flavoured varieties “beer”), and only a little-known brand of whiskey doesn’t really cut it. Of course, the festival situation allows you to bring your own booze, but the convenience of a well-stocked bar would’ve been great.
I, for one, would’ve supported the hell out of a craft beer stall.
On the Sunday, Adelle Nqeto‘s barebones honest songs and a distinct Coolio cover earned a ton of love from the “early” morning crowd at 11:15, and set the tone for another jam-packed day. Josh Kempen‘s electric Indie-folk, The Shabeen‘s energetic Capetonian folk-punk, Coelacanth‘s undefined “outlaw folk”, Georgetown‘s familiar hillbilly bluegrass-folk, and Jan Blohm‘s Blomtrein proved that an eclectic (yet quite folky) lineup can still kick ass. And then the festival closed with bang after bang: The Rambling Bones collected one of the biggest crowds the smaller “Willow Tree” stage had seen, Blues guitar master Albert Frost (playing with a band) rocked the main stage, The Black Cat Bones was as exciting and energetic as ever with a new drummer, New Academics proved that 12 years since inception (including band lineup changes) doesn’t have to hurt your performance in the slightest, Art Snakes made a powerful and noteworthy festival debut, and Mr Cat & The Jackal played an epic, lengthy “End of an Era” set.
Non-stop top-notch live music in beautiful serene surroundings, with plenty to do and eat and never more than a three-person queue, merely a three hour drive from Gauteng? This is what every festival should be. Without a doubt, Mieliepop festival is on its way to booming. Let’s just hope they rein things in before the pleasant crowds turn into mobs and the grass turns to dust.
See you next year, Mieliepop! [And you, reader, also.]