The sun glinted off the sea as the breathtaking coastal drive led us to the harbour at Kleinmond. Nestled at its foot, literally at the water’s edge, was a massive white marquee tent surrounded by stalls, promotional flags and a gathering of people. A powerful female voice, with a foot-stomping, country-styled melody got my endorphins pumping as I ran, grinning, to join the crowd.
Sixgun Gospel was up on stage, and they really set the bar for the rest of the festival. One of my WOICT colleagues described them at Synergy Live last year as a band “you might not be listening to now, but soon.” And she was spot on. The band worked the crowd into a frenzy with their upbeat “hoedown” songs. Chatting to lead singer Danieylla Rodin back stage later, she described their music style as “roots”. A kind of country, blue-grass influenced genre.
Accompanying them on harmonica was Riaan Smit. Now there’s someone to hear more. Smit remained on stage to perform as lead singer of Crimson House Blues, giving a set that left the biggest impression of the whole festival. They opened with a classic Blues tune about the vagaries and troubles of life. The sway of the tune, the harmonica’s cry, the deep, gravelly voice of Smit – it was as though I was sitting in a 1950s blues joint in Chicago, listening to Louis Armstrong. Blues is feeling and emotion wrenched from the soul and put into music. And Smit nailed it.
But he was just one of a host of highlights. It seemed every person who got up on that stage last weekend had an abundant and pure love for making music, and their unadulterated enjoyment was
infectious. Listening to five man band The Studerbakers, accompanied by the moustachioed Doc John, I felt my life would be perfect if I could just find a man who mystifies his smile behind an oversized
moustache and wears a fedora hat and sunglasses indoors.
No one was spared a minute of rest; the energy just kept rising and the number of audience members grooving in front of the stage kept on growing. From long-limbed hippy teenagers to affluent bee-hived
ladies wearing pearls, the crowd was an oddly grouped bunch. But that was the beauty of it. Every single person there had an old blues cat inside them, dying to get out and strum a banjo. It may have
been because everyone was getting more and more lubricated as the time went by, but Kleinmond sure got festive.
Speaking to some people who had been at the festival last year, the Big Blues festival started good and has quite simply got better and better. It’s not just the great bar service and the clean, well-
stocked loos or the impressive kids area. It’s not just its rightful claim to be the only festival in South Africa that brings you this close to the sea. It’s the vibe, the down-to-earth country friendliness of it all
and the sheer quality of the music.
The evening drew on as the dance floor grew larger and the big names started to come out. ‘The Voice’ Vusi Mahlasela got even the most die-hard rockers swaying their hips to his African beats. His
music is so rich and detailed, he left me mesmerized. Mahlasela not only has a powerful voice and amazing musical abilities, but he used his talent and poetical lyrics as an activist to spread an anti-
Apartheid message to the people of South Africa. He was also chosen to sing at Mandela’s 1994 inauguration. Yep, that’s right, The Big Blues Festival got the big dogs.
Piet Botha and The Lyzard Kyngs were the headliners, and the final performers of the night. In retrospect, it might have been better for them to play earlier in the day as we could have done with a
final burst of energy at the end. But nonetheless, they gave an amazing ending to an amazing day. Toning things down considerably, everyone got a little “dronk verdriet” as Botha sang his heart-aching
melodies, leaving me wanting to wrap my arms around the closest attractive looking thing I could find.
With the wind picking up, we were all completely unaffected in our well-sheltered location. We’d been transported to what seemed like our own private little island, a culmination of Blues lovers from all
over who got together to let loose and enjoy music that speaks to the spirit and reflects our inner thoughts.
The Big Blues Festival 2012 took place 2 & 3 March 2012 in Kleinmond, near Hermanus.