Taking place for only the second time, River Republic maintained the wonderfully intimate atmosphere of last year’s inaugural festival. The crowd was small, the campsite had ample trees for shade, and the dancefloor consisted of a lush green field, right next to the tranquil Breede River – just like one imagines a hidden paradise.
On Friday afternoon, the weekend kicked off with some chilled-but-danceable DJ sets, followed by the first live band: The Liminals. With hints of kwaito, blues and indie rock, their catchy, genre-melding tunes were honest, and – while not necessarily the most finished – they were the most interesting of the evening. Their set was followed by alternative-rock band McCree, whose members have clearly mastered their instruments, but make use of more conventional, radio-play-friendly influences. Only one more live act, Southern Wild, performed that night, before DJs took over again. The Jackie Oh!s had everyone grooving to Tarantino soundtracks and popular 50s tunes, before the Robfather closed the main stage with more throwback songs.
The musical highlight of the weekend was without doubt Crimson House’s set early on Saturday evening. They’re a tight band who are known to get festival crowds into frenzies. But this performance somehow managed to top all expectations. As frontman Riaan Smit’s husky vocals filled the air and Nick Becker’s alto sax and Gareth Harvey’s baritone sax entered into vying duels, an incredibly electrifying energy ensued, making it very hard for the following band. Slow Jack are powerful musicians who have mesmerised audiences since they formed in 2015, but after Crimson House, their set came across a bit thin.
The festival ended on Sunday afternoon, after a chilling set by the Brothers Remedy, consisting of Riaan Smit and Nick Becker of Crimson House. Stripped down, but with the aid of a looper, they pulled off a perfectly in-synch, full-bodied performance, involving guitar, harmonica, vocals, sax and occasional percussion.
Although River Republic is growing in attendance, it still feels like a very special private party and an honour to be part of. I selfishly hope that it will be exactly the same next year.
River Republic took place at Round the Bend, Breede River from 2 to 4 December 2016.