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Photos by Stanley June

I’ve made a promise to myself to try out every local festival at least once. Lush has survived its inaugural event in 2016 and was back this year for what was deemed as a bigger and better experience. There was simply no question, I had to go! My friends and I are avid campers and even more avid festival goers, but nothing could quite prepare us for Lush, held in the quint little town Clarens in the Free State.

Unfortunately as the “bonus day” of the festival was only announced about a week before the time, we couldn’t be there on the Thursday already due to work and ended up missing a bunch of top-class acts, such as Fuzigish and Hellcats. From what I heard on the festival grounds the next day, the Thursday line-up was pure class. After a three-and-a-bit-hour drive from Johannesburg, we arrived at Lush on Friday morning, high spirits and high hopes. From the get-go it was clear that our expectations wouldn’t necessarily be met and that we’d have to brave many conditions we were quite frankly unprepared for.

What Lush did right:

The music. Lush succeeded in putting together a line-up that spoke to a vast variety of people. Legends like Valiant Swart and Koos Kombuis pulled enthusiastic crowds, who reminisced about places and stories of long ago. Koos walked up with a bottle of red wine and his iconic lyric book and created a nostalgic bubble of happiness. Somewhat younger legends Karen Zoid and Francois van Coke also gathered substantial audiences and both put up one heck of a show. Especially Van Coke (who played directly after the Australian indie rockers The Temper Trap) probably played the most energetic show of the weekend, amidst indescribable cold weather.

On the other side of the spectrum up-and-coming, lesser known acts brought their A-game and won over many new fans with their fresh approach. Apple Gule performed a memorable soul hip-hop set that made the crowd groove, while The Kickstands made Durban proud and proved that a two-piece can rock just as hard as a full band. My absolute stand-out new act of the weekend, however, has to be Opposite The Other. Before Lush I’ve never heard of them and after seeing them, I simply can’t fathom how they’ve remained out of my music radar for so long. The Fray and One Republic come to mind watching this highly talented and super young Cape Town-based band on stage. Precision, musicality and determination sum them up. And by the looks of things, they are going to make even bigger waves, as they’ve been selected as the official local opening act for The Lumineers.

Other acts worth a mention include Shotgun Tori and The Hound performing a heartwarming mellow set, Josh Kempen with his laid-back rock blues and IV4 illustrating that pop rock is not such a preppy genre after all. The international acts proved that the Lush line-up organizers are daring, yet in touch with what audiences want. The Temper Trap, Kaki King and Michael Franti & Spearhead exhibited that they are worth all the hype that preceded their long-awaited SA shows. A special applause must go out to our homeboy, Regardt Scheepers, who stood in for The Temper Trap’s guitarist who couldn’t make the trip due to last minute Visa issues. He filled in with ease and proved that SA musicians are on the same level than any renowned international band.

Two other festival elements that Lush did wonderfully is a) the diverse selection of food stalls. No-one could complain about going hungry, as there were tastes and flavours to satisfy every hunger pain. b) The innovative cashless system ran by Howler. Yes, other fests have followed a similar system, but I loved that your money was loaded onto your festival wrist band. A chip fastened securely to every wrist band, made it easy to load and use money, without the hassle of carrying around notes and coins. Very nifty indeed!

What Lush can work on going forward:

Let me just start out to say that I camped together with all the merry general campers – in order to give a fair review of the entire festival, I would be a cheat if I stayed in media camping or somewhere cosy in Clarens.

Although Lush has already made great shifts from year one to year two, there are still many unfortunate elements that don’t quite give them the credentials to being called “Lush”. Their basic facilities are beyond the point of roughing it up: they are in dire need of more toilets and better shower facilities. A tiny row of toilets were put up for the entire camping site and the only festival ground toilets were far up a steep hill, which made it very unpleasant to go when nature called. The showers were made up of a roughly built brick structure with small shower spaces, loosely covered by a small piece of waving bag that covered either the top or the bottom of your body (if you were lucky that is) and a bucket above your head that needed to be manually refilled in order to enjoy a few drops of water every morning. The lady’s section also had to make due with a grumpy man that filled the buckets when girls asked nicely, which I think is also a huge safety hazard for (half-) naked ladies.

The Lush festival grounds are very uneven with steep hills and long distances had to be covered daily to get from point A to point B. I’m not saying that a whole new festival ground should be sourced, but I think it’s possible to utilize the current grounds better so that festival goers aren’t expected to complete a marathon by the end of the weekend. Another downside was that drinks weren’t allowed into the festival grounds (not even plastic bottled drinks), so that led to more walking and/or more spending at the bar. We left the festival with a basically full cooler box, which is quite a peculiar place to be at the end of a festival weekend. Festival goers already fork out a lot of moola to attend a festival (ticket, petrol, food, etc.), so to expect them to only buy drinks at the bar or walk a kilometer back to their tents every time they are thirsty, is a bit ridiculous I’d say.

Lush made provision for numerous stages, but unfortunately the sound from the different stages overlapped and intertwined, probably due to the distance between stages and the direction the stages were facing. Watching Shotgun Tori with an EDM buzz in the background was such a distraction and if the audience was irritated, I could only imagine how the poor musicians on stage must have felt, having to compete with one or even three acts playing on various stages simultaneously.

Clarens is cold in April. Not just cold, but frosty cold. Lush needs to warn festival goers better to prepare for these conditions. Lush can simply not be tackled without gum boots, mittens, thermal vests, thick socks, padded jackets and long johns. It’s not a walk in the luscious park; it’s survival. Temperatures dropped to around 0-3 degrees at night and even when I wanted to continue partying, the cold weather forced me to call it a night much earlier than I would’ve liked. Perhaps more undercover areas, or even undercover stages, can be considered. Big bonfires where people can warm their bodies, even.

Enough has already been said about the date mix-up. With the original festival dates being set to 14-16 April, it was quite a shock when a line-up of great acts was announced for 13 April. What made this notion even more peculiar was that the long weekend ran from Friday to Monday, so why not have the music days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and then let people drive back to their destinations on Monday? It didn’t make any sense starting the music on a day when almost all people were still at work.

Running a music festival is no easy feat and I’m pretty sure Lush organisers, BreakOut, realises this better than most. For a company that is more well-known for their day events, they have done well with Lush, but I know more can be done to make this a must-visit event in everyone’s festival calendar. If they want to call it Lush, I want to see lush. Start defining this festival’s identity into something profound. At the moment it’s blurry fuzz with only the slightest inkling of solid lines. I put my trust in Lush to become the Lush they want people to rave about, year after year.

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