These days the word “Fest” is tossed around rather recklessly – Hell, I've seen it used to describe gigs with a line-up of 3 or more unknown bands, at some dingy, unknown venue in some far-flung, unknown quadrant of some unknown town.
That is not a “fest”.
A “fest” is a big event.
At a big venue. With a big line-up of big bands. Held over the course of 2 or more days.
A “fest” is a big deal.
The guys behind Wolmer Fest understand this, and they don’t use the word “fest” lightly.
30 great bands. 2 big stages. 3 days of musical mayhem with full camping facilities for hundreds of people.
This is a “fest”. And, ladies and gentlemen, this is how it is done.
The brainchild of Heine van der Walt and Armandt Keyser, and taking place at the Wolmer Bush Lounge in Pretoria North, the inaugural Wolmer Fest 2014 was by far the most ambitious event ever untaken at this venue, and they pulled out all the stops.
Arriving early Friday afternoon the first thing I noticed was the fantastic organisation that had gone into the event. The staff manning the gates were polite, pleasant and supremely helpful. There was a slight (yet understandable) confusion regarding one of our passengers’ tickets, but this was rectified before we’d even had a chance to crack our first beer.
I could tell we were dealing with professionals here, not just some guys who were looking to make a fast buck.
A quick stroll around the venue only served to drive this point home. These guys had gone all out - 2 fantastic stages kitted out with some of the best quality sound reinforcement in the business, (and each run by consummate professionals), merch stalls, a well-stocked bar, great food and more than enough facilities (including hot showers) to make even the snootiest festival goer happy.
This was going to be something special.
The first band, Six Deep, was scheduled to kick things off at 5pm on the Wolmer Stage but unfortunately their vocalist was stuck somewhere in traffic. Due to the packed schedule they could only delay their set’s start for a few minutes, and ultimately they took the stage to play an instrumental set in hopes that their singer would make it eventually.
He did, and the band rocked out even harder.
Playing the opening slot at any event is never the easiest job, but it’s exponentially harder when your frontman isn’t there – and yet Six Deep managed to pull it off, which is a testament to their impressive enthusiasm and dedication.
The first band on the Main Stage was Made For Broadway at 17:45 and they played a strong show. Not my type of music really (hey, you can’t please everyone all the time) but they did an admirable job of getting things going with their tight, catchy tunes.
40 Day Journey was next up on the Wolmer stage and they delivered a tight set of good, if slightly derivative songs, and certainly displayed great potential for the future. They definitely helped draw the newly arrived campers away from their tents and into the entertainment area.
Things were certainly starting heat up as the sun began to set.
The Slashdogs took to the Main stage at 19:15 and proceeded to blow everyone away with their trademark Rock ‘n Roll swagger. Their set was tight as hell, and their sound was simply sublime. Mixing harder-edged new material from their upcoming LP Progress Through Plunder with perennial crowd pleasers like Darkest Fear these guys sounded like the bastard sons of Lemmy, only hungrier.
To me they were the highlight of Friday night’s line-up, and my only complaint is that they didn’t have a later timeslot – I feel more people should have witnessed the supreme spectacle that is The Slashdogs.
With the night’s proceedings picking up pace Facing the Gallows delivered a set full of the in your face Hardcore that they’ve become famous for, and it did not disappoint the crowd at the Wolmer stage. These guys rock, and they rock hard.
The Anti Retro Vinyls took to the Main stage next and provided a slight respite from the Slashdogs’ menace with their unique brand of energetic, catchy tunes. The crowd certainly were appreciative.
Raptorbaby, riding high on the back of their latest single, put on a solid show and ensured the night’s momentum didn’t slack off for a second.
The newly reformed Underbelly was something I had been looking forward to ever since I heard they were on the line-up and I went to watch them with great anticipation and even higher hopes. They did not disappoint - it was as if they had never gone into extended hiatus in the first place, storming through their highly technical set with aplomb. It must also be noted that they truly challenged the crowd’s (and a whole new generation’s) perceptions of what constitutes “progressive” music, sometimes (unfortunately) to the point of alienation.
To the uninitiated, Haggis and Bong seem to be somewhat of an anachronism –bagpipes, kilts and…Metal? But anyone who has caught this unique act before knows that they seamlessly blend the two seemingly unconnected worlds into a decidedly entertaining mash-up of killer grooves and stomping beats. Friday night’s performance on the Wolmer stage was no different.
The Sunday Punchers played the last set of the night on the Main stage, and cemented their status as the ultimate whiskey band. Epic crowd pleasers in whatever timeslot they play, these guys are always up for a party, and it shows.
Saturday’s proceedings kicked off gently with a sophisticated-yet-restrained jazz set by the Wolmer Jazz Trio. A perfect, groovy cure for the hangover that the previous night’s hi-jinks had stomped all over our brains.
Bought By Blood, Colour Me Kacey, Proposing to Medusa and Story of a Stranger all played good sets, and eagerly ushered campers and newly arrived fans into the entertainment area, serving as a great start to what was the biggest day of the festival.
The find of the fest, Jonathan Peyper, took to the main stage at 14:15 and proceeded to stun the crowd with his authentically soulful take on traditional blues. If you didn’t know better (or if you weren’t in front of the stage watching awestruck) you would have been forgiven for thinking that the guy singing was a wizened old man who’d been raised purely on Bourbon and Texan Plain, and had been living the blues for 40 years. Instead you got a young, fresh-faced frontman who, along with his fantastic rhythm section, cranked out a combination of true-blue original material and stunning covers, most notably Hendrix’s Little Wing and Red House – two songs that only the most accomplished bluesmen would even dare to attempt, let alone pull off with such tasteful reverence and subtle flair. I was beyond impressed. This is a guy to watch. You have been warned.
Urban Vitamin impressed once again, with recent additions Cicero Carstens and Cameron Zucarelli providing a rock solid rhythmic backdrop to Neville Botha’s guitar stylings and Cobus Nigrini’s strong vocals. My only regret is that they, like the Slashdogs the previous evening, didn’t have a better timeslot – although, with a line-up like what was to follow, this is simply one of those unfortunate, yet unavoidable, things.
Because of Betrayal, a band that picked up some (undeserved) flak last year took to the Wolmer stage at 16:30 and proceeded to demonstrate why they’re a band to take note of. Sure they’re ambitious, but these guys can play. With a little more focus on song writing, and a little less focus on demonstrating their obvious skill, I predict these guys will go far.
Feed the Wolf followed Urban Vitamin on the Main stage, and they demonstrated how they’ve become a real band to be reckoned with, and more than just an awesome assembly of serious talent - Their songs rocked hard, their singer had true rock ‘n roll swagger, and I heard more than one female fan swooning over their performance.
18:00 on the Wolmer stage marked a big moment in the weekend’s proceedings – Idols winner Dave van Vuuren’s first gig back with Freedom For Your Life in 3 years. They band was obviously excited and as a result they played with an infectious energy. The only drop-off in intensity was Dave’s unexpected solo acoustic sing-along interlude. The crowd loved it, so it’s hard to fault, but I was relieved when the band returned at full force once again.
Hairy mountain-men Juggernaught certainly brought the meat back on the Main stage with their signature sound – no-nonsense rock made up of big riffs, tight grooves, gruff vocals and stomping vibes. These guys don’t mess around, and seem to get better and better every time I’m lucky enough to see them. Plus, it was nice to see them rocking a good slot on a high profile stage.
Home at Last managed to shrug off the distraction of some initial technical difficulties on the Wolmer stage, and went on to play a tight, accomplished set, which stands as a proud indication of their professionalism and skill – something many bands would not have been able to pull off so effortlessly.
20:15 on the Main stage was a moment that most people had been waiting for – the triumphant return of arguably the best live act in South Africa – The Black Cat Bones. And boy, did they deliver!
Obviously benefitting from a relentless touring and gigging schedule, these guys displayed a tightness that most other bands can only dream of. Their performance was simply on another level – while Andre Kriel, Chris van der Walt and Jason Hinch are fantastic performers in their own right (and believe me, they are) the stage belonged to Kobus “Rot” de Kock, truly a frontman’s frontman; scary, charming, kinetic and electric.
Together they cranked out a set full of high energy songs that left the crowd gasping for breath, and chanting for more. If you missed the ‘Bones, well, you missed out.
Kicking off the Trinity of “true” heavy bands scheduled to slay the Wolmer stage was Adorned in Ash, who surprised as many people with their crushingly heavy songs as they did with the fact that their massive-voiced lead singer is not a 7 foot tall ogre of a man, but instead a 5 foot 5 girl who also just so happens to be able to shred the hell out of a guitar. I must have sent at least 20 sceptics over to see it with their own eyes, since it truly is something you need to witness for yourself.
Red Helen followed Adorned in Ash, and they rocked the place hard. These guys aren’t hipsters in tank-tops with trendoid haircuts, they’re guys who play metal. Hard edged, heavy as hell METAL. This made me happy.
BloodBeast wrapped up the Trinity of heavy on the Wolmer stage, and they delivered, as expected. Hard. Fast. Aggressive. If you like your music brutal, these are the guys you need to see.
Newtown Knife Gang played the penultimate set for the day on the Main stage, and proved to be a very popular choice. Their sound was tight, and managed to sound just like their recorded material, which in itself is no mean feat. Avery professional set from a very professional bunch of musicians – and the crowd ate it up.
The final slot of the night belonged to Boargazm and they wrapped up proceedings in the best way imaginable – by making the crowd MOVE. What some cynics initially wrote off as a mere novelty band has evolved into one of the tightest, most savage outfits in South Africa –a band with incredible presence and shockingly good song writing skills. Heine van der Walt has evolved into what must easily rank as one of the best frontmen in the scene, and his massively skilled band mates play with gleeful abandon – flailing about as if possessed by the very spirit of metal, without ever missing a beat.
They’re one of the few bands who can even attempt Slipknot’s People = Shit, let alone pull it off so damn convincingly (and with about 12 fewer members too). Their closer, Sepultura’s Roots was a perfect end to a fantastic set, and gave the crowd one last chance to lose their minds. It was also a great nod to the bands’ collective history together.
Special note must be made of Chris van der Walt and Jason Hinch, since they managed to squeeze every last drop of energy out of their performance, after only a short break from their already amazing set with The Black Cat Bones.
As the night slowly wound down I sat back and reflected on everything I’d witnessed, and everything I’d been fortunate enough to have been a part of – the guys behind Wolmer Fest 2014 understood what they needed to bring to the table, and then they simply exceeded those requirements. Over and over again.
I’m glad to hear that this is going to become an annual thing, since it will give all of those who missed out this time a chance to catch it again in future – Wolmer Bush Lounge is a fantastic venue, run by fantastic people – people who do it for the love of the music, and the love for the scene, not to look cool or get laid.
The stages were awesome, sounded awesome, and were professionally run. There were no delays, and the change overs were seamless. The facilities were excellent. The food was great and the prices shockingly good. The bar was managed faultlessly and I never had to wait to get a drink. The security was great, the entire venue was kept spotlessly clean, and the vibe was unbeatable.
This is how it should be, and everyone out their thinking about creating a “fest” should look to them to see just how it is done.
- Special thanks to Heine and Armandt for making it happen.
- To Cameron Zucarelli and Conrad Jamneck for their professional stage management and ensuring that every band sounded top notch.
- To Cameron again for the rigging and setup.
- To the van der Walt family for the venue, and for helping Heine realise a dream of this scale.
- To all the staff who kept us safe, ensured that things ran smoothly and kept this wonderful venue so clean throughout the entire weekend.
- To Kraken Rum for the sponsorship.
- And finally, extra special thanks to Gen Twoco and UnderGroundPress.co.za for the opportunity (and for pimping me out as the event MC – I really appreciate it!)
Thanks to everyone who made it - to the fans and to the bands - without you all it wouldn’t have been the success it was.
THANK YOU WOLMER! I’ll see you all for the next one!
Photographs supplied by Christelle Duvenage