Free State Feasts on Freedom Fest
Bloemfontein’s Freedom Fest
If I think back to my Bloemfontein days, much of it was categorised by brandy, coke and complaints of how nothing happens in the city; the same people, the same places and the most excitement available to you was seeing somebody you might recognise from the “Bloem Nuus” community paper you found in the street three Friday’s ago. A couple years later and Bloem has come back to the party; Sunday accounstic/jazz nights are now a thing, patrons no longer greet their waitors with “what’s your brandy special?”, craft food is being invested in and the hipsters have begun to emerge (yes, Bloem even has it’s own indie band). All of this has been developing for years and finally, it materialised into something greater than the sum of its parts, Freedom Fest.
Have you ever made a decision you’re surprised to learn you did not regret?
I happened to be in town on business invited my friends for a braai, one of whom gave me a promotional ticket she got from working at a local radio station. Like the local festivals I’d become used to, I’d expected it to make me regret my parents’ decision to raise me in Bloem. I tossed the ticket, put my meat on the fire, cracked open the Tipo Tinto and then woke up the next morning…10 minutes too late for Parkrun. Sigh. What does one do in Bloemfontein on a Saturday?
Memories of my student days came rushing back but I refused to make the obligatory cheese and ham toastie and watch Crime and Investigation all day. After hitting the gym (boet), having breakfast with a friend, getting a tattoo and getting my beard and hair did, it was only 13h00 and I had exhausted everything else I could do. More importantly, I looked fabulous and wanted to show off to somebody so I retrieved my ticket from the trash and made off to Emoya Estate, host of the inaugural Freedom Fest. Have you ever made a decision you’re surprised to learn you did not regret?
People were there. Not the same crowd from Tuesday nights at the Mystic Boer. Of course they were there too but many more people were there; from those who left the City of Roses to work abroad to those who left life and got married.
Families came out, sitting outside eating from their picnic baskets or the food stalls while buying the odd item from the craft stores. The setup endeared itself to the smiles on the faces everywhere I looked, the couples enjoying the atmosphere, the children meeting their parents’ friends and the parents realising that their kids’ friends might not be so bad. Like a corny joke from a Christmas cracker, even the official Freedom Fest song that played in between sets brought people together in condescending laughter.
Looking For Craft Beer:
I swear, if I’d drunk more of the Famous Brew and Still craft lager on offer, I would have convinced myself that I was in Parkhurst. The lager was however, unfortunately, not fantastic…images of Oom Buffel watering down an Amstel Lite with bitters came to mind but that’s my palate and I’m certain Oom Buffel may like it. Take nothing away from Free State, they do make great beers there. I sought the Kaya Breweries Rooibos beer to wash my mouth out but alas they were not present. Still, the usual presence of commercial drinks meant I could postpone my hangover to the following day.
Very particular of Free State catering is the variety and portions. From Indian cuisine to biltong, there was a satisfactory selection of foods. I wish I could review them all but I failed to remove myself from the spiced and fried halloumi stand. Each piece went down as though I was smugly dining on the failures of my enemies. As delicious as they were, I had to eventually stop. ..not because I didn’t want more but because as a Joburger getting excited about cheap prices in Bloem, I was embarrassed that I’d come across as one of those annoying Australians commenting how cheap beer is in South Africa.
Delighted with the food, atmosphere and presence of the local Harley club but disappointed in the craft drink, my attention turned to the music. I recalled how friends, colleagues and even some kids I coached in debating got into the music scene before I had left so it was so satisfying to see them on the lineup. More satisfying was that the entire lineup was made up of Bloemfontein based performers. Most satisfying is that they were mostly excellent, some even better than performances I’ve paid money to see in gigs in New York and London. What was most encouraging is that support was abundant and rightly so. If you get a chance to see bands like Wolfgang Marrow and Don’t Tell Mama…GO!
The Music Though:
Music is essential to any festival and the blues, indie, folk and even standup comedy coming from the stage was a welcomed marked difference from what we had been raised to accept as the norm at the annual BloemSkou.
As day turned to night and the amps were turned off, the fires died out and the Atletico Madrid fans wiped their tears, I left the festival reminiscing and being excited for the future of Bloemfontein. It’s come a long way since the alternative was socially banned from the mainstream and the mainstream was too unpalatable to accept. I hope it remains on this course because there’s something about that place that would see me back there any day. While I can’t put my finger on exactly what that is, I can tell you what made Freedom Fest so great and why it is so aptly named.
The New Bloemfontein:
Over the last few years, Bloemfontein began letting go of its conservative culture, began exercising its economic muscle and created an environment rewarding innovation. Great events companies like Envie, deliciously crafty restaurants like No.16 and group activities like Parkrun would have likely succumbed to the ways of the Bloemfontein of old. Today, they seem to thrive in a new Bloemfontein, built on the foundations of those brave enough to push the city into a new era; an era where people are free not to conform to the closed minded ways of the old city but be creative and expressive…where such creativity and expression is encouraged and not condemned.
It’s been great to witness these developments from the outside and felt even better to be at Freedom Fest to confirm them. Whether you’re capable of this nostalgia or one of those gits who makes the joke about driving past Bloem on the way to Cape Town, if you’re into good music, festivals and food, Freedom Fest has set a new local standard on how to spend your Bloemfontein Saturdays.