Check out Glenn’s post on the history of Oudtshoorn!
I have been to a lot of Oudtshoorn KKNK festivals. Usually working to make a little cash, I’ve stood in the heat, getting pasted with dust and sweat. Selling clothes or jewelry, handing out pamphlets, or in one ill-advised venture, showing customers the wonders of a new hair-removal invention. It didn’t work.
Now, I am here as a customer, strolling serenely through the stalls. Unaffected by the dust and sweat, because the bulk of that is reserved for the workers (don’t ask me how it works – nature).
There’s lots to see! Even if I have seen most of it before, it retains this odd sense of excitement. That festival market atmosphere.
I try tasters of everything. Chocolate fudge, always a winner. Sugar nuts and honey and pesto. Mexican chili, South African chili, Oudtshoorn chili…
At one time I felt too uncomfortable to accept tasters, even when they were being waved under my nose. With no intention to buy, is it acceptable to accept these tasty tasters? Sorry, I won’t do that again. But yes! I’ve decided it’s just fine. You may change your mind and buy the product – that’s the whole point – but you needn’t. Just smile, nod, say ‘ooh tasty!’ and move on. They’ll be offering to someone else in a second, and no worse off for it.
Besides, I know from first-hand experience that it is far worse to offer to dozens of people and get passed by and flat-out ignored, than to have something to do, talking up the product, and not make a sale.
The great stuff about this festival
There are lots of really great things about the Kunstefees (the short-form for the Klein Karoo Nationale Kunstefees). It’s not all market-stores and chilies!
While it’s mostly Afrikaans, it caters to a lot of interests. There’s some great music, talented theatre performances, and really incredible art. These are the very best parts of the KKNK.
The Shows and Performances
There are plenty of arts offerings in the Kunstefees. I usually go to the free ones, like this ‘Riemfasmaak’ dance held in the street. These enthusiastic, brightly colored dancers are great fun to watch!
A great thing about this show, at least for me, is that everyone forms a thick circle around the performance. This provides a great opportunity to people-watch. The crowd’s reactions to this sometimes rowdy dance are almost as entertaining as the dance itself.
There are also big concerts, where everyone sits or dances on the grass, and food stalls and beer tents cater to the crowd. This year was my first time going to one of the nightly shows, and it was incredible.
Sometimes I do forget how vibrant and unique the Afrikaans rock scene is. It’s so alive!
There are also tiny R20 shows in pegged-off 20-seater spots, where two-man shows perform. The best performance I’ve ever watched was in one of these. There were only 9 people watching, and the play, narrated in Afrikaans by one man, was performed in silence by another.
It was called Klara Maas se hart is gebreek (Klara Maas’ heart is broken), and told the respective stories of a teardrop, an individual sperm, and a matador. How strange, that it would be so beautiful.
The Unique Oudtshoorn Nightlife
Oudtshoorn’s nightlife is about as small-town as it gets, with a few small, kind-of dodgy clubs with cheap drinks and the same kind-of bad music every week, and a DJ who flatly refuses to change his mix.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great nights in these clubs! It’s all about the crowd and who you come with. And sometimes, the music’s not half bad. Once or twice, we ended up on the bird-dung ridden roof of the library, watching the small-town nightlife from above (that’s usually one drunk shouting at some passers-by).
Anyway… in the Kunstefees the nightlife gets spruced up a bit!
There are rock gigs and Afrikaans crooners, comedy shows and Shakespearian plays. Lots of cool things to see! You walk around town, stopping at the outdoor bars for a drink and enjoying the vibe. And there really is a great vibe, at least over the weekend.
Every young person in town is outside, doing the same thing, there’s music from all directions competing for the soundscape, and good food smells are wafting about. This is my favorite part of the festival! Just watch your bag. Pick-pockets dart about too.
It’s especially fun because, as women in South Africa, we can’t usually walk around at night. Here, it feels safe. As long as you stick to the well-lit areas.
And of course, the Art
The art is always great to see. Artists I’ve seen since I was 8 are still around. And new work is being exposed to the curious crowd. Very few have the money to buy, but if they make just a few sales they’ll get by.
This year though, on the festival’s 25th anniversary, an uncommon art form has popped up! A communal one. Over three hundred community members crocheted and knitted colorful bits and pieces, ostriches, and butterflies.
Schools and old-age homes sat and crocheted, which I think is just the best. And then they yarn-bombed the town. Trees and poles, fences, gates and one bicycle got covered in fabric!
I walked through town with my mom, who was involved in the project and proudly pointed out all the sneaky displays of enthusiasm. We stood at her project, and ladies stopped and had their photo taken with it.
She could tell them that this Kunstefees was called the ReWOLusie (meaning ReWOOLusion), and they were super impressed. We didn’t mention that it was my mum’s working they were pointing out the details of. But it was a very proud moment.