This was my fourth Mieliepop in a row. Every year I have gone with different people and every year I have seen a different festival.
I was introduced in 2014 with no hot showers, rain and cold from a festival still set in October. I had only had my camera for a few months and didn't know what I was doing. With good friends, a diverse music lineup and the most beautiful venue I've ever seen: I knew I would do anything to be back.
The good remained and the bad got better. The festival skipped a year but returned in March 2016 with improved weather and better facilities. I convinced the entertainment editor to organise media access for me to go for the paper I was working at; this time a bit more handy with a camera. I witnessed some of the best performances and took what I still consider to be some of the most beautiful photographs in my career.
Last year I returned with the honor of being hired by the organizer to photograph the festival once again. Armed with a campsite of cool kids and keen to prove myself to him, I told the story of Mieliepop as a lifestyle. A place of sunrises, good tunes, a sky full of stars, a dam full of those cooling off and grounds packed with happy campers.
Finally, 2018. This time under the banner of my agency and with a fellow photographer under it too. I consider myself a veteran but this was something I had only seen in Splashy, Lush or Smoking Dragon. Mieliepop 2018 is a story of struggle and overcoming.
2 full days of rain meant our tents were flooded, the grounds had turned to mud and the roads were so bad that a 6 wheel tractor trying to scrape them fell halfway down the hill. I remember standing on the top of the valley on Friday afternoon where two of our friends had to stop their car because there was no way forward. I saw an organizer climb a metal post looking over the entire grounds in the pouring rain, an image I'll never forget. It was man vs nature, and nature was kicking our ass. Despite all this, I didn't see anyone falter. Poppers trekked through the mud with no fear, some with gumboots and others completely barefoot. They pressed on and jolled at every stage covered in muck and pneumonia. On Saturday the Mieliepop I knew was back and it was a thousand times better because now we knew what life was without it. The sun was out and so were the smiles, liquor and that tractor we almost lost. I shot all day trying to make up for the last day, I saw Moonchild Sanelly to refuel and pushed onward. I climbed the hills on either side multiple times that day but my legs didn't feel it. I danced for hours and I didn't get tired. I watched the stars with Leah. I only slept for three hours that night and I had never felt more alive. It was the best year yet.
Mieliepop Festival is something that has been a personal journey for me. From attendee, to media, to part of the team, to bringing my own team. It's more than a festival, it's more than a place, it's more than music and it's definitely more than the weather. It comes with new friends, with memories, with self-reflection. It's a place to find yourself.
I love it. I'm ready to go back already.
Here's a shot I took of the stars one night:
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