Before this past weekend, the last music festival I attended was the legendary HFStival — sometime around the turn of the millennium in a grimy, beer-sodden stadium in southeast Washington D.C. It was oppressively humid and there were more than 70,000 attendees, mostly suburban kids aged 14 to 25. There was moshing. With the exception of my favorite ska/punk band, Goldfinger, I don’t remember who played.

The Bushfire festival is as far from the HFSTival as a music festival can get, but equally awesome. Bushfire is a laid-back affair, held in an otherworldly creative compound in semi-rural Swaziland called House on Fire. The performers are diverse, as is the audience. I saw my share of stoned teenagers and 20-somethings, but the crowd was also filled with young families, 30- and 40-something development workers, and a smattering of retirees. Accents were primarily South African, American, and Swazi. Skin colors were black, white, and everything in between.

 Night view of the Bushfire stage. I didn’t notice the fire dancer on the roof until I looked back at my photos.

The uber-relaxed Bushfire crowd.

There were a couple of dozen performances over the course of the three-day festival. I only got to see a few of them because my friends’ agenda for our Swazi weekend included much more than just the festival. (I’ll tell you about the other things we did over the next few days.) The acts I did catch were a perfect illustration of Bushfire’s diversity.

On Friday evening we saw Mango Groove, a funky rock band that signifies the end-of-apartheid era for many South Africans. My South African friends were very excited about this performance, and Mango Groove was indeed great. Everyone in the crowd seemed to know words to their songs.

After Mango Groove, we were treated to a collaboration of two country music duos (a duo of duos): Doster and Engle from the United States and Dusty and Stones from Swaziland. You didn’t know that Swazis love country music, did you? Well, they do. I learned this on my fist trip to Swaziland four years ago when Vuli, our driver, played non-stop country for our entire 10-day visit. Anyway, I loved the Doster/Engle-Dusty/Stones duo of duos. They performed in the smaller ampitheatre inside House on Fire.

Doster/Engle-Dusty/Stones finished their set with a cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”, the greatest Rockabilly song of all time. I waded into the melee and did a few do-si-dos. Somehow I managed to take one sharp picture.

Nancy G: a bad-ass Swazi chick with an electric guitar.

The prize for most original performance of the weekend goes to Tonik. Tonik consists of two guys — one plays percussion and various ethnic instruments, and the other plays a keyboard and a laptop. But here’s the most interesting part — Tonik’s gigs are silent. If you walk into the middle of a Tonik performance you won’t hear anything (or hardly anything), until you put on a set of wireless headphones. Then suddenly, voila — you’re at a concert. I have no idea how to describe the music but I really enjoyed it.

Sitting in a crowd of people wearing big dorky headphones is funny. At least I thought so.

I wish I’d been able to capture more candid shots of the Bushfire atmosphere — the funky outfits, the babies asleep on blankets, the face-painting, the yummy food stalls, etc. But time was limited and I refused to let photography interfere with my fun-seeking. It’s difficult to take photos while dancing, drinking Swazi beer, and shopping for crafts. (The Bushfire craft section was fantastic. I could have spent loads of money — I have a weakness for Swazi crafts — but managed to restrain myself and walk away with one handmade brass-and-copper ring, for the reasonable price of R45.)

I’ll just have to go back next year.

This photo appeared in my previous post but I had to include it again. My favorite scene of the weekend: Fans go crazy for South African performer Jeremy Loops as the sun sets behind them in a fiery ball.

Someone asked me if there was an actual bush fire at the Bushfire festival. Unfortunately I didn’t know the answer. Anyone?

Bushfire is sponsored by MTN. One hundred percent of the festival proceeds are donated to charity — primarily to the Young Heroes Swaziland Orphan Support Programme.

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