Sometimes the impossible happens. My shambolic five-piece rock band, The Near Misses, somehow got onto the bill at what is perhaps the country’s most famous outdoor music festival: Oppikoppi. This was puzzling because anybody who has ever seen us play will know that we are, without a doubt, the worst band in Joburg.
Still, none of us was complaining. This was our time to shine. So while we upped our practice schedule from one to 1.5 evenings a week, I set about organising transport to whisk me from Northcliff to Northam. Leaving things to the last minute meant that I ended up procuring perhaps the least rock ’n roll car ever built.
The Toyota Prius arrived a few days before we left. It had plastic hubcaps and burgundy paint. It was the most inoffensive machine I had ever received on test. Probably the most uncool, too, despite attempts by Toyota to sex up the styling. But hey, if the Prius was good enough for Larry David, the co-creator of Seinfeld, then it was good enough for the drummer of the country’s most reviled band.
Besides, I soon found out that what it lacked in groupie power it more than made up for in practicality. After popping the boot of that weirdly shaped rear I discovered a generous amount of stowage space. I was able stash my cymbals, cymbal stands and bass drum pedal. I could also squeeze in a borrowed tent (two person — a bit optimistic in retrospect), camping chair plus an inflatable air mattress. This left the rear bench free for bags of snacks and the most vital component of the Oppikoppi camping inventory: an old Persian carpet to prevent those thorns from puncturing your air mattress. Nobody enjoys waking up on the cold ground, cramped and hungover.
So with the Burgundy Beast filled to capacity we all set off early on Friday morning. In a somewhat relaxed convoy. Which suited the Prius because it is a car that prefers not to be rushed. And in fact rushing defeats the purpose of the hybrid drive system that’s made this car so (in)famous. Lock into a steady rhythm, anticipate, tread smoothly on the pedals and you’ll find that what you lack in raw pace you make up in economy. Boosted by an electric motor, the 1.8-litre petrol engine proved something of a fossil fuel teetotaler. By the time I arrived at the Oppikoppi gates about 210km later, I was averaging 3.9l/100km. Incredible. As too was the ride quality. The combination of a softly sprung suspension with small, high-profile tyres meant the Prius pretty much tore the teeth out of all the scabby rural blacktop. Even the dirt roads left it unfussed.
Which is more than could be said for our band. Late for the sound check. Various instruments and components left back at the campsite. Our bassist taking an early interest in alcohol. It was turning into the usual dog and pony set. Yet somehow we got our shit together and played what was, in hindsight, a reasonably good show.
There were one or two mistakes — always a given at a Near Misses gig — but they were quickly forgotten once our frontman stripped down to his underpants. From the sweaty sanctity of my drum kit I watched the madness unfold. Men squirmed uncomfortably. Shrieking women pointed in unison. Sunglassed faces twisted in disbelief. Who the hell agreed to put these people on a stage? And why?
An hour later we were back in the campsite wondering what to do with ourselves. The build-up. The practice. The weeks of online marketing that failed to get us more than four extra Facebook likes. We were all sagging into post-performance depression. I fell into my camping chair. What next? I watched a youth chug five litres of beer through a crude contraption held above his head. People cheered. Another guy, sunburnt and swaying in an intoxicated funk, weaved his way up the road. He then collapsed into an electric fence.
I looked at the Prius; a vestige of sanctity in this increasingly unhinged place. There and then I decided to bolt. God knows, an outdoor music festival is no place to be if you’re not in the mood.
So in 20 minutes I was far from the madding crowd, rolling back towards Joburg in Japanese comfort. Heated leather seats. An excellent sound system. And a fuel gauge that seemed not to budge — a sight that warms the heart of any struggling musician. The Toyota Prius: in many ways totally the wrong car to take to Oppikoppi, but for me, just so right. – Thomas Falkiner
Fast Facts: Toyota Prius
Engine: 1798cc four cylinder petrol + hybrid synergy drive
Power: 72kW at 5200rpm + 53kW
Torque: 142Nm at 3600rpm + 163Nm
0-100km/h: 10.6 seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 180km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 4.4l/100km (achieved)
CO2: 87g/km (claimed)
Price: From R446400