It’s time to get a little meta-journalistic here. Five years in a row of reviewing 2000trees festival, Upcote Farm’s indie-punk July delight, and the bank of witty folk/punk praise is starting to feel light.
So many good things have been said about this festival by now that it can honestly be a hard one to critique with any degree of originality. Reeling off the strengths of 2000trees can feel like reciting well-trodden ground – the grassroots origin story of six friends launching the event in response to the growing consumerism surrounding UK fests well embedded into festival lore. It’s all been said before and it’s all still true – it’s great value, it’s intimate, it’s friendly, it’s remarkably chill for such a heavy event. The Forest Stage is still one of the best stages of any UK festival, nestled in the woodland and giving the festival’s moniker a small encapsulation of the literal. No, there probably aren’t exactly 2000 trees there. No, I’ve never tried to count – there’s over a hundred bands to watch. Don’t be the one guy at the punk festival counting trees. Nobody wants to drink bags’o’wine with that guy and besides…you’ll miss the forest and all that.
2000trees must be commended for its ability to expand in a barely visible, unobtrusive manner – going from winner of Best Small Festival to Best Medium Sized Festival at the UKFA’s while seeming to have changed very little. There’s little expansions here and there – the busker stages continue to prosper, among the best example of unplugged prosumerism on the festival circuit. Even the slightest shortcomings are quickly addressed – White Russians* featuring on the menu once again to much excitement, after last year where punters reported missing the festival’s signature drink.*
It arguably boasts one of the most static line-ups, year to year, of any UK event: 80% of the line-up are returning acts, some playing here annually or near enough so. The few who are first-timers often proclaim a long held desire to get onto the bill. The same goes for punters – a solid bank of annual attendees and many a debutante here out of piqued curiosity.
Gone are the days when Thursday was a mini-fest for the early birds – as the festival has gently expanded, it’s now a veritable three day event, though the Neu stage hosting a stand-up comedy bill is a nice first-day tradition that remains.
Flogging Molly are one of those left-field sub-headliners who aren’t a ‘typical Trees’ act, but really should be. A festival with such a focus on folk-punk would be remiss if it ignored the Celtic evolution of this sub-genre, and the lauded Irish-Americans do it with such verve and sincerity that even the cynical are hard-pressed not to get up for a dance. ‘Drunken Lullabies’, and ‘If I Ever Leave this World Alive’ are standouts among a glowing set, and Dave King has the air of a beloved Irish uncle who is delighted you dropped by unexpectedly, his stage interaction with wife and bandmate Bridget Regan a joy to watch. More Celtic punk next year, please.
A standout from Thursday was ‘Lenmania’, where the Axiom stage was dedicated for one day to artists curated by long-standing 2000trees favourite Jamie Lenman. He opened the stage with his acoustic act, joined by the stunning vocals of his wife, and rounded up the stage too with his signature gritty rock. In between, we experienced some of the best of both British and American rock – Orchards’ fun-loving math-rock, Loathe’s heavy metal, and Show Me The Body’s eclectic hardcore hip hop punk. If 2000trees continue to bring familiar artists back year upon year, what better way to celebrate their loyalty by dedicating them as a festival curator? More of this in 2020, please.
The opening night is sealed in style by 2000trees most faithful son** Frank Turner and his longtime collaborators The Sleeping Souls. See our full special for an in-depth look at Turner this year. All the Brave Hunters bring an admirably mellow-folk end to the day’s line-up over on Forest.
Friday is a day of scorching heat and frustrating clashes. Let’s get straight to it – for many, today is all about the XTRA mile takeover on the Axiom. The celebrated indie/folk/punk label has long had a foothold here, with acts like Turner, Varley, Marwood and Beans on Toast all being Trees regulars. It was only fitting that they be given an official moment in the sun.
It’s a great festival-within-a-festival, all told. Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly change things up a bit with their brass and slightly poppier sound, while festival favourites Skinny Lister – obligatory grog bottles and sea shanties galore – once again prove their worth as one of the country’s best festival bands. Sean Macgowan’s everyman folk-punk goes down a storm, and Frank Turner’s elusive hardcore side-act Mongol Horde rise to the macro-headline slot with potency, vivacity and a half-gallon of glitter. If the Xtra Mile takeover becomes a recurring feature – and here’s hoping it does – it would be best placed somewhere other than the second smallest stage. During some of the sets, the atmosphere became sardine-like in a way that began to repel rather than attract the intrigued – presumably the last thing Xtra Mile would want.
It’s not all about the Axiom though – Pulled Apart by Horses take to the Main Stage, whilst Gouge Away – solid sludgy basslines and insert-obvious-Pixies-comparison here – and festival favourite Rolo Tomassi keep the Cave crowd going wild. Pointing out the work of female musicians – Gouge Away’s Christina Michelle and Rolo T’s captivating vocalist Eva Spence – at events like 2000trees seems at once a necessity in a world still largely male-dominated – and at once oddly tokenistic, at risk of highlighting performers for their gender when there is already volumes to say about their musicianship. There’s no easy answer – let it just be said that Tomassi are one of the best live acts in the UK right now. Cancer Bats – who it is hard to believe are only just making their trees debut – are another Cave delight, fitting in like longtime festival favourites as they blast out catchy numbers including Beastie Boys and Black Sabbath covers.
Crazy Arm, marking their 11th appearance and 9th year at the festival are used to being a standout by now, and this year is another blinder for them – both their bluesy politico-punk focused Axiom set (‘Tommy Robinsons gone to jail!’ he exclaims between songs) and their intimate set on the acoustic Bridge stage in the early hours – the apogee being interactive confessional number ‘Ain’t Gonna Drink No More’.
You Me at Six close out the Main Stage, with a sizeable crowd for having to battle for punter loyalty with Mongol Horde. 2000trees does have something of a struggle on its hands with finding headliners – the most beloved regulars on the bill often lacking the ticket sales or catalogue to justify a top placement. This can often mean welcoming somewhat more mainstream acts like tonight’s Surrey quintet, who are perhaps a little indie-pretty for some of the clientele, with Killers covers and cries of ‘who’s got their dancing shoes on?’, but with a possessive energy the crowd seems to love, and a commitment to keeping up the crowd-surfing. ‘I love you, you fucking jokers’, Josh Franceschi says towards the end of an admirable headline set.
It’s more than probable that a sizable chunk of Sunshine Frisbee Laser Beam’s crowd are here out of curiosity for the name – if so they are treated to some lively, good humoured pop-punk for their trouble. Over on Main, Muncie Girls have become one of UK folk-punks quietest success stories, and Lande Hekt one of the genres most coolly engaging frontwomen. A beautifully sardonic Jeremy Clarkson tribute, and a spot-on closer with 2016’s misogyny-anthem ‘Respect’ seals it. Buffalo hardcore titans Every Time I Die, whose reputation for high octane shows precedes them put on a commendable Main Stage show – with crowd-surfer Johnny taking to Instagram shortly afterwards with a claim of 59 surfs during the set. And of course, A whose afternoon slot is part nostalgia, part off the wall, Just Eat emblazened commentary, part existential crisis (if this song was big when I was 12, and its now dad-rock….what am I doing with my life? Am I where I should be? What happened to my friends who I used to listen to this in the common room with. Are they all married? Are their kids making fun of the cool stuff they used to be into? They’re not still taking pictures for free gig tickets, right? What am I doing…..ah fuckit, this place does White Russians with chocolate. Party on) Its also Doug’s last gig with the band. Fun Fact – he used to play with McFly.
It wouldn’t be 2000trees without the closing-day costume ceremony, complete with compere’s annual quip about a punter dressed as a clitoris* This year’s winners include a Cool Runnings group costume, and impressive solo champ, Fridge Man. (Fridge Woman? Do fridges have or need gender?)
The St Pierre Snake Invasion, with multiple appearances both here at sister festival ArcTangent, are rapidly becoming among the most talked about acts on the scene, blending a superbly heavy, energetic set with some cracking one liners – taking one look at the surging crowd, frontman Damien Sayell states ‘This warms the cockles of my dead Welsh heart’, before prefacing the last song with, ‘In the words of my late grandmother, let’s get fucked up.’
We couldn’t help but visit The Armed after Big Jeff telling us it was ‘an event… you have to see it.’ There was blinding 180bpm strobes. There was hardcore metal so heavy our ears are still ringing. The lead jumped off the stage in the first minute… and never really returned after that. There was a man covered in grass, croissants thrown at the crowd, and a vocalist who was apparently part of the band but never got on the stage. At one point, a member of the crowd got up on stage and took control, while the lead watched in elation from the photo pit (below). Our words when we walked away sum it up best… ‘what on earth did we just watch?’
The Forest gets a succession of acoustic sets, with an excellent stripped-back Ducking Punches, and Murray McCloud of The Xcerts bringing a mellower take on their much-loved works to the woods – the latter, all denim and Kurt Cobain shades concludes with a wander through the crowd to ‘Best Friends‘, minesweeping any tinnies on offer. There’s something very 2000trees about this moment.
Deaf Havana close the festival, returning for their second headline set at 2000trees and treating fans to ‘Anemophobia’, ‘Holy’, ‘The Past Six Years’ and with an encore of ‘Sinner’. Yet again, they took the crowd by storm – almost too much. A highlight was when singer James Veck-Gilodi was left fumbling for control when the crowd started a giant ‘rowing pit’ between songs, telling them that actually they had a more emotional song planned next on their set list.
So much has been said about 2000trees, and nearly all of it glowing praise. At this point, the best advice for the unenlightened is to simply go. Buy a ticket while they’re still unusually good value. Go hell for leather at the Cave, mellow at the Forest, meander the carousel of busker stages for hidden delights. Have a weird moment at the busker stages when you’re the only person singing along to a Front Bottoms track and realise the performance has unexpectedly become a freakishly awkward duet.*** Grab a White Russian. Get into a circle pit. Fall down. Get picked back up again. Eat a Scotch egg and go back in. Make friends. Go to 2000trees and see what the fuss is about – before enough people cotton on to the hype and it can no longer be called the festival world’s best kept secret.
*I only drink White Russians at 2000trees. Somehow the idea of having one at any time of year seems as wrong as nibbling on a mince pie in mid-June.
**A GIGsoup shout-out to anyone who gets that reference.
***Spoiler alert: his friends couldn’t find him. In keeping with the consistency of 2000trees, its the same punchline every year.
***I regret nothing.