Rooted In All Of The Right Ideals: A 2000trees Experience
Main Image Credit: Ben Morse Photography
I hadn't realized that I was curious about where 2000trees Festival derived its name from until I arrived. Thankfully, I met a man called Phil (who also went by the name of Stu) on Thursday evening who cleared things up for me. Phil/Stu mentioned that eleven years ago, when 2000trees first opened its doors to the public, it only allocated tickets for two-thousand of them, with the intention of keeping prices low and the quality of music high. I told Phil/Stu then, that they should be changing their name to 15000trees in 2018. The independent festival has grown significantly since its debut in 2007 and is now the only festival that Phil/Stu decides to attend during the British summer months. He likes the casual nature of the fest; how friendly everybody is; how good the bands are, and how clean it is. My 2017 visit marked my first year at the festival, but by Thursday evening I ended up feeling the same way.
I met Phil/Stu during a Dinosaur Pile-Up set at the end of my first day, but arrived at Upcote Farm, Gloucestershire - where the festival is held annually - at 3 pm, leaving myself just enough to time to hastily pitch a tent and catch Roam to kick off the three-day weekend. It turned out to be a weekend littered with brief Oasis covers, and the Eastbourne-based band was the first to contribute. A short sing along to “Wonderwall” was a feature of the band's set after guitarist Sam Veness was peer-pressured into the position of playing the chords in between tracks such as “Deadweight” and ‘All The Same” - both of which encouraged two of the weekends earliest of many circle pits.
Elsewhere, Black Foxxes were representing cathartic British rock, and the emotionally weighted nature of the band's songs didn't prevent a pit opening up during their set either. As frontman Mark Holley poured his soul out on stage, the audience reciprocated with enthusiasm. The set was another 2017 highlight for Black Foxxes as choice songs from debut record I'm Not Well sounded huge over at the Axiom Stage. Ending with the title track from that record, there was a triumphant air to the band's finale in light of its melancholic self-dissection. Black Foxxes are currently riding a wave of their own making, and there was further evidence to support this surge at the band's acoustic set, the first Forest Session of the weekend I was able to attend. Hidden amidst the trees, the Forest Stage offered a level of ambiance not normally found at a bustling festival. With multicolored bunting strung up between the trees, there was a sense of magic permeating proceedings prior to Holley’s appearance, the resulting music and the feeling of wonder it stirred in listeners a product of the intimate setting.
The tranquility of that session was a stark contrast to events over in the heart of the festival, where Kent hardcore crew Feed The Rhino delivered a hair-raising set. The band's legendary live status was on full display as bodies flailed and riffs rained down on the audience, half of whom weren't quite ready for that level of heaviness. If an acoustic Black Foxxes set was calm waves washing against the shore, Feed The Rhino were a tsunami, uncompromising in their intent to lay waste to the festival on its first day. Frontman Lee Tobin finished things crowd surfing and dripping with sweat - just as many in the audience were. It was a warm day both inside and outside of the tents as 2000trees came to life in the sunlight. Seeking out the tents was on occasion also a case of seeking out the shade, though the day cooled in time for the likes of Young Guns and Mallory Knox, two bands who found a fledgling home in the late-noughties alternative scene, and who are now both enjoying the fruits of their youthful efforts. For the former, it was an electric set of old and new material, frontman Gustav Wood enjoying the occasion, taking a moment to dabble in politics when he dedicated “Living In A Dream Is So Easy” to current British Prime Minister Theresa May - to rapturous applause.
Given the uncertain state of the nation, it was little surprise that 2000trees carried a sharp political edge, from the banners displaying Labour Party allegiances, to the chants of “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” that could be heard ringing out regularly across the fields - one such instance coming during Mallory Knox’s headline set. The band laughed it off and kept things neutral, their one-hour slot offering lashings of healthy nostalgia instead thanks to the likes of older tracks “Lighthouse,” “Death Rattle” and “Beggars.” The Cambridge five-piece had earned their headline slot, and owned it also, the epitome of young British rockers breaking the big-time and doing so in style. Their hit-filled setlist seemed a celebration of their ascendancy, and they ended the first day of the festival on a high.
My Friday began on a far mellower note, in the heart of the forest with a Non Canon acoustic set, the festival line-up seemingly designed to give a listener something soft to ease them into another busy day. Canon was cut from the same cloth as many other Xtra Mile Recordings alumni (many of whom were also playing the festival), and his set typified the mentality of the label, who for fourteen years have supported the most sincere of singer-songwriters. The label's frequent presence at the festival is a perfect fit, and stumbling across an artist like Canon was a way to guarantee a harmonious half hour, artist and audience united beneath the canopy. For those in the crowd hungover, Canon ensured they left feeling a little bit more alive as highlight selection “A Life In Emerald” was a cozy narrative to kick-off the day. “I’ve been here ten times now, anybody else?” Canon asked. “Just me? Fuck you then, I win” he jokes, laughter stirred amongst the sleepy crowd slowly coming around.
I contemplated the idea of ten more years at 2000trees as I wandered over to the Neu Stage, the tent dedicated to smaller bands not yet perhaps well-known enough to play some of the more significant stages. It was here that I caught Wallflower after having wanted to catch them for a while. The London-based band were a joy to watch live, their larger-than-life brand of emotive rock carrying a biting intensity. Drummer Harley Clifton was particularly impressive, every crash of the snare seemingly essential to the spirit of the band's performance. After a period of extensive touring and reputation-building, a dynamic 2000trees set only added to the band’s building momentum. Full-blooded, expressive and passionate, Wallflower is destined for big things, every second of their set a statement of intent, from the slow-build implosion of “fourthirtyone” to anthemic recent single “Splintered” - taken from upcoming EP Where It Fell Apart.
Following Wallflower, pop-rock upstarts Vukovi have also been enjoying a surge in popularity in the last year and, after an extensive soundcheck, the band showed just why they’re the next big thing in British rock. Their energy was unrelenting and infectious as they powered through a blockbuster set, frontwoman Janine Shilstone spending the majority of it at the barrier - plucking phones from audience members and snapping selfies mid-song. I couldn’t help but be impressed by the punch Vukovi packed, feeling the same way about Employed To Serve a little later in the day, a group of artists whose swing carried a far greater impact. One of the heaviest bands on the billing, the Holy Roar Records signees go above and beyond to make their mark despite bringing in a slightly smaller crowd than I’d expected. Regardless, it’s crushing in severity, guitarist Sammy Urwin descending into the audience to participate in the chaos his band had stirred up amidst those watching.
On the same stage, two hours later, Deaf Havana appeared a little less enthusiastic, playing a setlist chosen by fans on Facebook. Frontman James Veck-Gilodi seemed reluctant to play old material, getting “Friends Like These” out of the way early and altered - “if we’ve got to play it, we’re going to change it,” he remarks.
After an uneasy start, things improved significantly, the brothers Veck-Gilodi joking around on stage in-between more recent tracks such as the sing-along splendor of “22” and “Mildred.” Perhaps as a way to avoid playing 2009 track “Nicotine And Alcohol Saved My Life,” the band played Oasis’ “Cigarettes and Alcohol” instead, and the choice seemed a good one as all watching joined in to bounce during the chorus.
In seeing out Deaf Havana’s set, I missed the opening ten minutes of Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes and found myself regretting it immediately on arrival at the main stage. Ever since his early days in hardcore pioneers Gallows, Carter has crafted a reputation for himself as one of the genre's most charismatic frontmen, and his gigs often end up as full blown spectacles of showmanship. Nobody does it better, and Carter’s set on the main stage solidified his status as the best live performer in the U.K. Be it standing aloft on the hands of helpful audience members or prancing about the stage, Carter was a performer you couldn't tear your eyes from for a second just for fear of missing something. Very few frontmen have the audacity to command a crowd as he does, regularly stopping the show to help someone recover a phone, and even halting “Devil Inside Me” to make his way into the crowd and address an altercation taking place.
All of this followed a circle pit during “Paradise” which he stretched a good hundred meters from the stage, uprooting those sat in camping chairs and sending them scurrying for safer ground. For “Wild Flowers” he asked for female-only crowd surfers, and united spectators beforehand with a rallying call to make all gigs safe spaces for the women. It was an important touch in a riotous set, the vocalist using his platform well, and overall his set was a masterpiece to behold. Looking like the living embodiment of rock and roll, Carter ended the set triumphantly with a venomous rendition of “I Hate You,” bringing all attendees together to express their anger in a loving setting. It was nothing short of brilliant, Carter and The Rattlesnakes kings basking in the madness of it all.
Philadelphia’s The Wonder Years were only ever going to seem a little tame in comparison, but the Philadelphia outfit were a little more lethargic than one would expect from a band of their pop-punk pedigree. “We haven't played a show since February, this is a hell of a way to shake off the rust,” frontman Dan ‘Soupy’ Campbell remarks after the well received “There, There.” Although on good form, the band sounded a little rusty, lacking the dynamism their shows usually possess. Standing near the front, I found that I didn't mind a great deal, caught up in the songs which soundtracked my teenage years, bouncing along happily to the likes of “Coffee Eyes” - which had returned to the band's live show by fan request. Ending things anthemic with “Came Out Swinging,” The Wonder Years marked a three-day return to the UK with a strong start, even if not at their best.
Saturday began as Friday had, with another Xtra Mile artist, Ben Marwood, a man genuinely humbled as he took to the stage to find a full forest glade waiting on his arrival. A 2000trees veteran, but one unused to such an early gig, Marwood worked his way through a career-spanning set, his sparse guitar playing and imperfect voice carrying a vulnerability sparking 10 AM tranquility amongst those watching. Also likeably humourous between tracks, Marwood, perhaps unknowingly, was the ideal way to wake up to the day - “Bury Me In The Pantheon” softly sweet while “Sing Along” was charming beneath the canopy. Despite an audience of perhaps two hundred, you could have heard a branch snap for the majority of his set - just as it should have been.
My Saturday afternoon passed in a montage of great rock bands and press excursions, but I returned to the fray to catch Gnarwolves, one of the few bands I opted to see on the main stage, preferring the intimacy of the tents and forest. The Brighton trio were well worth the sunburn risk, storming through their slot with bristling punk bravado, proving to be nothing but a good time for all in the process. Bassist Charlie Piper had an especially good time and was treated to a birthday cake midway through proceedings, the icing on the cake which was the band’s set. Only slightly sunburnt, I then sought out the shelter of the shade again for Rolo Tomassi, who brought the heat in a far different regard, heavy and technical - sounding strikingly similar to their on-record selves. It was a sign of the kind of polish audiences have come to expect from the band, who’ve consistently delivered both live and in the studio throughout their career. Fresh out of the studio for the festival, Rolo Tomassi’s set included two new songs, both of which were an onslaught of screamed vocals and thrashing riffs. Able to both stun with their ferocity and mesmerize with their mellower moments, the band went through the motions with acute power, the respite of “Opalescent” a firm contrast to the fittingly-named “Sharp Knives.” Closing out with the expansive soundscapes of “All That Has Gone Before,” Rolo Tomassi left an air of wonder hanging over the crowd, the majority of them basking in the often beautiful brutality of it all.
During the following downtime between sets, as I often had across the weekend, I found myself content to simply wander the site, noting the atmosphere and festivities. 2000trees was, and is, a festival for everybody. Walking from tent to tent I frequently passed children playing football on the grass, families seeking out slim segments of shade, married couples on camper chairs caught up on the edges of the churning crowds. During an excellent Aaron West and the Roaring Twenties (Dan Campbell’s side project) set, I passed two painters, recreating the scene in real time as Campbell gave them cause to frequently take a brief break from their work. Assimilating amidst the trees, these various backgrounds all interacted as if close friends, everybody at the festival up for a quick chat and a handshake. If I had acquired a pound for every sudden tattoo conversation I had over the course of my stay then I could probably buy a 2018 ticket, them now being on sale. The lack of consistent wifi and the nonexistent phone signal at the festival encouraged these conversations. Each had an air of finality to it, though there was every chance I would bump into that same person who also had a Death Cab For Cutie tattoo at another point in my weekend. 2000trees, despite its growing popularity, maintains a small festival feel - familiar faces cropping up often amidst the crowds.
Each of these chance encounters ended with an inquiry as to who the person was most excited to check out over the course of the weekend. Nine times out of ten I received the same answer - The Menzingers. I often answered in kind. As such, Saturday belonged to The Menzingers, a buzz of anticipation spanning from the early afternoon into the late evening, the band playing The Cave stage at 8 pm on the dot. Save to say, those eager to see the band were rewarded for their patience. The Menzingers were, and are, a band who can do no wrong. Having warmed up earlier in the day with a wistfully nostalgic acoustic set in the forest, the band emerged in the evening to a full tent and proceeded to raise it from its tethered foundations. Spanning some of the standout selections from the band's last three records, throwing in “The Shakes” (taken from a split with The Bouncing Souls), it was a set every bit as anthemic and rousing as the Philly punks are able to be, passing in a blur of bouncing bodies and fevered singalongs. The Menzingers know that they’ve reached a position where they can play any track from any of their last three records and have it go down a storm - such is the current level of love for the band. Even the band seem a little surprised at the response, the likes of closing tracks “Gates,” “Lookers,” and “In Remission” bringing about the loudest responses of the long weekend.
It felt very much like a headline set - and almost was - though that honor went to black metal outfit Oathbreaker, who delivered in kind after a lengthy soundcheck. Transitioning from the eerily atmospheric “10:56” to the hellish intensity of “Second Son Of R,” the band started strong and continued so as they closed festivities at the Axiom Stage. Frail vocalist Caro Tanghe wailed and screamed into her microphone like a woman possessed, long hair covering her face as the rest of the band thrashed about her, exorcising their demons in ferocious fashion. Loosened up during The Menzingers, I was subsequently pummelled into the ground by Oathbreaker, left to stumble onwards in awe afterward. Gloriously dark, mercilessly heavy, and with segments of soft beauty scattered throughout the band's songs, Oathbreaker remain a force to be reckoned with, their set a cataclysmic close to the festivals larger stages.
I ended my 2000trees experience acoustically, making one last foray into the forest to watch Kevin Devine, the lingering heat of the day keeping the cold at bay. Throwing a few Elliott Smith covers into his setlist, Devine was stripped back and sincere, a quaint and calming culmination of events, a movie soundtrack ending to a cinematic weekend. It felt a lot like an ending, credits rolling on 2000trees as Devine strummed his guitar so that it was barely audible in the hush of the late evening, his songs flickering and poignant. He finished with Instigator finale “I Was Alive Back Then,” a song with a hard hitting titular refrain, those gathered beneath the bunting encouraged to sing the line back to him. Walking back to my tent for one final night of interrupted sleep, I found Devine’s words resonating in a way which I'm still unsure how to feel about two days later. As the clouds cleared to reveal a full moon over the fields I found myself wondering that - thirty years down the line - perhaps I might look back on 2000trees with that similar potent nostalgia.
The way in which my long weekend panned out certainly ensures that it will be fixed in my memory for many years, and that's a credit to the bands, the attendees, the staff, and everyone involved with the festival. I'm a sentimental soul, and there's plenty at the festival to satiate a similar level of sentimentality in others. I find myself having experienced a truly beautiful full days, surrounded by beautiful people and good music, and I hope to add to my first experience of the festival with much more. If I look back in thirty years on one festival from my early-20s, it'll be 2000trees, and I shall look back on it with nothing but fondness.
Photos (except main) by Craig Barker for Bullet Music