2000trees' blurb had said that "it's all about finding your new favourite bands", and certainly it's line-up offered enough of the new breaking acts that I've enjoyed watching, to tempt me to go and see if it would live up to that boast.
We picked the right year to make our first visit to 2000trees. Set high on farmland near Cheltenham on the high exposed top of the Cotswolds, the festival has had patchy weather for the past six years, last year being a mudfest by all accounts.
However this, it's seventh year, is wall to wall sunshine, and very hot. Although signposting was limited we managed to find the site, and drove past the drop off point and down to the car park. From there it's a quick walk to wristband exchange and then two choices afforded us. There was a chance to either camp on the back of the large hill above the site, or descend to the campsite in front of the main stage. Whichever way festival goers chose there were central toilet blocks, water points, and a youthful exuberance of a young audience awaiting. Although the one we plump for is the one by the main and Leaf Stages and is also home to Camp Reuben, a campsite dedicated to Reuben (the only headliner to break up before appearing at 2000trees) where their fans camp and which even has it's own busk stop! I realised this was going to be a friendly festival when I saw two young kids helping an old guy put his tent up, and when I realised we were camped next to some of the bands.
The clientele were for the most part on the young side, but there were no marauding groups of out of it youths here. On the contrary despite being allowed to bring your own alcohol into the arena as long as it wasn't glass I didn’t see anyone carting in slabs of the stuff, and often cider or wine boxes appeared to be the popular choices. I was genuinely impressed with the attendees who seemed keen to sample all that the British underground scene has to offer, and were polite, friendly, and ultimately made it a very pleasant weekend.
The Big Lebowski themed bars were also well stocked offering Hayles Farm's Badgers Bottom real cider, a fizzy option, real ales, lagers, and the like, but all from The Cotswold Brewing Company and all rather tasty, and all priced around £4. Of course to accompany the drink there was catering, and all of it delicious, there may have been no spicy Jamican style food, nearly every other caterer I've ever praised in previous reviews, and a few new ones were there. Whilst with a 5,000 capacity there's probably not much need for a huge selection, it didn't feel limited – I mean with early entry, and averaging three square meals a day, priced around a sensible £6.50 mark, there was more choice than I could eat over the festival. They were also well placed to get a cold drink, especially the iced coffee place as the temperatures soared.
The main thing to understand about this festival is that’s it's no frills. Okay it has a fancy dress theme, with enough original DIY costumes to bring a smile to your face, without it being in your face. But the focus is greatly on the music on offer, and it offers a well balanced line-up of interesting non-mainstream acts that are musicians at their core. These all have one thing in common they are making something interesting for your ears, and are clearly passionate about it.
The festival reminds you what festivals are all about, there may be (posh) bell tent camping on offer, and cash machines if you blow all your money on the munchies, but there's no showers, and no feeling you're missing out anything because you aren't attached to some corporate VIP deal. There's no favouritism here for those prepared to pay through the nose, no special treatment, and the bands are all in the crowd with you, happy to chat to you. There's also not a lot of shade, and perhaps it would have been nice to have some somewhere to escape the heat in future years. But then hot summers are so rare, we all sweated together. More so the bands who took to the stages inside the hot tents which didn't even have their sides off, this was proper sweaty mosh pits like the good old days, and clouds of dust from bouncing feet rising to fill the spotlights.
That may sound off putting to some, especially when you add the fact there were no showers, but don't worry there was also grass to sit on at the back, and some even brought fold up chairs to sit in, but not many, and there was no sea of chairs in front of the stages here. Beside the largest tent were picnic benches and seating around a towering sycamore which also provided possibly the only decent amount of shade. There was even a special tap which served cold water all day and under which rudimentary washing could be carried out. Due to the local council campervans are not allowed as the council believes each one should have hard standing and an electric hook-up!
If you got stressed out in the heat, or perhaps upset at your lack of communication with the outside world, there was no signal on my phone all weekend, you could chill with a soothing massage from wandering masseurs.
Anyway as I said this festival is about the music and offers their punters three main choices The outdoor main Stage set at the bottom of the site with an open arena, loos, foodstalls, swingball, bar, and The Games Makers who organised things like water fights and giant Twister. The music offerings here were more mainstream with a wider appeal and played host to festival regulars like headliner Frank Turner (who pops up to perform everywhere), and Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun.
My personal favourite venue was the smaller tented The Cave offering a line-up of heavier hardcore post-rock and metal in a close environment, between these two was the even smaller and less hot tent home to The Leaf Lounge offering your more varied, and often more chilled musical offerings.
Added to these was The Greenhouse, at the top of the hill this smallest tent was home to comedy, acoustic music, label showcases, and DJs, and nearby that was the secret venue. Around the site were also busk stops, stalls and bars which were also home to impromptu jam sessions, and the whole site was home to the silent disco. I've been to silent discos before but nothing like this, the whole site was the venue, you got your headphones for a £10 deposit, and then could wander the site with three venues offering a choice of three DJs each, you could join the party sing and dance along, just watch and laugh, or even go back to your tent and continue to listen to the DJs, inspired and great fun! The headphones lit up green, red, or blue, so you could also see who is being most listened to. My personal favourite was the green (dad rock) channel in The Cave. The festival also had their own Trees FM onsite radio station, although I didn't get a chance to check it out.
I'm struggling to find anything negative to say about this festival, although it was clear that muddy years had washed off the top soil, and in it’s place was a carpet of fist sized rocks, that made ambling rather tricky late at night. Hardly the organisers fault but it did get annoying at times.
As for the music there was a wealth of new rising British talent on offer. This festival only showcases British acts, there’s no foreign imports here, and with a cheap ticket price, and limited capacity I wonder how on earth they can afford to get the range and depth of acts they showcased. There was no filler on the line-up, no indie landfill, and it's clear bands want to roll up here, they obviously want to play more than the desire to be well paid.
The opening early entry bill in the cave for 2000 of us eager beavers, offered a great line-up in the biggest tent. I particularly enjoyed Freeze The Atlantic, The Xcerts, Frank Turner's solo (and better set) was a packed sing along as he played the album 'Love Ire & Song' in full. But for me the highlight was Future Of The Left, the Welsh alt-rockers pulled off a mammoth deranged post-punk showcase, although the crowd had more than halved post-Turner.
On Friday I discovered Cornwall's Crowns (think 'Red Roses' era Pogues), Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun (a festival regular having played every year, and the first choice T-shirt of festival goers, but I'd never seen the folk rocker before), Axes (does what it says on the tin instrumental guitar and bass bouncing), and The Cadbury Sisters (smooth folk harmonies). I'm also happy to see acts like Funeral For A Friend, King Charles, a tight as hell InMe, Emily Barker and the Red Clay Halo, Wot Gorilla?, and Frank Turner again (with a harmonica solo from Beans On Toast). Although Frank is clearly annoyed by the sound issues which held the set up, and scraps songs, before throwing his guitar down as the 11pm curfew comes crashing down.
I thought Sunday's line-up would be more pedestrian, but no. I only realise I've seen Stagecoach before, when their headband wearing keyboard player launches himself off the high stage to bomb the photo pit, and enjoy their humorous slacker-pop-punk. Our country's own answer to Nick Cave - John J Presley makes an excellent opening on the main stage, but I've been tipped to see Bovine, and I'm so glad I do. Crunching riffs, they mix grunge and punk underpinned with a Kyuss style wall of groove. Wow these guys are going to be massive, they could be our own QOTSA, as long as Homme doesn't produce them! Band of the weekend for me, my new favourite band, taking the title from Wet Nuns my previous favourite new band who were also playing, and still offering a fantastic slice of rock and comedy. Woahnows, Gnarwolves, and Maybeshewill completing the strong highlights before my favourite set of the weekend from a terrifically in form Fight Like Apes, with a storming set as good as the one I first saw at Glastonbury in 2008, when they too became my new favourite band.
The three way final night headliners of Mystery Jets, And So I Watch You From Afar, and Stealing Sheep, saw me divide my time, ASIWYFA were as good as ever, but it was the girls from Stealing Sheep which offered the most captivating performance. A special mention should also go to the busking Phat Bollard who proved an entertaining sing along house band over the festival, and the various busk stop and jam bands who popped up all over the place.
2000trees turned out to be a terrific weekend for band watching, one of the best I've had outside the major behemoth that is Reading. Well done for the organisers for putting it together. I don't know how much of the line-up is repeated year on year, but as a free standing event, it offered a great snapshot of where our live music industry is today, away from the pap of commercial acts and pop.
I was starting to become slightly jaded by the big multi-stage festivals that offer no frills and put just the music at their core, yet 2000trees manages to do exactly that, and it feels refreshing. There clearly is a place for festivals that just showcase the music with no distractions, and no gimmicks. The main difference I can think of is the size of those giant events make it more impersonal, and perhaps the hard sell of corporate advertising only adds to that disconnection.
To a certain extent perhaps it's the music they offer that's crucial too. Having spent the weekend immersed in these acts I'm looking again at the smaller festivals which offer all the distractions alongside the acts, and I notice in many cases their line-ups just aren't that high a quality throughout.
If a festival's going to showcase new underground acts, then you have to trust the organisers to put a line-up of depth together, in this case one that appeals to rock/metal fans and in the case of 2000trees it seems that's in good hands. What surprises me is why I've left it so long to make this my first visit.
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