In a market jam-packed with festivals claiming to offer an alternative to the big-name, corporate-sponsored summer events, the Cotswolds' 2000trees has really held its own. Founded in 2007 by a group of mates who'd grown tired of 'a certain festival beginning with the letter 'R', the 5,000-capacity shindig manages to attract a fiercely loyal crowd and a compelling lineup of (largely) cult British bands every year. Is it really as special as its many devotees claim?
What's immediately striking about 2000trees is just how compact the site is - there's no back-breaking trek from the car park to find a decent camping spot, and no mad rush to get from one stage to another. The entire festival site, in fact, can be crossed in under 15 minutes.Even in such a small space, with four sizeable stages (the Main Stage, The Cave, The Axiom and The Croft), plus the beautiful wooded area that plays host to the stripped-back Forest Sessions, there's always plenty of music to choose from. Don't expect a wide variety of non-musical entertainment, though - apart from a well-attended Silent Disco and the new-for-2015 Silent Cinema, 2000trees really is all about the bands.
For those with Early Entry tickets, the fun kicks off on Thursday, with The Cave, The Croft and The Forest all open for business. An early highlight comes in the form of an enchanting Forest Session from Bristol trio The Cadbury Sisters,, whose introspective folk-pop could not be more suited to this leafy, intimate hideaway. Kingston's Arcane Roots, draw an ample crowd to The Cave, but a few sound glitches mean their intricate blend of anthemic indie and off-kilterpost-hardcore doesn't come across quite as powerfully as it does on record. Headliners The Subways, meanwhile, seem to have hardly changed direction since their 2005 breakthrough LP Young for Eternity, but the crowd certainly aren't complaining, with the band's reliably infectious, scuzzy guitar-pop tunes creating the perfect first-night party atmosphere.
Things get fully underway on Friday, with a face-melting early set from Yorkshire grunge revivalists Allusondrugs clearing everyone's fuzzy heads. Moved from the opening slot on The Cave, pioneers of 'turbo-prog' Cleft do a fantastic job of commanding the Main Stage later in the day, and are clearly chuffed at the rapturous reception. Next up on this stage are Cardiff oddballs Future Of The Left, hailed by NME as 'the UK's most criminally underrated rock band'. The ex-Mclusky (who, incidentally, have partly reformed and headline The Cave on Sunday) and Jarcrew lot's bizarrely brilliant brand of noise-rock goes down a storm on this gloriously sun-drenched afternoon.
Elsewhere, those packing out The Cave are treated to a riotously good fun performance from guitar-bashing upstarts Pulled Apart By Horses that kicks off the evening's action in suitably rip-roaring fashion. There's a palpable excitement in the air before Edinburgh indie stalwarts Idlewild take to the Main Stage, and the legendary five-piece don't disappoint, with a triumphant, crowd-pleasing set that draws heavily from their seminal albums The Remote Part and 100 Broken Windows.
Rounding off Friday's proceedings, though, are Norfolk's Deaf Havana, who echo the thoughts of many 2000trees attendees when they express their 'embarrassment' at headlining over their predecessors. It's a pleasant surprise, then, to find that the band deliver a remarkably mature, polished performance, their Springsteen-inspired third album Old Souls an interesting progression from their earlier emo-tinged pop-punk that sounds particularly impressive filling the arena. This band have proved themselves to be far more than favourites of angst-ridden teens, and the future looks very exciting for them indeed.
Early flockers to the Main Stage on Day 3 witness something that can only be described as magical from Paul Russell of Axes fame, whose new project, Human Pyramids, sees him conduct an eclectic orchestral ensemble and choir with stunning, Polyphonic Spree-esque results. Later, in what emerges as one of the performances of the festival, Aberdeen alt-rockers The Xcerts bring achingly heartfelt, sing-a-long highlights from their stellar latest album There is Only You to the same stage, the sheer joy on the band's faces as they storm through their afternoon set a delight to behold.
Post-rock fans can rejoice today, with Vennart - formerly of much-celebrated Manchester outfit Oceansize – in The Cave showcasing exhilarating material from his debut album The Demon Joke, and Belfast's And So I Watch You From Afar exploding onto the Main Stage with their fascinating combo of otherworldly prog and heavy metal riffs. By the time penultimate act The Skints hit the Main Stage, everyone's sampled enough Badger's Bottom (a rather potent local cider) to want a good dance, so it's lucky that the East Londoners' wonderfully unique ska-dub-punk-reggae fusion is impossible not to shimmy to. We're briefly transported from a field in the heart of the Cotswolds to the sizzling heat of a Jamaican beach - just what the doctor ordered on this rather chilly closing night.
Finally, it's time for the most anticipated band of the weekend and the festival's biggest ever headline booking, Chicago punk heroes Alkaline Trio, to close the show. What a disappointment, then, that their performance is so depressingly paint-by-numbers – the band plod through sluggish renditions of their beloved pop-rock anthems, with frontman Matt Skiba appearing totally uninterested and barely interacting with the crowd (or, indeed, his bandmates) for the majority of the set. With the unfortunate power outage halfway through proceedings only hindering the band's momentum further, this is a headline slot that simply doesn't live up to the excitement surrounding its billing.
2000trees isn't without its issues in need of ironing out – The Forest could really do with more of those lovely-looking hammocks, or at least additional seating areas to allow festival-goers time to recharge between bands in its magnificent surroundings (it's a bit of a bunfight to get anywhere near the existing seating). Then there's the new Silent Cinema, which starts much later than advertised on every occasion and is plagued with so many technical problems that very few people stick with it. A frustrating missed opportunity.
For the most part, though, 2000trees is that rare treat - a festival with a friendly, laid-back atmosphere that doesn't compromise on the quality of music on offer. Let's hope that as its reputation grows, the festival organisers resist the temptation to go the way of so many others and expand the event, and instead maintain the independent, community spirit that keeps its fans coming back year after year.
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