‘Which festival is it?’
‘Two thousand. Trees’
‘Are there 2000 trees there?’
‘Probably not exactly. But there are trees.’
‘What music is it?’
‘Uh….. kind of punk, and hardcore. And some folky stuff. Its super chill’
‘But you said it was a punk festival?’
‘Yeah. It’s a super chill punk festival. With some other stuff’
Seemingly every pre-2000 trees conversation with the unenlightened.
Despite a twelve year existence and a fair whack of awards, with well under 10,000 capacity and rarely heard of outside the scene, 2000trees is still not really a household name festival, and one suspects that the regulars are keen for it to stay that way. Upcote Farm’s July jolly can often feel like one of the festival world’s best kept secrets – and with both punters and artists returning again and again.
After a dozen years, the formula is pretty well set by now – a reduced program on Thursday for the early birds then two days of heavy riffs, sore eardrums, White Russians and mellow acoustic sets at the Forest stage (likely one of the best individual stages of any UK fest). The overwhelming sense felt when arriving at 2000 trees is one of familiarity – familiar bands, familiar stalls, familiar faces.
A few things are new, though – in an unusually technological move for such an independent event, the festival has opted to go cashless this year, with every purchase made by scanning a chip on the punters wristband. It works surprisingly well, though whether this could carry through to the larger festivals is another matter.
Two dark shadows loom over this years Trees. The first is one of outrage and mockery – as punters revel in the woods, Donald Trump makes his first official visit to the UK. This is marked in many sets, emboldened in many mocking tributes.
The second spectre is a more prominent and sombre one – the tragic passing of Frightened Rabbit frontman Scott Hutchison last month was felt throughout the music world, and nowhere is the wound deeper than at 2000trees, a festival Hutchison headlined in its first year and returned to multiple times, scheduled to headline this year’s event.
Nearly every setlist features a dedication to Hutchison, with many acts offering a Frightened Rabbit cover in tribute – plus of course the dedicated Camp Frabbit busker stage and the Forest stage Scott Hutchison tribute. While there is undoubtedly grief in the air, the overarching mood is one of celebration of Hutchison’s legacy, reflecting on his accomplishments and character and generally raising a can to one of the UK’s most talented songwriters.
Thursday kicks off with great energy from Arcane Roots and Marmozets on the Main stage, while Jonah Matranga kicks off the Trump-bashing over at the Forest stage (the American musicians are especially keen to exhibit their hostility, unsurprisingly).
Crazy Arm are a sublime late addition to the Forest stage – their rustic, bluesy vibe is a nice change which sees the usually sedate woodland crowd swiftly rise to their feet. Signature banger ‘Song of Choice’, lyrically updated to include the political enemy du jour (Trump, obvs) and a superb cover of Frightened Rabbit’s ‘Wish I Was Sober’ are among the highlights.
Thursday closes in style with a headline set from post-hardcore titans At the Drive In, who prove, busting out big numbers ‘Arcarsenal’ and ‘InValid Litter Department’, exactly why they hold such prestige within their sub-genre. ‘One Armed Scissor’, with chants ‘Get Away! Get Away!’ reverberating through the site, closes the night in style. Musically, they’re a more than worthy headliner, no doubt, though the lack of any crowd interaction and finishing 10 minutes ahead of time with no encore does detract somewhat. The late night entertainment need is met with Thrill Collins keeping the Forest crowd going till the early hours, while the first acts are laid out on the busker stages – highlights include a solo acoustic set from Jake of Leeds outfit Jake and the Jellyfish.
As Friday arrives with ominous clouds, the festival proper begins – Lady Bird entertain the afternoon crowd with a deft blend of cockney swagger and ska punk, while Phoxjaw (who helpfully spell it out for the crowd and note-takers) treat the Cave-goers to heavy riffs and beautifully sludgy interludes. Nervus’ melodic sound sees the modest Neu stage its biggest crowd yet, followed by No Violets
The Scott Hutchison tribute on the Forest stage is a low key affair, with three covers interspersed with light hearted recollections of the man himself. Sure, some might have preferred a big, bombastic Main Stage tribute, but there’s something touching in the simplicity here. In an almost darkly comic moment of fallacy, shortly after the tribute comes the only rain of the weekend. The Dirty Nil battle the subsequent small crowd admirably, while Jamie Lenman packs the Forest to the edges with covers of Queen and the sublimely ridiculous festival tribute, ‘2000 trees’ which is given many a chorus throughout the remainder of the weekend.
Northern Irish quartet And So I Watch You From Afar hit the Main Stage next for what has to be one of the better sets of the weekend. Swirls and eddies of neat riffs, epic inflatable banana fights and an epic closer in ‘Big Things DO Remarkable’. The boys will top the bill at ArcTanGent next month – which may well cement them as a headline act to reckon with. It would certainly work here.
Touche Amore hit the Cave for one of the heaviest sets the weekend has seen – grinding drums, caterwauling pits and a sweat-bathed crowd who eat up every damn moment. Next up is Mallory Knox, a band whose future was only recently in jeopardy – but Sam Douglas has stepped into the role of frontman with aplomb, the old hits still have their pop-metal energy and the new ones go down a treat as well – the Knox aren’t going anywhere. Creeper finish off the day at the Cave, providing a highly entertaining hour of bouncy punk, piano interludes and sing-a-long choruses.
Twin Atlantic – whose headline set this weekend is their second at the festival in just two years, emerge to the baying Main Stage crowd to space-rock sounds with a cry of ‘Let’s take it up a level, motherfuckers!’. It’s a top-notch headline set, and an energetic, Hawaiian shirted Sam McTrusty emerges as MVP of the day, riling up the crowd and comically butting heads with a Deadpool in the crowd. ‘No Sleep’ and ‘Brothers and Sisters’ are big hits, the former supposedly acting as a closing number. But nobody in the crowd is fooled, staying rooted to their spots for the expected but excellent encore of ‘Heart and Soul’.
Saturday sees a return to the sunny weather, and a packed line-up. Imperial Leisure’s bouncy ska vibe is a welcome change in tone and an excellently placed set, providing the sunny afternoon Main Stage crowd an opportunity to skank their half-cut and sunburned hearts out.
Over on the Main Stage, the mood turns towards earthy folk-rock as 2000trees stalwart Beans on Toast delivers an afternoon set of his signature drunk-folk, with classics, ‘MDMA Amazing’ and ‘War on War’ blended with new material and non-sequiters about open-top portaloos, followed by an outstanding, if uncharacteristically serious Will Varley, who lays out a mellow selection including ‘The Man who Fell to Earth’ and a sing-a-long rendition of ‘Seize the Night’.
Skinny Lister have, over the last five years, proved themselves as a gem of the folk-punk scene and quite possibly the quintessential festival band – todays set is no exception, with, ‘Wanted’ and ‘Rolling Over’ providing the requisite rock shanties, and a pleasant mellow interlude in ‘What Can I Say’.
Finally, Enter Shikari take to the main stage – entrusted with zero clash from the sub-stages. Its unquestionably a solid headline set, packed with punchy choruses, dazzling light installations and even a marriage proposal (though not entirely clear at the time, it has been gathered the answer was yes) You can’t fault them for technical ability or showmanship, and the crowd seem far beyond sated. But, for a few, there’s something not quite right with an EDM-heavy headliner at an earthy, unshowoff-y place like Trees, many a face in the crowd reads, ‘When the hell did I take a wrong turn and end up at fucking Creamfields?’
There is still entertainment to be had, as the final night busker stages are opened up – Irish musician Enda McCallen opens impressively with a set including covers of Tom Petty and the evenings first Frightened Rabbit tribute, before the remaining stages follow suit – highlights include ‘Get Out’ and ‘Wish I Was Sober’ covers on the Frabbit stage, along with original tracks, and Sean McGowans take on ‘Dirty Old Town’. The busker stages, while not new to the festival, proved a shining highlight this year, many a punter forgoing the traditional Silent Disco in favour of a carousel around the five mini-stages.
A dozen years in, and 2000trees continues to show seemingly no weakness. Yes, in spite of its grassroots origins, it has got a little bigger and a tiny bit more corporate, but never in a detrimental way. And sure, the relentless number of returning acts mean year-to-year the line-up can seem a little samey – though for some punters that’s likely an asset rather than a hindrance. In all though, 2000trees remains one of the friendliest, most easily navigable and enjoyable events on the festival calendar.