One evening is all it took to get a sense of the 2000 Trees atmosphere. From the aggressive force of Oxygen Thief, sing-alongs with Ben Marwood, to a packed out tent of pure madness with Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip - that’s just Thursday night. Welcome to 2000 Trees!
Winner of the 2013 Grass Roots Festival Award, Trees is a relaxed, varied and brilliant little festival. Held in a few fields at Upcote Farm Cheltenham, Trees offers a legitimate alternative to larger festivals, providing a massive variety of acts over 4 stages and 3 days, for under £100. Yeap, that’s a three day festival, with camping, for the price of a day ticket at Reading! Trees has a totally unique feel and experience, combining the act and stage quality of a big festival with intimate spacing and just 5.000 people. If you’re a BigFest veteran, still sporting wristbands for Reading/Download/Glasto, Trees is a breath of fresh air and clean portaloos which will quite simply seduce you.
It’s tiny, it’s intimate, it’s trusting. From the festival goers to the organizers, that’s the ethos. Dotted around the festival are “Busking stages”, open to anyone to get up and play, allowing up and coming musicians, or just anyone who fancies it, to perform in front of a crowd at a festival. As a halfway between these tiny stages and the main are the Forest Sessions, complete with bales of hay, hammocks and lanterns. The highlight of the small stages was Empire’s solo “secret-session” in the Forest on Friday. The small acoustic set in front of 40 or so people highlighted just how talented and charismatic Joe Green is, with his incredible voice and witty charm stealing the show.
Moving on to the big stages, there were so many stand-out acts that it is difficult to name only a few. Thursdays early bird sets at the Cave stage were consistently outstanding, hosting Oxygen Thief in his loudest form as a full band, the ever humble and incredible Ben Marwood, the brilliant Retrospective Soundtrack players, followed by the ferocious onslaught of Gnarwolves, all leading up to a fantastic performance to a full tent from Dan La Sac vs Scroobius Pip. Thursday evening in itself was enough to fill an entire festivals worth of enjoyment.
Friday, the first full day of Trees also delivered, with many of the highlights again taking place in the Cave. The open nature of Trees allows you to wander around easily, jumping from stage to stage (via your tent for beer), exploring new music from all sorts of genres. It was mid wander that we discovered Turbowolf. Think pure caffeine to the brain, with screaming guitars, driving bass and a a truly awful moustache. Giving one of the most energetic performances of the weekend, lead singer Chris Georgiadis proved himself an excellent showman, engaging the crowd immediately and never letting them go, never letting them stop. Instantly swept up in the wave of hype he created and sang, I jumped and thrashed around for a full 45 minutes of music I had never heard: By far one of the best individual and band performances of the festival. Later Friday evening saw The Bronx headline The Cave in a once again packed-out set. Yet another brilliant performance at the smaller stage, the hour long set was a frantic whirl of people and music, every song inspiring a riot. I lost my shoes, twice. The Bronx was one of the sweatiest, loudest performances of the weekend - but also one of the most including and interactive sets I have seen in a long time.
One set that I must absolutely mention from Friday was an unexpected one. Walking past the bar (Read: tent with beer taps) well after midnight, there seemed to be an extraordinary amount of people crammed in. The reason was Thrill Collins. The skiffle/pop cover band were set up on a tiny stage at one end of the bar, and had succeeded in filling the tent with people. Playing covers of all sorts of songs, including the Only Fools and Horses theme and a 10 minute gangster rap medley, this 3 piece cover band worked the tent into a frenzy, managing to inspire the most crowd surfs I saw all weekend with just an acoustic guitar, double bass and cajon. They were fun, entertaining and just all-round brilliant. One of the most energetic and enjoyable experiences of the weekend, discovered by chance, not even on an established stage. Acts like these define Trees festival.
This was not the only find of the night. On the wander back to the campsite, one man and a guitar was visible on the small, un-amped stage of Camp Turner at around 1 AM. Patrick Craig, Leeds based solo musician played a set on that tiny stage Friday evening that had me grinning the entire time. Patrick’s friendly vibe and fantastic musical capabilities shone through in his songs, in particular Hold My Jacket and a new song Damaged which was both sad and yet hopeful. Patrick’s songwriting, performance and attitude make him a brilliant artist, one of my favorite discoveries of the festival, and definitely someone to check out.
Saturday, the final day, began with the haunting folk sound of the Cadbury Sisters at the Croft, providing a lovely contrast to the onslaught of the heaviness of the day before. Many hungover faces lay on the floor seeking lukewarm beer redemption whilst the three sisters played beautifully to a thoroughly relaxed crowd. Later that day also saw another personal favourite finally walk onto a stage at 2000 Trees: Jamie Lenman. Lenman, former Reuben guitarist and vocalist, appeared on stage at the Cave Saturday evening in his smart attire of waistcoat, shirt and bow tie, handlebar moustache and his entire face painted bright red, for some reason. What followed was to be the heavier side of Lenmans 2013 double album Muscle Memory, with the exception of I Ain’t Your Boy and a cover of Tequila! Although the softer side of the album was missed out at this set, the performance was, in typical Jamie Lenman style, outstanding. The addition of the occasional Reuben song such as Song for Saturday also clearly made many a Reuben fan present very excited and happy, including myself.
Saturday included all kinds of performances across the 2000 Trees site, from busking to main stages. Dave McPherson completed 8 sets in 2 days, playing most stages at Trees, including appearing on stage at the Cave with Jamie Lenman. The main stage played host to Public Service Broadcasting, who set Queens-English radio clips against modern music, a mix resulting in a lively and enjoyable performance, with the atmosphere in the crowd contributing greatly to the overall experience. After an atrocious performance by The Blackout who announced that they “Thought the festival would be a bit shit, so we haven’t got any songs from our new album for you”, Saturday’s main stage headliners Frightened Rabbit immediately brought Trees back to the vibrant, relaxed, humble atmosphere displayed all weekend. As the final act of the festival, Frightened Rabbit’s mix of upbeat anthems and relaxed melodic forays provided the perfect close to an excellent festival, capturing the mood of the crowd and creating one of the best atmospheres seen at the main stage all weekend. However, although the last official act had played, Trees was not over.
This review has mentioned many great performances by all sorts of talented bands and artists, on large and small stages, but my personal highlight of the entire weekend was Camp Turner on Saturday night. The tiny busking stage in the center of the campsite held the best performances of the festival on that night, firstly with the appearance of Barry Dolan of Oxygen Thief with a borrowed guitar, playing his solo material as well as requested covers. What was possibly most endearing about this performance was that a few people felt comfortable enough to just get up and join in with Barry, although those who have ever seen Oxygen Thief will know that keeping rhythm with this guy is challenging to say the least! At the close of his intimate performance, Barry called on fellow Xtra Mile Recordings artist Ben Marwood to follow in his footsteps, and that he did. This was my favourite moment of the entire festival. Marwood’s sheer humbleness is part of what makes him so good. I have never see any other artist look so pleased and surprised when he receives an eruption of applause at the end of each song. The best example of this came during the song Oh My Days following the line ‘and the crowd will cheer me on from fret to fret’, at which point the crowd that had gathered around the tiny stage at Camp Turner exploded with applause and repeated shouts of ‘Marwood! Main stage!’, to which Ben Marwood buried his head in his hands and emerged with the biggest grin on his face. He seems to be made as happy by his fans as they are by his outstanding music.
That is 2000 Trees. A unique and lovely festival that is guaranteed to make you smile for 3 full days. The variety of the acts at Trees almost ensures that there is something for all tastes, as well as being a great place to be introduced to new musician the best way possible, live. In short, forget Reading, 2000 Trees is the British music festival that you really need to experience.