One of the UK’s best medium sized festivals returned for another scorcher in Upcote Farm over the weekend and there were plenty of highlights to choose from.
Thursday’s lineup was a ‘best of British’ affair, from Nottingham’s own Haggard Cat early on the Cave Stage, all the way up to Frank Turner’s headline show. Haggard Cat took to the stage with all of the swagger of The White Stripes and the two piece certainly did not disappoint, causing one of the first circle pits of the weekend. Another Nottingham band also laid waste to Cheltenham, with Trees regulars Palm Reader playing a short but powerful show on the Neu Stage and demonstrating their well-deserved reputation as a 2000 Trees favourite. Yorkshire nu-metallers Blood Youth also took to the Neu stage, showcasing hits from their brutal new album Starve, whilst both Conjurer and Loathe drew some of the biggest crowds of the weekends over on Jamie Lenman’s Lenmania stage. However the true standout of Thursday was While She Sleeps pulling through the adversity of not having their frontman for their Cave headline set and instead enlisting the help of special guests throughout their set, including Kaya Tarsus of Blood Youth, Griff Dickinson from SHVPES, Cancer Bats frontman Liam Cormier and more. Despite the unfamiliarity of some of the guests with the songs, Sleeps put on an excellent show filled with hits from all five of their albums, and showcased why they are set to headline Brixton Academy in January.
Other standout sets from Thursday included rock breakouts Yonaka, who energised the afternoon crowd with hits from their explosive debut album Don’t Wait ‘Til Tomorrow and beyond. It took for album smash Rockstar for the main stage mosh pits to begin, and by the time 2018’s F.W.T.B came around even guitarist George Edwards was in the pit. Flogging Molly saw out the last of the evening sun on the main stage with their staple set of reliable folk-punk anthems, while former Tribes’ frontman Johnny Lloyd wielded the acoustic guitar to bring the opposite energy to The Forest, performing some of his favourite old Tribes’ songs alongside solo material from his outstanding new album Next Episode Starts in 15 Minutes, from the dreary romanticism of Modern Pornography to the winding retrospect of Forced Therapy. Anticipation grew throughout the day for both Frank Turner’s world-class live show and the heavily-hinted possibility of a secret set, and sure enough both delivered in full force. The former saw the folk-rock king commandeer a high-speed interminable train journey through the hits from across his seven-album discography, from new single Sister Rosetta to the youthful defiance of 2008’s mandolin-driven Photosynthesis. After all the speculation, it did indeed turn out that Camp Turner’s special guest set from ‘Giant Fucking Wasp’ was in fact Hampshire’s finest ‘skinny half-arsed English country singer.’ This past-midnight set was the real highlight for Turner fans, with crowds in their hundreds gathering at the iconic campsite for classic deep cuts, including first ever post-Million Dead solo tune The Real Damage and a rare cover of The Lemonheads’ The Outdoor Type. Whilst chants for Thatcher Fucked the Kids were fended off, the sense of community at this year’s 2000 Trees was at its strongest at Camp Turner in the early hours of Friday.
Friday kicked off on the Cave with grime-metallers Penshui who drew a respectable crowd who enjoyed their specific brand of punk spliced with grime, before Brutus played the main stage with their riffs enthralling the audience. Belgian band Raketkanon drew one of the biggest crowds of the day with their unique style of punk and synths alongside the fact that their lyrics are sung in their own made-up language – and certainly put on one of the most interesting shows of the weekend. This was swiftly followed by another unique act in Angel Du$t, who play hardcore but with an acoustic guitar, and while it is a strange sight to see a mosh pit to an acoustic, it’s difficult to deny that their last album Pretty Buff is one of the catchiest of the past 12 months. Friday’s headline set on The Cave was Canadian hardcore legends Cancer Bats, who put on one of the most blistering shows that Trees has ever seen, from old favourites such as Hail Destroyer and Sabotage, new tracks such as Inside Out, and even finishing up with covering Black Sabbath’s War Pigs. This is a band that can put on an exceptional live show with their eyes closed, but on Friday night they were on all cylinders and not a single soul was standing still. To finish up the night a familiar face returned albeit in a different form with Frank Turner’s side project, the hardcore band Mongol Horde, headlining the Axiom stage, showing off a completely different side of the man who usually leads The Sleeping Souls. Appearing on stage in a brightly sequinned waistcoat, the band proceeded to rattle off tracks from their 2014 self-titled debut, as well as a landmark performance of Million Dead’s Smiling at Strangers on Trains, before announcing that 2000 Trees was the first and last date of their 2019 tour as they launched into album closer Hey Judas to a roaring reception. However that wasn’t the end of the live music for the night, as Thrill Collins played a set to the silent disco crowd that included a UK garage medley, and a ‘History of Gangsta Rap,’ all through the headphones of the audience.
Friday notably saw the takeover of The Axiom by Frank Turner’s original label Xtra Mile Recordings. Sean McGowan saw floods of people heading to the barrier for the Southampton singer-songwriter’s full band set, including an emotional performance of 2015’s Millbrook Road and 2017’s No Show acting as the perfect singalong closer. Jim Lockey & The Solemn Sun took to the stage later in the afternoon, playing a series of high-energy rock jams for a very game crowd, however the highlight (pre-Mongol Horde headliner) for many followers of the London independent label was undoubtedly sub-headliner Skinny Lister. The distinctly English folk-punk six-piece saw more frequent and more raucous mosh pits than many of the hardcore bands playing the same day, and rightfully so. The double bass, acoustic guitars, pounding drums, signature accordion and vocals from Lorna Thomas and Dan Heptinstall never sounded better than in the Gloucestershire fields, a powerful but well-rounded barrage of folk music blasting from the stage and onto the rowdy crowd. Tracks such as Rattle & Roar from new album The Story Is went down exceptionally well with the crowd, however favourites from 2015’s game-changer Down on Deptford Broadway really got people moving – Cathy sent the crowd into chaos whilst closer Six Whiskies was the communal singalong the band can be relied upon providing at all of their live outings.
Mongol Horde’s tongue-in-cheek rendition of The Beatles’ Hey Jude didn’t mark the end of the night for this editor however, as Nottingham’s own George Gadd brought his ‘hits show’ to Camp Turner in a set surely to rival the secret set of the previous night. While acoustic staples Runaway and Not Human sounded as fresh as they do in Rescue Rooms on a Monday night, the undoubted standout moments were Shake A Ghost, performed as a duet with girlfriend Sarah, asking a girl to dance from the stage and getting instantly shut down, and wandering onto the campsite pathway with guitar in hand in an attempt to recruit fans. An assortment of songwriters followed Gadd at Camp Frabbit in what was one of many special nights on the camp stages.
The final day of 2000 Trees was no less intense, with Dangerface waking everyone up with their trademark metalcore early on, before Glasgow’s Lotus Eater began melting faces later on with their incredible riffs, reminding the audience that they came here “to get fucking funky.” Can’t Swim sounded immense with their punky hits, with Fail You Again’s Stranger drawing another massive singalong. The Skints slowed things down a bit on the main stage for a welcome break with their own variety of Ska, before The St Pierre Snake Invasion provided the perfect remedy for anyone who has been missing The Dillinger Escape Plan since they disbanded. However it was the sub-headliners on the main stage who stood out amongst the crowd of hardcore bands, with Every Time I Die playing their iconic sophomore album Hot Damn! in full alongside another half an hour of blistering hardcore. Considering the fact that some of the songs from the 2003 album haven’t been played in over a decade the band sounded absolutely perfect and didn’t miss a single beat with either the album tracks or their newer work. Underwater Bimbos From Outer Space signalled the beginning of the modern ETID set, and the singalong to the opening line “I want to be dead with my friends!” was matched in intensity by the rest of an absolutely legendary show that including one audience member crowdsurfing 59 times! Only a handful of bands could have even attempted to follow a set of that magnitude but The Armed certainly pulled through, with the mysterious band spending absolutely no time on the stage whatsoever but instead causing chaos throughout the crowd wherever they went.
Additional memorable gigs from the final day included a 10:30am slot from Vancouver singer-songwriter Billy the Kid on The Forest stage, who brought the drowsy crowd to life with a rendition of Whitney Houston’s I Wanna Dance With Somebody and closed her set with a powerful performance of 2014’s This Sure As Hell Ain’t My Life to whoops and cheers. Canadian punk rockers Single Mothers brought crowds to The Cave with heavy drums and loud guitars coupled with frontman Andrew Thomson’s quirky dance moves, and closed with a triumphant performance of Negative Qualities album closer Money. Immediately following Single Mothers and within just 50 metres proximity were Aussie punks Dune Rats, who rocked the roof off The Axiom, turning the whole place into a volatile mosh pit. In true Aussie fashion, several members of the crowd saw fit to hold up broken pieces of beer crates, for a reason which continues to elude.
2000 Trees is without a doubt not just one of the UK’s Best Medium Sized Festivals, but among the best the British Isles has to offer. The whole atmosphere is one of friendliness and the organisers consistently put on one of the best lineups of the year for half the price of larger festivals, in addition to being one of the most consumer focussed, utilising innovations such as cashless wristbands. 2000 Trees is a cutting-edge festival not to be slept on.