2000 Trees — The Monumental Return
2000 Trees Festival | Upcote Farm, Cheltenham
Encapsulating the magic of a summer festival in gorgeous hues of sun-beaten July, 2000 Trees made its long-awaited return following 3 years put on hold by the pandemic.
Situated in the rolling hills of the Cotswolds, 4 days camped at Upcote Farm soundtracked by some of the freshest acts to escape lockdowns clutches became a life-affirming joyride of friends, beaming smiles and sprawling sunshine.
As I arrive at Cheltenham Spa train station on Thursday 7th July, a long queue is snaking its way around the side of the building. Like usual I’ve completely overpacked, and armed with a backpack twice my size, roll mat, sleeping bag and tent clutched in my hands, I join the queue for the coach. Fans are eager to reach the festival by car we’re soon informed, and the expected journey time of 20 minutes has more than doubled, leaving our coach trapped in traffic on its way to pick us up. An hour ticks by, then another, before finally I’m on the way to my first real festival of the year.
I pitch my tent in the hot humidity, soundtracked by Delaire The Liar’s teeming set across the field. The day’s music has only just begun, but there’s a growing volume of shouts and cheers reminding me what I’m missing. With my accommodation finally upright, I make a beeline for the main stage to catch Irish hip hop trio Kneecap walking out. Their upbeat energy is infectious, with the two frontmen dashing back and forth in front of an eager crowd all soundtracked by a DJ in an Irish flag balaclava. Fast-forward through chants of “paedo” as they take a stab at the English monarchy, and the singling out of crowd members to join a mosh pit, the Gaeilgeoirs explain how the Irish language is dying, and they’re working to keep it alive. Amid jokes about the English and comments on “the fun drugs”, they admit through laughter that this is their first English festival, and probably their last.
Next on my list is the feedback-heavy riot of Haggard Cat, who deliver an impressive collision of noise for a two-piece. It’s a boiling hot summer day and I’m already struggling in the heat, but as the crowd packs into the tent it feels only natural to join them. With a full-frontal performance of hardcore-laced punk, it’s easy to see why the duo are garnering so much attention as a hugely impressive live band.
Much in need of a drink, I make my way over to the forest stage (via a short siesta back at base) and soak up the jangling upbeat guitars of London-based trio cheerbleederz. Despite the busy atmosphere, the crowd are quiet and transfixed as the group deliver a mesmerising show — noting the upcoming release of their debut album 'even in jest' due 27th July. With the trees offering some much needed shade, I stick around the forest to catch fan-favourite Beans on Toast offering up a cosy acoustic performance. Compared to the pre-Covid years, the forest stage has undergone quite the makeover, with a bigger stage allowing for a louder sound without detracting from the intimacy of the woodland setting.
As the night draws in, day one headliners Jimmy Eat World take to the main stage backlit by a dazzling blue and pink lightshow. Opening with the title track of their fifth studio album, Futures, the set is a strange mix that leans more heavily on newer tracks. It’s noticeable that the crowd reaction to songs from Bleed American have a far more intense and heartfelt response, with cries of “salt, sweat, sugar on the asphalt” drowning out the band’s performance as beer cans enter the air and a mosh pit spirals. A welcome break, the stripped back “May Angels Lead You In” is a gorgeous choral interlude as the iconic American rockers continue to captivate, before predictably ending on fan-favourite ‘The Middle’ to exuberant cheers.
With their set coming to a close, I gracefully returned to my tent for a restful night’s sleep — and definitely do not down three redbulls, wreck my throat during Olivia Rodrigo’s “Good4U” during the Silent Disco, and roll into bed at 2 in the morning, No, not I.
Day 2 begins with an early start and a trip down to The Word tent for a 9am yoga session. Stopping off at the shop for a slice of watermelon, I find a spot in the forest to watch The Midland’s S.T. Manville deliver a sombre set, marked by the gentlest rendition of Jimmy Eat World’s ‘The Middle’. Hangovers are evident around me, with the crowd slumped in hammocks or collapsed in front of the stage for a morning rest. With his gentle crooning and beaming smile, the singer admits “I don’t get to play rock festivals, so this is great. I’m really happy to be here”. Hangovers be damned, aren’t we all?
As the morning brightens up, I head inside the Axiom tent to see long-time faves Orchards finally perform their debut album. As they note, it was released just before Covid began which put a stop to their touring plans. Their energy and grinning smiles are infectious, and as a bubble gun adds a shimmering sparkle from the crowd, their fizzing energy has the audience dancing.
Unsure who to see next, I wander between tents, stopping outside The Cave which has bodies spilling out on either side. It’s guitar solo heaven, as Crazy Arm perform their strangely satisfying blend of country punk amid crunchy feedback and excitable yells. As their set draws to a close I find a space at the front of the stage in preparation for the next band to arrive.
Much-anticipated, Heck are finally back in full force after a 5 year break and they’ve got no plans to disappoint. Initial tech issues barely dent the growing suspense, and finally all carnage breaks loose. The group go as wild as their fans, precariously balanced on stacked monitors, guitar solos struck mid-crowdsurf, and they’re quite literally climbing the walls of the tent as the two vocalists ascend up the structure’s centre pole. Security watch on in fear, as a disembodied dummy hand arches up and over the audience while the pair hang hazardously above the riot.
With the day beating on, the relaxing deck chairs of the Word tent are calling and I move into the shade to hear songwriter and poet Freddie Lewis lead the audience through his own personal journey in a touching combination of acoustic tracks and spoken word. Next on my list to see are grime-punk duo Bob Vylan, performing at the festival for the first time. The crowd outside the tent is enviably packed (talk about fan-demand) and at 5’6, even on my tiptoes, I can barely make out the stage above the hundred of heads clustered at the Neu stage. I quickly realise that this might be an act I’m going to miss.
Next up, today’s the day I finally GET the surging hype around hardcore punks Turnstile. From their first song, beer cans are spiralling through the air, security are dashing to the barrier to catch the sea of incoming crowd surfers and there’s an energy unmatched for any other band so far this weekend. With smoke machines firing and what seems like the largest audience of the festival screaming back at them, I get it. After all that hype, Turnstile are very much deserving.
The headliners of the evening feel like an anthemic throwback. As Thrice perform Vheissu in full, the launch into “Image of the Invisible” is shattering. With a crowd smaller than Turnstile or Jimmy Eat World the night before, there still remains a heartfelt dedication at the foot of the stage as fans collide. My teenage brain flashes back to my iPod classic on the bus after school, and I take a breath and leap into the air, skimming over heads and then I’m out of the crowd and running to the forest for my ‘choose your own headliner’ decision of the night. The forest is crammed and writhing with upbeat melodies as I arrive. Small kids beam up at Girli with their ear defenders tightly clutched, and I join a group at the back to dance off my aching feet.
By Day 3 I’m exhausted and manage to oversleep, missing the morning’s yoga session. After a 30 minute queue for a coffee, I dart across the field to see Irish trio Cherym deliver a sparkling set of pop punk anthems. For 11:30am, the tent is impressively full to the brim with the energy to match. With a rainbow flag decorating their amp, the group lead the crowd in cries of wooah and their excitement is palpable. I pop out to grab a quick drink but get sidelined by a familiar voice. Lo and behold as I step into Axiom, the rabid radiance of Panic Shack are just taking to the stage. The group are as upbeat and solid as the last time I caught them.
With down-to-earth, humourous lyricism (a personal favourite being "who's got my lighter. I'm gonna fight ya."), they don't fail to get the crowd chanting. Add in the mannequin poses to accompany the track mannequin man (unsurprisingly about a man paid to be a mannequin), it's a stellar performance from the Welsh five-piece.
On the search for something a bit different, I find a shady spot to sit under the sound desk at the main stage. Dressed in white with black sunglasses, the riveting zeal of Aussie group The Chats are a whirlwind of commotion glinting in the sun as they play through an arsenal of surfer-punk bangers. “This next one’s a bit of a YouTube classic” the frontman laughs, and the crowd’s screams grow louder as they pour out viral-hit “Smoko”.
With their set finishing up, I dash to the Neu stage to see Lauran Hibberd stride out in a brightly lit orange and white jumpsuit. Her fizzing alt-pop works a treat, and she soon has the audience crouched down to the ground before exploding in jumps and laughter as the chorus hits. The only act to ask the all important question, she pauses her set to announce “This is my first time at 2000 Trees… are there 2000 Trees? I’m not about this guestimation”. The audiences cries drown out a clear answer, but I’m fairly sure they’re yelling “more”. More trees? Or do they want more songs? She delivers.
“Are you ready to collide? Are you ready to love?” shout out Bristol natives IDLES as they prepare for a wall of death. I’ve moved to the very back of the crowd, keen to catch a glimpse of the group before I pick my own headliner of the festival. With what seems like the entire campsite rushing towards the main stage, I slip out and make my way to the forest to see if the hype swirling round self-proclaimed ugly-popstar Zand is justified. As they emerge in neon green demon wings flanked by two dancers dressed as dogs, my expectations are exceeded all too easily. The performance goes off, parading across the stage with electrifying zest as the forest rapidly fills.
As I sleepily return to my tent, legs sore and praying I’ve escaped a sunburn, I can hear the silent disco singalong growing louder across the field. It’s the final night, and I’m not one to miss out on a party.
2000 Trees returns on 6 Jul - 9 Jul 2023. Find tickets here.
Illustration: Molly Davies — Zand, Panic Shack, Girli