Xtra Mile at 2000trees Festival:
An American('s) Story
by Valerie Gritsch
- 11/08/14 -
Festival season is almost over, sadly. But let's reminisce on how good the best festival of every summer was this year with a newbie's take on it - our Val did her first 2000trees, and basically wants to live there.
Being an American there are just some UK things you don’t get. Like, why is it “pudding” when you are actually having cake for dessert? Why can’t you have waffles for breakfast? Why does the barista at Starbucks stare at me weird when I try to order an iced tea?
But one thing that is hard to get is the whole festival experience. Like, yeah okay, it seems fun but what’s the big deal? I live in New York City, and we don’t really have festivals on farms that you camp at. We don’t really have farms, so we use what we do have which are public parks or parking lots ("I'LL LOOK BACK ON ALLLLLL THIS SELF RESPECT AND FOOLISH PRIDE AND LAUGH AT MYSELLLLLLLF".....ahem, sorry, not sure what happened there, please continue - Brad) for sports complexes. This makes the three-to-four day festival experience a little more tricky: you must find a hotel, or a friend who lives near the site who you can crash with; you need to organize a way back and forth from the festival each day; and when the headliner of the day ends, it's over and you have to leave the area.
I have been a fan of Xtra Mile bands for a few years so I’ve seen the festival name 2000trees pop up a bunch and I’ve watched internet friends of mine attend year after year. In early 2014, I resolved to go to 2000trees myself and see what all the fuss was about, since it was apparently one of the best festivals ever.
A true city girl, I have never camped in my life and I’ve never spent extended time in a field so it was already set to be an interesting time. However, the draw of seeing tonnes of Xtra Mile Recordings artists I never (or rarely) get to see was a big one. I dragged along my best friend from NYC - who I have successfully destroyed and then rebuilt as a mega XMR fan - so I’d have someone with me who’d “get it” the way I did.
We rocked up to Upcote Farms on a sunny Thursday afternoon and were eager yet unsure of what to expect. And then the music started.
The first band we wanted to see was Oxygen Thief. The first, and only, time I had seen Barry Dolan (for that is his real name) was last summer when he put on a gig for me in Bristol called 'Valfest'. He played a solo acoustic set with Ben Marwood and The Retrospective Soundtrack Players who, as fate would have it, were also playing Thursday night at 2000trees. This time though Oxygen Thief was melting faces full-band - or “Rocksygen Thief" - style. They played nearly every song I wanted to hear, including the anthem 'Too Many Trees' which was written about...well, it's obvious isn't it? My friend remarked at one point that based on that song, if 2000trees were just one day longer, Barry probably wouldn’t have survived the festival.
Next up were The Retrospective Soundtrack Players, a band I’ve had the immense pleasure of seeing twice before, both on these shores. They played some Cool Hand Luke and Catcher In The Rye songs, but the highlight had to be the new material. One new song in particular ended with the lyric “In the end, no man is poor who has friends” (from the cinematic classic, It's A Wonderful Life), being repeated over and over. As this part started, Oxygen Thief and Ben Marwood invaded the stage and joined in the singing and dancing along to this classic line. It was a beautiful moment of XMR love and the heart of this mildly cynical New Yorker grew two sizes too big.
With The RSP’s set done, it was time for Marwood. The tent got considerably more crowded in anticipation and one fan even had a sign that said “Ben Marwood Mainstage”. Chants for “MAAAARRWOOOOOOOD” and “MAAAAINSTAAAAAGE” erupted as he was setting up, and continued whenever there was a moment of silence throughout his set. His set was equally packed with jams, songs that everyone in that tent loved and screamed along to, made even more special with The RSP coming back out on stage to perform fan favorites 'Singalong' and 'The District Sleeps Alone Tonight' together.
This was particularly special for my friend and I, because we adore these bands back home in America but unfortunately not a lot of our local friends understand why. To be in a place where we were surrounded by people who understood how wonderful this music was, and loved it as much as we did, was incredible. We didn’t have to explain who Ben or Barry or The RSPs were - everyone already knew and enthusiastically screamed with us throughout each set.
The stage of the evening, The Cave, was closed out by Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip - an act I never would have known about if they hadn’t opened for Frank Turner at Wembley two years ago. Sensing a connection? Every part of my weekend was somehow connected to Xtra Mile, which was surprising but made it feel so familiar. After the festival ended officially for Thursday, we swung by a busking stage which was hosted by Under The Bridge and The Ruckus. Here we got to see another set from Ben Marwood - who covered the Decemberists and Weezer - and Oxygen Thief, who covered Outkast, MIA, and did a mashup of Elvis and Rage Against The Machine.
Originally, the Friday of 2000trees was sadly lacking in the XMR department. At least until Jim Lockey agreed to do a secret set after the festival ended that night. I saw a few bands who were fun during the day, but all I could think about was what would happen after. Jim’s set was in a hidden area in the woods called Room No. 7 and it was packed with about 200 people. Members of the band were in the audience, next to friends and long time fans. Jim played songs from Atlases and Death, and everyone sung and clapped and stomped along. There was so much love in that space for those songs, and that band. The set ended with Jim performing 'Boat Song' in the middle of the crowd, in almost complete darkness (what passed for a stage was the only thing that had proper lights around it). It was, basically, magic. Again, no one back home in NYC would understand why I wanted to cry at the end of that set. I was so fortunate to be there.
The last day of 2000trees had more proper sets from XMR bands - namely Jamie Lenman and Crazy Arm, two bands I think I’d never get to see live back home. Early on in the day I actually got to meet Mr Lenman right after he had his face painted bright red (!!), and he even complimented (and complemented?) me on my stylish Xtra Mile Recordings tote bag. I also met Darren of Crazy Arm who was wandering around the field near the Croft stage with Emily Barker, who would be joining the band on stage later that evening.
Confession: as an American, it’s hard to be a Reuben fan, no matter how much you want to be. They never made it over here and everything I’ve heard has been years after the band ended. The songs aren’t on Spotify or iTunes or Amazon, and they’re very hard to track down and get hold of. Because of this I’ve always assumed that Jamie would never come and tour in America doing his solo stuff either, which has proven true so far. But seeing Jamie Lenman at 2000trees would have been my highest highlight if Jim Lockey didn’t crash the festival with his secret set. It was so great to not only hear Jamie’s solo stuff but also hear a few Reuben songs! My friend and I were practically weeping as we sang along, holding onto one another, completely amazed that we were there hearing and seeing it all live.
After Jamie’s wonderful set, we hiked back across the site for Crazy Arm, who were the only XMR band (officially) on the bill to not play inside The Cave, but instead they were headlining The Croft. The field around the tent was packed with people dancing, standing, sitting, laying down, some singing along and others just content to listen and soak up the music and atmosphere. It was a high energy set, that included Crazy Arm covering Emily Barker’s song 'Fields Of June' (originally recorded with Frank Turner on vocals too). At the climax of this beautiful camaraderie between band and crowd, Emily ended up joining us by crowd surfing. Perfection.
At the end of the evening, as Frightened Rabbit ended and silent discos started, I wandered over to Camp Turner - a group of Frank Turner fans who were all camping together. They had a little busking stage set up where Oxygen Thief and Ben Marwood had decided to play even more sets, which was like heaven for me! They did plenty of covers and lots of their own "hits", and the dense crowd stood all around them singing at the top of our lungs. We were so loud you could hardly hear Barry or Ben but that didn’t matter, what mattered is that we were all there, singing together.
For my last adventure at 2000trees, we swung over to a different busking stage that was being hosted by Addistock. We ended our night and festival seeing Felix Hagan, who opened for Frank Turner last August in Hatfield, and The Quiet Quiet Band, who frequently play with Ben Marwood and are featured on XMHC Vol.5: Smokin’ (which you might want to investigate here and here).
Before the weekend started I was excited at the thought of just seeing these bands I liked and seeing my friends. When the weekend was over, I wanted to cry and didn’t want it to end. The bubble of 2000trees is so important. Your phone doesn’t work there, it’s a tiny festival so you see your friends frequently and make new ones quickly, everyone is so welcoming and kind and it's awesome. The attitude and atmosphere of both fans and bands was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before and I’m not sure I ever will again. That’s why before we even left the festival site my friend and I concluded that the only obvious option was to come back for 2000trees 2015. Hope to see you there and to share a sing along with you.
BEN MARWOOD FOR MAINSTAGE!
Perhaps, after all that love, you should consider going next year. Just a thought. Visit the 2000trees official site now and then for some updates and nostalgia. Also, let us know what you thought of the festival, and especially the XMR contingent. What other XMR bands have you seen at festivals this summer? What XMR bands would you LIKE to see at fests next year? Why not let those festivals know? Give us some festival chat at the usual Facebook and Twitter places.