Boise, Idaho is a small town. Its metropolitan area doesn’t even crack 100,000 people. Its city limits span around 60 square miles and its downtown area is around 10 blocks long by seven blocks wide. Yet, Boise’s five-year-old Treefort Music Festival is enormous. It encompasses nine different Forts and although music is the largest, Alefort, Comedyfort, Filmfort, Foodfort, Hackfort, Kidfort, Skatefort, Storyfort, and Yogafort also run concurrently as part of the festival.
Conceived as a way to foster Boise’s growing arts scene, the festival began in 2012 with a strong commitment to local and Pacific Northwest representation. In fact, the festival is so immersed in its community culture that it works with around 600 volunteers, applies for (and often wins) local culture grants like the Cultural Ambassador award, and just last year received its Benefit Corporation certification—the very first music festival to earn such designation. B Corporations, according to their website, “are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.” They’re like, “what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or USDA Organic certification is to milk,” but for businesses.
With more than 400 bands performing and events taking place across 12 urban venues over the course of five days, participating in every Fort is not just a daunting task, but quite literally impossible. We focused our Treefort experience on the music and wrote about some highlights below.
We met the best new band of the fest not at a show, but in a sandwich shop. After an early flight into Boise, we made moves to Bleubird—what’s generally considered the best sandwich shop in Boise. Lucy Dacus and her band walked in behind us wearing some version of “Virginia is for (music) lovers” garb, which plays off the state’s slogan. After some reminiscing about Old Virginny, we made the mental note to catch their set at the Mardi Gras Ballroom later that night.
Dacus and her Richmond-based band opened their set by saying that this was the farthest from home they’d ever been as a band. Dacus sings sweetly and often quietly, not letting the hurt, confusion, and self-depreication in her lyrics translate into emotions she wore while singing them. The cool and respect that her band exuded during the more intimate parts of songs belied the ferocity of their ruckus when those same songs picked up in intensity. Dacus’ debut No Burden dropped back in February.
Ballet Idaho with Thick Business
Treefort officially began on Wednesday with this collaborative performance with members of Ballet Idaho and Boise’s own Thick Business. The retro-sounding rock band set up on stage while the dancers performed modern, interpretive, and theatrical numbers on the ballroom floor.
This young Spanish four-piece has been earning lots of love here in the U.S. But seeing Hinds live is a completely different experience than listening to their debut LP Leave Me Alone. The young women (all between their late teens and early 20s) play with more energy and enthusiasm then conveyed on their record. They’d count off in Spanish and grin at each other and at the packed El Korah Shrine. It was hard not to get excited when they were so clearly jazzed to be there and playing music.
Ural Thomas & The Pain
It’s impossible not to be happy when seeing Ural Thomas & The Pain perform live. He and his backing band of relative youngins perform soul music like it should be heard. If Daptone had discovered the Portland legend, he would have the same recognition as festival headliner Charles Bradley.
Thee Oh Sees
Everyone knows that Thee Oh Sees were going to melt faces. Going in with that understanding, the El Korah Shrine (the home venue for the Freemason-like fraternity, The Shriners) was packed, and packed with people who were ready for stage dives with running starts, upfront mosh pits, and loud noises.
Built to Spill
What’s better than seeing Boise’s biggest band playing a main stage headlining spot in its hometown? Nothing at Treefort, anyway.
This just-for-fun side-project filled the time between Built to Spill and Charles Bradley. Comprised of Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss and Modern Kin’s Drew Grow (whose main band also played Treefort Thursday night), the duo played a brief set of ripping covers.
We voted Charles Bradley our best live act of 2015, but it was my first time seeing The Screaming Eagle of Soul. Bradley defied all expectations—shimmying, tap dancing, and even slow-humping the monitors. Near the end of his set, he took a dozen roses and started tossing them into the enormous, adoring crowd from the photo pit between the stage and the audience.
This rock and roll band from Nashville, Tenn. always puts on a frenetic show. With limited time at the sweaty Neurolux, Diarrhea Planet sped through old tunes and new ones from their upcoming album Turn to Gold, due out in June. Additionally, Jessica Boudreaux guested for a song, whose band Summer Cannibals had Harrison Rapp from Divers on guitar throughout their show. The band closed out their set with screamin’ cover of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck,” featuring vocals from Harry Kagan of Music Band (who performed earlier, as well).
Created by musician Seth Olinsky (whose band Cy Dune played on Sunday), Band Dialogue has been a Treefort mainstay since year one. Olinsky, a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, organizes and leads these huge free form, experimental performances across the country. This year at Treefort, the Band Dialogue included 60 musicians from 20 bands, with Olinsky in the middle of the two cordoned-off blocks of Grove Street holding up chord changes on pieces of paper for everyone to see.
Magic Sword is like the Daft Punk of EDM—masked, mysterious, a bit kitschy, but still intriguing. The Seattle duo was supposed to play on the tiny Radio Boise Campfire Stage (in a tent at the other side of the Main Stage area), but that just wouldn’t do. Instead, Magic Sword rolled up on a platform truck (supposedly named Joule the Art Car), performing behind LED lights in the shapes of crystals while Gertie the Galactic Arachnid and her dragonfly friends (part of Treefort’s noted performance art) danced their way through the crowd.
La Misa Negra
Believe it or not, Boise has the largest community of Basque-Americans in the country. The Basque Market, Basque Museum and Cultural Center, Basque restaurant Leku Ona, and the Basque Center all stand within a couple-block radius. So when Oakland-based La Misa Negra got down at the Basque Center the sound fit the setting. The eight-piece integrates elements of Heartland brass, Colombian cumbia, and Gogol Bordello-style “Gypsy punk.” With her sashaying, jumping, screaming, and cooing, frontwoman Diana Trujillo proved she is a force in music today.
It was only appropriate that Trevor Powers played his last show as Youth Lagoon to his hometown Boise crowd. The entire front line of fans was crying by the end of the solo encore performance of “17.”
This Seattle pop-punk trio played a loud, fast set of self-described, “two-minute” tunes to a bouncing audience at the Shrine. But when we stood next to Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch over by stage left (granted, his band was playing next), we felt validated in our choices of how to close out Treefort 2016.
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