It is rare that a festival tagline actually applies to the festival itself. They are often just corporate jargon to sell more tickets, but with Treefort Music Fest, "Treefort Is For Everyone," they really mean it. Last week, I spent five and a half days in Boise, Idaho for the music festival, which takes over the downtown for concerts, yoga, talks about music, tech, history and politics, comedy, skateboarding, art, drag film, food, beer, wine, cider and more.
From Wednesday, September 22 to Sunday, September 26 there was something for everyone. It is an all ages festival, which often makes people in their late 20s and 30s groan, but this felt different. It felt wholesome. People in their 30’s mixed with college age kids and toddlers and people in their 60s and 70s without an issue. Wholesome may seem lame to some, but it felt nice to be out seeing music again without overwhelming crowds of drunk folks spilling beer all over you. Seeing kids about 10 years old jam out to Wajatta (Reggie Watts & John Tejada) at a pretty full Knitting Factory was something everyone enjoyed. Seeing an older gentleman with one of the most impressive mustaches I will ever see rocking out to Succubass at close to 2am at Adelman gave me hope that I may have the energy to keep partying like that some day.
Boise is nestled in next to mountains to the North and East, which the people of the city often go mountain biking and hiking, something I did one day as well. You can get some incredible views of the city and valley beyond even just from the foothills below the mountain peaks. The weather was impeccable all week with highs sometimes getting into the mid-80s with dry heat and sunny (lovely for me used to big time humidity) and getting down into the 60s at night. It did drizzle a little bit the first night.
Many aspects of the festival were concentrated in certain buildings or areas, like talks were largely held at the Boise Centre, films at BCT and tasting for beers, ciders etc at Alefort. Me, being a first timer to Boise, tried to take the opportunity to see what the city had to offer, like the amazing French fries, holy damn. Treefort felt like a celebration of Boise as much as it was about music, getting people to explore other cultural landmarks, go to record shops and dine out at the many restaurants in downtown.
Gathering groups of people together under the current COVID conditions in Idaho was a challenge. All attendees had to either show proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test within 48 hours before, which got them a wristband. In addition to that, masking was required for indoor shows and asked pretty strongly for outdoor shows. The percentage of people wearing masks, even those who had drinks in hands, was vastly higher than at shows I have been to in New York. There was a communal feeling of looking out for each other. That aspect of community was articulated not just by organizers, but also by numerous artists who expressed their thanks for those who came and those artists were often playing their first shows in nearly two years.
I felt at home in this community on Sunday after Arsenal throttled Tottenham in the North London Derby, running into at least four different people with Arsenal jerseys with the joy of watching your team smash their rivals that morning.
There were dogs as well at the festival for the outdoor spaces.
It was music that really took over the town for the discovery of downtown Boise. Treefort takes over the existing music venues in the city like Neurolux, The Olympic, El Korah Shrine, The Shredder and Knitting Factory, but also adds music to at least a dozen other venues indoors and outdoors. Sometimes, it can feel a little awkward with places that are lovely, but the venue isn’t designed for music, like at KIN, a restaurant with an outdoor space where the stage is facing sideways that hosted bands throughout the week and served great drinks and Korean food.
Treefort also set up three outdoor stages, Radioland, The Hideout and the Main Stage in a concentrated area near food trucks, vendors, a few art installations, Alefort and the check in for tickets / COVID check. Streets were shut down to create this area and keep things safe for attendees. The main stage was where one could see the stars of the lineup, though this isn’t a festival designed for stars.
Instead of going through day by day in a dizzying attempt to recap everything as I ran across downtown Boise, bouncing from one venue to the next often with caffeine and maybe a small amount of alcohol rushing through my system, I am going to go through some venues and artists that stood out later in this piece.
As previously mentioned, Treefort took over the existing venues in downtown Boise and also “created” some new ones from event spaces that don’t normally hold concerts. Exploring these various places, indoors and outdoors, was a treat to see the music culture of the city. There was the punk and hardcore venue The Shredder, which had posters of gigs from the 90’s with some rather large bands before they got big. A fancy looking Brewery was turned into a place for hard rock shows with people moshing next to others sitting, sipping their craft beers. Neurolux is a venue with a strong pedigree, holding a few hundred people if you pack them in and some very cheap beer. KIN, which I mentioned earlier, has a lovely slopped grass area that was great to sit on, while sipping a beer and if you wanted, eating some Korean noodles.
The city has a block dedicated to its Basque community and one of the buildings, the Basque Center, hosted events during the week in a wide-open space with a tall roof that could serve many different types of events. One of the outdoor stages, The Hideout, was a tucked away next to a bar and between two other buildings, making it feel cozy with a variety of rock bands for hours each day. El Khora Shrine was always dark and probably one of the largest of the venues, but it still felt intimate, hosting the likes of Mdor Moctar and Arooj Aftab. The Linen Building was another event space that was wide, but the crowd could get very close to the stage, which made it really intimate and rock friendly for the likes of TORRES.
Adelman was probably the most unique of the venues. It was a large house that when you went upstairs, it felt like a mansion party with two DJs playing in different rooms and a bar in between. You could get different types of music in each room that held 50 or so people with colorful red and gold wallpaper, chandeliers, curtains and ornate ceilings. It was a place you walk into thinking you certainly aren’t at a music festival anymore.
Also if you are in town, check out their rad record store Record Exchange.
Over the course of five days, hundreds of musicians played across Boise. Trying to see them all would have been literally impossible, especially on my own. There was a lot of great music that I happened upon, wandering from venue to venue like Nutrients at KIN, Succubass rocking Adelman two nights in a row or Garcia Peoples at El Korah before Mdou Moctar. Of all the artists that were revered by other artists, Moctor and Built To Spill got the most shout outs. But to give a better idea of who played, I am also going to run down a few more specifically and these are in no order.
1. Japanese Breakfast
One of the “biggest” artists on bill, Japanese Breakfast closed out the main stage on Thursday night with one of best the sets of the festival and one of my favorite shows I have seen this year. Her energy and positivity was infectious, as the band ripped through songs from their new album Jubilee – a record about joy and the need to embrace it always. The colorful stage design magnified the experience with her large white robe. It was their first headlining festival gig thus far and everywhere I looked people were smiling, even through their masks. Friends were hugging friends. It was all joy – pure jubilee.
2. Mdou Moctar
Later that night on Thursday Mdou Moctar played El Korah Shrine until after 1am with people well into their 60s staying well up past my bed time. The four musicians, and especially Mahamadou Souleymane, showed the most impressive musicianship I saw at the entire festival. There is no way someone with that much swag on stage should be shredding that hard. Souleymane would go on incredible, psychedelic five-minute guitar solos that weaved through everything you thought a guitar could do and more, all in the Tuareg style. If you want to see masterful musicianship, go see Mdou Moctar.
John Tejada and Reggie Watts brought the party to the Knitting Factory on Friday night and it was for all ages. It got quite crowded in there, but the stars of the show, not withstanding Tejada and dad-jean sporting Reggie Watts, were a pair of eight to 10 year old kids who were grooving harder than just about anyone. Towards the end, Watts invited several people on stage who had dressed up for the festival in unique attire like goggles or ski helmets to dance and some were damn good at dancing -- one of them being a very good breakdancer. They curated a party, let-it-all-loose, atmosphere in a giant exhale of what has been a rough 18 months.
Auragraph was one of my artists I picked out before going and he delivered. In a somewhat sparse Kitting Factory setting around dinner time, the synthwave producer worked away diligently on various trigger pads for a smooth and danceable set. One dude near me said fuck the shoes and got after it.
5. East Forest
East Forest was in the Sanctuary, a small, carpeted venue that hosted some of the more chill and acoustic sets. When I arrived he was playing music on a synth and a piano to a crowd of people spread out and largely lying down. The light was low and there were a few pillows distributed amongst those in their state of meditative bliss. After a long Saturday, I arrived there thinking I could relax and then maybe go back out. I was so wrong, nearly falling into one of the most peaceful sleeps possible before it ended. Once he finally ended the show, it took people a little while to come back to the real world and then everyone slowly made their way out.
6. Arooj Aftab
Arooj Aftab performed at the El Korah Shrine, sitting in low light on stage, playing to a crowd of people all ages and seemingly all sizes. Backed by an acoustic guitar and a harpist, her singing ethereal made the atmosphere. It was smooth and mellow for an entrancing performance where time disappeared and eventually the set just ended. It was damn near beautiful.
7. Gilligan Moss
Gilligan Moss were another artist at the Kitting Factory who crushed it. With plenty of room on the dancefloor, it was their first show in a long time, a common theme for many of the performers, as they brought their indie dance to Boise. It was fun and felt like summer was still very much alive during their set during that weekend as the temperatures got up into the mid-80s with loads of sunshine.
Possibly the most charismatic performer I saw at Treefort, North Carolina’s Boulevards felt like a funk and soul heartbeat for the festival. He was one of the many dual performers at Treefort and I caught him at Neurolux, sweating like Patrick Ewing almost immediately. The visuals at Neurolux were fascinating, there people mixed coloring agents with oils and water, then swirling them around in large bowls under cameras close in then projected behind the artist. It was simple, yet really smart.