You did it again. Every year the same. Seduction then abandonment. The endless hours spent exploring your sound… learning to love it… unraveling its secrets. What did it mean? You reminded me of that child-like desire for discovery — a primal curiosity I had forgotten needed nurturing. But now as the weeks have passed, you have also reminded me of the inevitability of loss. Just like that post-birthday anti-epiphany that the world no longer revolves around you, I have blissed out in your week-long wonder with passions enflamed now left waiting… with you yet another year away. I impatiently await your return, subsiding on fanciful tales told to friends of a festival that arrives at the beginning of spring. I can still find traces of you in the city’s thick musical bloodstream and it gives me calm for a time, but I am a leftover lover haunted by doubts… what if you return changed, turned into another big city parade.. Or worse… what if I can no longer get that week off work?
Treefort Music Fest is special. Some would say it is capable of inspiring the cheesiest love letters. This 2018 iteration was no exception in being exceptional. Poetry, comedy, community, tech, beverages, munchies, mmmmusic. Treefort has scoured the realm of aesthetics and curated a 5-day getaway where you can choose your own adventure through a playground of condensed culture.
These are some of my highlights of the festival, but also some of my revelations, my worries, and my musings on why Treefort deserves a sacred place in our hearts. Rewind your mind with me a bit as we go back into the wiles of that week’s wild ride.
But first, I want to give a little special shout-out to the artist that was the cherry-on-the-top of my Treefort: Rituals of Mine. Lead singer Terra Lopez is an artist’s artist, working as a publicist, as label-head of Bitchwave, as an art gallery social-activist with THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE, but most importantly as singer and producer of my favorite band of the festival. I love the experimentation of her multi-genre productions that range from footwork rhythms, trap hi-hats, and trip-hop minimalism while being accompanied by the hardcore percussive grooves of drummer, Adam Pierce. This music matched with her piercing voice makes you want to weep, scratch your head, and lose yourself in a fit of dancing. It is dark, and passionate, but I think the true beauty of her creativity is in the ritualistic offering of herself on stage. Each song is employed as a device for her renewed self-expression. This sort of songwriting enables Terra to get on stage with a refreshed sense of purpose, free of that repetitive recitation of popular singles. It is a tool that allows her current emotions to be uncovered regardless of how old the song is; a treasure that the audience can certainly sense. In each song we are hypnotically entranced into an emotional catharsis that feels personally prescribed, a power nearly matching Kate Tempest’s storm-clearing performance of last year. This is a phenomenon of creativity and aesthetic experience that I feel is reflected in the Treefort ethos as a whole; a concept I will re-visit.
Treefort provides the full works for geeks, yogis, film lovers, and more but I’m deep-down a music sucker, just as Treefort is at its core a music festival. My highlights, therefore, gravitate around music. So, let’s hit the rest of them sweet sweet highlights.
In the early week, I made the odd decision to enter a church for an ungodly good performance by Jherek Bischoff and Mirah. Through their use of the Boise Philharmonic String Quartet, a combination of contemporary compositional style and folk flavor rang holy within the cathedral ceiling. This musicality was matched in a much more experimental way later that day with Kelly Lee Owens. Hazy pop songs evolved into ambient techno bangers that lured even the most indie-leaning Neurolux listener into a foot-pounding rave. We were blessed that each subsequent night ended with a proper neurotic dance floor salutation to the day. I got bouncy with Matthew Dear and his playful avant-dance grooves; I got bendy-knees with Mad Zach’s low-end intensity; and I sweat-stained the crown-stage for the Rituals of Mine at-capacity closing set.
Remarkably there was a festival of its own going on in the backwater channels of freefort day parties (A festival so awesome you don’t even need a wristband to Treefort). The intimacy of these shows were made memorable with the soft haze of sleep-deprived delirium and day drinking. At Woodland Empire, I swooned with soft-singing Rosie Tucker and felt haunted by Sun Blood Stories. Then caught myself in a proud rowdiness of call and responses with hip-hopper Myke Bogan. He played multiple times throughout the weekend, culminating at the Knitting Factory where hip-hop got a nice Saturday night feature. Kweku Collins enchanted us with a refreshingly new take on Chicago rap. Nnamdi Ogbonnaya hit Neurolux with a storm of neatly instrumented, nearly post-rock, singing hip-hop. This was a type of genre-blending I pray to see more of in the world.
I was also taken aback by Haley Heynderickx and her humble stage presence yet tight talent. Her solo records were brought to life by a band of stellar musicians. Anyone there could recognize magic, particularly the trombone player. At the Boise Contemporary Theater, Eleanor Murray softly introduced each song in a seemingly nerve-cracked voice. Yet, as soon as the song began, her voice transformed and captured the room. In that same venue, probably my second favorite set of the weekend occurred with Yoni Wolf. He is a renowned indie idol whose lyricism has driven its way into the heads of many youths, especially mine. He performed last year with his band Why? but this year we had the immense pleasure of an intimate solo performance. A set that was half piano ballad and half rap, Yoni wrapped us in the allure of his one-of-a-kind cadence that perfectly represented the experimental indie flavor of Treefort Music Fest.
Now to reflect a bit… what is it that makes Treefort so gosh darn awesome? First, let’s look at some of the common complaints that I came across throughout the week. I think these expose an important element that preserves Treefort’s ideal conditions for flourishing.
Complaint #1: I don’t know any of the music.
Response #1: Well that’s kind of the point. Discovery is its main motive and its not just music. [proceed to list off forts for alternative enjoyment other than music]
Complaint #2: I spend half of my time waiting in lines.
Response #2: Have you ever been outside of Boise? Have you ever queued for water or the bathrooms or food or anything at a camping festival? Did you plan ahead and look at the line-length feature in the Treefort app? That’s a pretty cool feature.
Complaint #3: It’s too expensive
Response #3: You realize there are over 460 bands playing for 5 days and a list of forts for alternative enjoyment other than music? C’mon, if you actually planned ahead, the cost of a ticket would be equivalent to maybe 3 nights out at a bar or restaurant. [slaps a fool]
So, what do these complaints have in common? They all tie into the first complaint- the obscurity of the lineup. Sure, there are those people that bought a ticket just to see George Clinton or Andrew W. K. but the relative lacking amount of mainstream artists on the bill leads many people to feel that the festival is not worth their time standing in lines or their money. But that’s okay! Treefort already thrives. Obscurity acts as a quiet gatekeeper of quality.
The relatively unknown army of 460 bands encourages the true music lover to attend and to be surrounded in an atmosphere composed almost exclusively of other music and culture lovers. What good company it is to be lounging in the underground lair of the Shriners having a conversation with a guitarist from Denver, a drummer from Portland, a graffiti artist from the North End, and a podcaster from LA. The crowd of Treefort shows are often just as talented as the bands on stage.
Another trademark of Treefort that enables its awesomeness is the audience participation. As a festival attendee, make the most of your week whether it be mimosas and poetry, yoga in an ambient sound bath, building a chatbot, or perusing the impressive Treefort Gallery. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the amount of choice, but this threshold of responsibility for the Treeforter to work at appreciating the festival, is held in deep contrast to other streamlined festivals that spoon-feed you the hottest hits of the year in a linear lineup.
Which brings me to my singular concern and then my primary praise of the festival. Like I’ve said before, Treefort has the word ‘discovery’ tattooed on its forehead; its multi-fort offerings make it comparable to a mini SXSW in its early prime. This territory gives me worry. It is a high amount of responsibility to consistently provide new and relevant music each year that is just ahead of the cultural curve while also providing the tech, food, ale, yoga, stories, films, and comedy. It isn’t uncommon for festivals across the country to devolve as their fan base becomes more demanding of convenience and mainstream.
But that has certainly not happened thus far. Each of the past 5 years that I’ve attended, the festival has acted as a sort of personal contraption through which I can experience an incredible custom catharsis; much like the songs of Rituals of Mine. Treefort is less about representing a particular sound, or a particular culture. Instead, in my opinion, it is about representing a particular mode of artistic appreciation. One that is collaborative, connecting the divide between artist and audience, between individual and community, between past and future.
So yes, we must continue to expect excellence from Treefort’s hard-working team of staff that provides this absolutely phenomenal festival; but we must also learn to expect more from ourselves. Treefort is deserving of a special kind of love letter from each of its artists and attendees, as this festival formula is unlike any other. We must continue to give this festival the honor it deserves. We must continue throwing ourselves into its artistic arena with a proper respect and be prepared for battle. Treefort Music Fest is a community-enriching experience that requires its community to do something enriching of their own in return.
I am in love with the festival, it’s obvious. I am also challenged by it, musically, culturally, and personally. This 2018 celebration was yet another tour de force etched into my Boise-brewed soul. Thank you to the artists that provided their voices, the teams that coordinated in sweat and blood, and the audience that sang along with their hearts and ears ready to grow.