Treefort Music Fest occurs each Spring in downtown Boise, Idaho. Musicians, actors, comedians, yoga instructors, film directors and more gather to inform and entertain within its 10 “forts,” most of them all-ages, most of them within walking distance.
With that said, the festival’s centerpiece… and the one organizers are most proud of… is the music. Many local acts are mixed with Pacific Northwest and National touring acts, creating a plethora of genres and stages to choose from.
With a bit of surprise and a lot of embarrassment, I found out during my festival prep that Treefort Music Festival is in its seventh year. I’m sure it’s grown a lot in that time, but it’s hard to imagine how much bigger it can get and maintain is bipedal charm.
Reviewing this year’s lineup of 463 bands (not a misprint, I checked), it was a challenge to narrow the list down to just 25 or so bands that time would allow me to see. Here are the ones that caught my attention and were within my foot path.
Local band Cerebus Rex officially kicked off the festival at The Linen Building, a box-shaped venue with top notch sound. Much of their set was performed facing each other as if they were just three dudes hanging out in a practice space. Songs were somewhat similar but equally banging, filled with long intros and 70s style, high-pitched vocals. Vocalist/bassist Josh Galloway really leaned into his songs, often standing tip-toe while delivering their punchy and driving music.
Another Boise band, Rejection Pact, instantly reminded me of Rage Against The Machine, but with faster drum fills and punkier guitar riffs. They appeared to be right at home at The Shredder, with singer Devin Boudreaux employing energetic jumps and air punches to a moderately-sized crowd. Check out the videos on their Facebook page for a taste of what they’re about.
I had planned to catch Far From Giants at Grainey’s Basement, but the venue was shut down when we got there. Rumor had it that there was a gas leak that forced authorities to shut off the power to the entire block. Such a bummer.
Deathlist was the first non-Boise band that I was able to catch, but it seemed like Boise natives at The Linen Building knew them pretty well. There were a lot of photographers up front who ended up staying until the end of their set. The band had a shoegazey, dense sound with compelling lyrics. There was a surprising amount of movement and grooving with this band, cruising through clean chord patterns and sullen bass lines. Front woman Jenny Logan, of Summer Cannibals fame, is about the most unpretentious musician you could imagine. Although she stayed true to the conflicted teen genre, there were enough chord changes to elicit a large dance crowd and the first screaming cheers of the night.
Up next at The Linen Building was Kelli Schaefer. Full disclosure: I try to catch her shows when she visits Seattle so made it a point to see her in Boise as well. She is an enigma, something hard to find in music scene. She often performs with her eyes closed or at least without making audience eye contact. Her hands are always swimming as if in a dream (nightmare?). Her music is off-center enough to be intriguing but not detached. If you want to wander down a musical rabbit hole, then this is your Alice.
Fruit and Flowers hails from Brooklyn, New York yet played to a crowded Boise All-ages Movement Project. An easy-on-the-ears surf rock band with a trio (count ‘em) of female vocalists, catchy guitar riffs were augmented with harmonies to spare. It was especially nice to see a female-led band instigate the first mosh pit of the night.
Although the bandname Whippin’ Shitties will certainly draw a crowd, their millennial attitudes keep them there. Indie/Punk/Emo would seem like difficult genres to meld, but this young Boise crew makes it look effortless. Of note: this was the one show I caught that the crowd wouldn’t shut up (but in a good way). They were talking back, echoing the band’s name and pretty much doing whatever they could think of to have fun. Sure, they probably want to be thought of as sad but everyone there seemed pretty happy.
Another obvious hometown fave, The Vang Basics wasted no time driving into their set at top speed. Led by vocalist Chessa Hentrup, this band dealt The Linen Building a setlist filled with catchy drumbeats and minor key progressions. There’s a lot of urgency and anger in their music but I was impressed to learn afterwards that they shun social media. Instead, they actually WRITE LETTERS to fans. Like, REAL letters, using the U.S. Postal Service. Too cool.
Jogging through downtown Boise in the rain, I was able to stop and catch some of Skating Polly’s set at the Boise All-ages Movement Project. A Tacoma, Washington sister/friend/brother trio, this band’s social media savviness is epic (just comparing their number of followers to their crowd sizes). With a strong fashion sense and practiced stage presence, Skating Polly is about the most riot grrrl band I’ve ever seen. They may not have invented the genre but they sure know how to own it.
Wrapping up the night was Ealdor Bealu, yet another Boise band definitely worthy of catching live. It was a weeknight and it was late so there was (understandably) only a small hometown crowd to support them at The Shredder. Delivering a wide range of sound (rock/punk/doom/psyche/you name it), you could tell they’re interested in pushing boundaries. With a couple of fans pacing in the back, deep in thought during the set, Ealdor Bealu seemed immune to the distraction and were tightly focused on playing a dark and subterranean set. Bonus points for the extra effort with stage screen visuals.
Friday blasted off with Jonn E Combat, a polka ska punk band anomaly. The Shredder fielded a small crowd, but the band didn’t seem to care. Violin? Check. No electric guitar? Check. Overall, they were probably the biggest surprise of the week and were entertaining in a quirky sort of way. To top it off, they finished their set with a cover of “My Boyfriend’s Back”. The crowd really got into it, yet another musical curve ball.
Groggy Bikini was next up and they were definitely big with both their sound and production. A six piece (including TWO bassists) with energy to spare, they produced a wall of sound which emphasized harmonized screaming and lots of cymbal crashing. If you want to feel present without a 20-week meditation course, this is your very danceable band. Of special note: this was the only band at Treefort that I saw coerced into doing an encore. Not bad for a ragtag crew who smiled throughout their set.
Hailing from Oakland, California, Everyone Is Dirty delivered a set of both soothing and agitating songs to a medium-sized crowd at The Linen Building. Luckily, earplugs were optional there, which was kind of nice as this band liked instrumental interludes and electric violin. There were a handful of people getting into it, but they didn’t give the impression they were groupies. It was just that Everyone is Dirty’s music was so cool and different, they couldn’t help themselves.
Back at The Shredder, Seattle rock gods Hobosexual filled the small stage with a new 4-piece look and larger than life sound. Changing band members is somewhat commonplace in the music scene, but Hobosexual doubled in size for Treefort, going from 2 to 4 so as to ensure their sound stays true to their recent album release. The have a strong, bluesy rock style that could live on solos for weeks if you let it. It was especially entertaining to see how sweaty the crowd was by the end of their set. You have to see this band live if you haven’t already.
Thunderpussy is a spectacle to behold. Another Seattle-based act, these four women are absolutely no-nonsense, punch you in the face and I dare you to try to hit me back kind of rock and roll. Front woman Molly Sides, donned in leather and fishnets, delivered a mix of sultry visuals and spiraling audios. But their sound is heavy. It’s not normal to witness an all-female band delivering such authentic rock goodness. They’re the band you always imagined but never expected to exist. Make it a priority to see them in person because they’re going places.
An uber-cool two-piece from Boise called Dirt Russell brought a heavy, UK-like head banging goodness to a decent sized crowd at The Olympic. With lots of black clothing and long hair, Ryan Hondo (guitars/vox) and Angela Heileson (drums) whipped through a fair number of distortion-filled instrumentals. They appeared to be a hip but humble band who took some time to find their groove, but when they did it was wondrous.
Wandering over to the Neurolux (which turned out to be one of the hottest stages of Treefort’s weekend), a New York band called The Muckers played to a full house. Relying on a retro style (both in attire and sound), this was a band who liked to wander, Santana-like, in their music. Much of it was pulsing and rhythmic with just a little reliance on vocals, but the crowd weathered the uncomfortable amount of body heat to the end.
Next up was another Boise band who call themselves Junior Rocket Scientists. Although the name is humorous, their sound was pretty serious. Utilizing a lot of reverb, echo and clean guitar chords, this three-piece filled most of their songs with desert rock interludes in its simplest forms. Nothing flashy to see here, just something easy to groove to while enjoying a beverage with a friend.
Blackwater Holy Light is an all-female foursome from Portland, Oregon. Performing a series of rolling doom rock numbers kept the audience engaged and nodding in unison. They were heavy, but in a thoughtful way. There was a lot of cymbal rides but it never was unnerving. Vocals ranged from dramatic to story-telling. They’re a confident, mature bunch who probably aren’t looking to change the world but will certainly win over most audience members with their psych tones and timeless rock roots.
Two-thirds of Canadian trio called Motherhood took the stage shortly thereafter, delivering a playful set of guitar and keyboard-centric songs. They were a lot of simple chord changes but enough time changes to keep you on your feet. Fearless in vocal sharing and switching, they found a way to sound bluesy, country and punk all at once. Check them out online and you’ll hear it for yourself.
The final day started off back at The Shredder with a super cool post punk Boise band called Far From Giants. Although much of their delivery was with closed eyes, they consumed all of the small stage effortlessly with their continuous bouncing and movement. Practically all of their set was energetic anthems that relied on harmonized choruses with matching guitar and bass notes. You know, just the kind of music that makes you wonder if your beer was spiked with Red Bull.
Another Idaho post punk band, Bullets are the Cure, immediately followed, delivering high-speed guitar riffs with unrepeatably funny lyrics. Mixing mainstream styled songs with other, higher energy tunes kept the crowd smiling and delivering knowing nods. The bass lines were fast and precise and the B.C. Rich Warlock guitar was only lightly distorted. You’d feel like you were listening to Green Day, Social Distortion and (somehow) The Georgia Satellites all rolled into one.
Maybe with the biggest pull of the weekend, Boise hometown heroes Built to Spill performed on the main stage under a clear, cold sky to a couple thousand diehard fans. The temperature didn’t affect the audience who moved continuously, entertained by the animatronic electrical birds weaving through the audience and the style of modern indie pop rock the band’s so well known for. They’ve been around since 1992 but as their social media accounts and extended tour schedule proves, they are still as relevant and catchy as they’ve ever been.
All in all, this was an amazing festival that was well-organized and deep in its musical genre offerings. Pros included easy and cheap parking, (mostly) good weather, a wide range of beers and food to choose from and a general happy mood wherever you went. The only con (and it’s not a big one) was the amount of walking you have to do to catch the bands you really want to see.
Luckily, the quality of bands and consistency of genres at each venue usually could afford your spending most, if not all, of the night in one location. Maybe not such a surprise, most of the bands were Boise natives but there were enough from other parts of the Pacific Northwest (and beyond) to ensure novelty throughout the 5-day event. I also noted the nice gesture on the festival’s part to provide out of town bands the opportunity to play two nights at different locations, making their travels worth the effort. Keep that in mind if you’re attending next year and run into any scheduling conflicts. I know I will.