It’s likely that potatoes come to mind when you think of Idaho. It’s not without good reason. The state reportedly grows a third of all the potatoes in the United States and the city of Boise punctuates the beginning of the New Year with the dropping of a giant potato. If you want to know how deep the entanglement goes, license plates in Idaho read “Famous Potatoes” in a bold, classic script.
But beyond being known as the caretaker, protector, and benefactor of one of the world’s most dynamic vegetables (and despite being a blind spot for most North of the border), the city has spent the last several years generating a singular kind of energy. With a population of just under 230,000, the state capital of Idaho has earned a lengthy resume of accolades like being named as one of America’s fastest-growing cities by Forbes and grabbing the number one spot on a TIME magazine list of American cities ”Getting it Right.”
In an effort to resist oversimplifying a complex growth period in the city’s extensive history, let’s land here: across several metrics, Treefort Music Festival feels like a festival that could only happen in a place like Boise, Idaho. Now in its eighth year, the festival is meticulous about developing an atmosphere where community integration and building go hand in hand. In an era of extreme festival commercialization—where other cities might develop a multi-venue city festival as a top-down initiative with the intent to create an additional revenue source—Treefort is an organic by-product of Boise’s lively cultural epicenter. At its core, it’s an ongoing labour of love that’s worked hard to maintain its DIY roots.
It’s nearly impossible to make your way through Boise’s downtown core without passing an establishment that boasts a signifier of support for the fest. Treefort founder and curator Eric Gilbert explained that during the festival bars and restaurants agree to be retrofit as venues. In it’s wake, a walking tour is created where music gushes out of every corner. With many artists playing more than once, if you have the guts to attempt it, it just might be possible to catch nearly every artist on the bill. And for artists (many recovering from the bedlam of SXSW), Treefort is a reprieve and oasis, where upon arrival you might receive a hand drawn picture of your band.
When you tack that onto an impressively dynamic lineup that features artists from a vast genre and generational spectrum—like chillwave turned dancefloor aficionado Toro Y Moi and rising Chicago soulseeker Ric Wilson; Australian heavy music innovators Divide and Dissolve and emo pioneers like American Football; artists pushing the boundaries of the very sonic spaces they occupy like Vince Staples, JPEGMAFIA, Cherry Glazer, Sudan Archives, Ava Luna and CHAI; alongside performances by the elite class of RuPaul’s Drag Race Mayhem Miller and readings by New York Times bestselling author Tommy Orange; all bound together with original riot grrl Liz Phair and a double dose of the city’s dearly beloved “local boys” Built to Spill—it’s not a stretch to say that Treefort endeavours to feed your personal flavour palate, whatever your taste might be.
But what makes the festival special—beyond rollerskating eyeballs, or an enormous, luminescent praying mantis that takes up residence in the audience, or sidewalks laced with public scooters—is the execution of a design ethos that equally prioritizes the experiences of artists and the festival goers alike. Because understanding what makes Treefort stand out requires paying attention to granular details; like understanding that the ambition to develop a transformative five-day event is a collective responsibility. And propping up the festival’s sprawling, multi-pronged programming, can result in a new, elevated standard for similarly-sized festivals across the continent.
The A.Side On Tour @ Treefort Music Fest short film was shot and edited by Eli Spiegel and produced by Chayne Japal and Melissa Vincent.