Treefort Music Fest: Boise's Ambitious Festival Showcases its Boom

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Treefort Music Fest: Boise's Ambitious Festival Showcases its Boom Winston Ross for Newsweek

At any given moment, those who traversed a 16-block stretch of downtown Boise over the past five days might have stumbled upon 200 people doing yoga; a child's face wrapped in virtual reality goggles; a dozen bands arranged in a circle, playing in unison under the direction of a conductor in the center; burly dudes lifting massive chains into the air; toddlers building forts out of cardboard; skateboarders hurling towards cement ceilings to a heavy metal soundtrack; George Clinton belting timeless funk; celebrity chefs plating Wagyu beef; saxophone buskers singing "I wanna dance with somebody;" bros shooting baskets at a hoop attached to a graffiti-laden van; Pabst Blue Ribbon jumpsuits and lion onesies. Well, one PBR jumpsuit, and one lion onesie.

The occasion is Boise's 7th annual Treefort Music Fest, a five-day affair that ends today and where the moniker "music" in that heading is woefully incomplete. Treefort is certainly a music festival, featuring an incomprehensible 460 bands, but it's also nine other festivals: Comedyfort, Filmfort, Hackfort, Yogafort, Storyfort, Alefort, Foodfort, Kidfort and Skatefort. The sprawling endeavor scattered across this humble Idaho capital is a surprising showcase of an unpretentious city that is suddenly in hot demand, partly because it doesn't know it's cool — yet. Forbes declared Boise the nation's fastest-growing metro area last month, and after a few days at Treefort, it's not hard to understand the draw.

Even in the middle of Boise's biggest annual event, walking its downtown streets is still a stroll through a friendly, modest city. You wouldn't know the metropolitan area's population grew 3 percent in 2017 — the highest rate of any metro area in the US. Housing prices followed with an 11 percent increase, though residents can still rest easy: home prices are projected to slow to 4 percent this year.

Treefort debuted in downtown Boise in 2012 with four days of music from 137 bands in 13 venues. Only three years later, the festival had grown to 430 artists, 21 venues and eight forts. That same year, Treefort earned its B Corp certification, showcasing its commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Now, the event lineup boasts more than 460 artists from nearly any genre imaginable, and has added an extra day and a ninth fort — Foodfort — which launched last year.

Sound Check
Portland, Ore. indie folk artist MAITA warms up for a set at the District Coffeehouse in downtown Boise. The duo sings about the death of formerly thriving cities, like their hometown and San Francisco, and of working unsatisfying jobs to get by: “I hate pourin’ tea, it’s not what I studied to do.”By Winston Ross for Newsweek
Holding the Wall
One of Boise’s most charming venues is the 113-year-old Pengilly’s Saloon, near the Basque Block in downtown Boise. Esquire named Pengilly’s one of the nation’s top 100 bars.Amelia Pape for Newsweek
Tuning Up
Boise band Curtis/Sutton & The Scavengers “bear stringed instruments like timber wolves bare teeth,” wrote American Standard Time about this Americana/folk/bluegrass combo. Winston Ross for Newsweek
A Shrine to Music
The community comes together to transform downtown Boise’s most unlikely spaces into rocking venues for Treefort Music Fest. At the El Korah Shrine, which received its charter in 1898, Shriners themselves pass out drink tokens as event-goers flock to its stage. Winston Ross for Newsweek
Band Circle
Andy Rayborn of Portland, Ore. warms up his bass clarinet Saturday for a gathering of bands lined up in a circle just outside Jack’s Urban Meeting Place, a community space inspired by a fleet of tractors left behind with the passing of potato magnate J.R. (Jack) Simplot. A conductor coordinated the bands at the center of the circle.Winston Ross for Newsweek
Fix Your Face
Yogafort is more than just vinyasas. The three-day minifest includes classes taught to live music, art installations and face decorating for kids. Winston Ross for Newsweek
This Old Box
“Treefort is for everyone,” says the festival’s tagline. One of the event’s nine forts — Kidfort — proves the sentiment true, with activities for youngsters including an apropos cardboard fort building zone.Winston Ross for Newsweek
Spirit Maze
A young girl takes a break from the festival’s excitement with a meditative walk through Yogafort’s Spirit Dome in the courtyard of downtown Boise’s community event space, JUMP. Winston Ross for Newsweek