More than 400 bands, rappers, and DJs play every kind of venue in the Idaho city.
For five days in the spring, the loudest city in the Pacific Northwest isn't Seattle or Portland. It's Boise.
During Treefort Music Fest—which takes place March 22–26 this year—music echoes everywhere. More than 400 bands, rappers, and DJs play every kind of venue, from clubs and cantinas to the local Shriners hall—even the middle of the street.
In format, the event is like a pocket-size version of South by Southwest, the long-running music-industry bacchanal in Austin, Texas. In ethos, though, it's the opposite, emphasizing community and discovery over corporate branding and celebrity culture.
“When you're at Treefort, you meet people, you hear cool things, and you have fun,” says composer Seth Olinsky, who orchestrates Band Dialogue, in which musicians perform an original composition in a different location each year. “It’s more human scale.”
The irony is that, for many years, Boise was the kind of place where starting a band was a way to get out of town. With the launch of community radio station Radio Boise in 2011, however, local artists could find a wider audience without moving. Seizing on the city's embrace of civic art, Eric Gilbert and producer Lori Shandro started Treefort the next year, booking headliners Of Montreal and Built to Spill but focusing on emerging acts from around the region.
It has expanded every year since, both in audience—from 3,000 attendees its inaugural year to 16,000 last year—and scope. Along with music, Treefort now also has film, comedy, and tech components. You've got skateboarding at Skatefort, live readings at Storyfort, and locally brewed beer at Alefort.
As much as it's grown, Treefort remains as modest as the city that hosts it. As you walk between venues, the atmosphere will still remind you of an average Saturday night in a college town. The only difference is that around any corner you might encounter your new favorite band—or, say, a giant neon spider, like the one that appeared at the main outdoor stage in 2016 during a pounding set by the local masked electronic duo Magic Sword. It might be noisy, but it’s still quintessentially Boise.
This article was first published in Spring 2017. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.