About a dozen teenagers are helping set up a stage in a burrito shop in downtown Boise. (The salsa bar is stage right.) Some are stringing decorations from the ceiling and walls, in preparation for the slew of bands they'll host during Treefort Music Fest.
Gus Marsden is helping run this new venue as a leader of the festival's all-ages volunteer team.
“We’re converting it into a venue for Treefort while Pollo Rey transitions out of the space," says the 16-year-old. "So after Treefort’s done it will turn into another restaurant and we’ll look for another venue to convert.”
This temporary venue is a big deal for him and his friends – currently there is no permanent space for underage music fans to see live shows in Boise. Places like the Knitting Factory and the Revolution Concert House have all-ages shows sometimes.
"A lot of big acts go there that I want to see, but there are some bands that I want to see that do not play in all-ages venues.”
Marsden says that without a place where he can go see the kind of indie bands he likes, the music scene can feel unwelcoming.
Ryan Peck has witnessed these frustrations firsthand as managing director of Boise Rock School, which holds summer and after-school music opportunities. Peck says there are a lot of arts and music opportunities for little kids.
“But a lot of that really starts to cap out at like 12, 13-years-old," says Peck. "There’s this gap population that sort of gets forgotten about. And it’s at that time that kids are really starting to find their passions.”
That’s where the Boise All-Ages Movement Project comes in. Peck is on the board of the new nonprofit – called B-AMP for short – which is partnering with Treefort to give Marsden and other teens the opportunity to run their own venue. He says a permanent all-ages space will do more than just give kids a place to hear and play concerts.
“It’s easy to look at it and say, ‘well, you’re just – it’s a venue for performing arts and music. OK, cool. No, there’s so many skills you gain," Peck says. "You gain creative entrepreneurship, you gain a marketing ability, you gain the ability to actually make numbers work in a budget. And to do it in a real world with things you’re really passionate about – there’s no substitute."
Treefort director Eric Gilbert is helping get B-AMP off the ground. The nonprofit has not yet found a permanent home – but will use the festival as a soft-launch of sorts.
“Every year, we’re able to open up all these all-ages spaces during the festival and all these kids come out, all their bands play and they go to all these shows," says Gilbert. "It lasts for five days and there’s all this hope that gets instilled in them and then it just sucks back up and they don’t have anywhere to go.”
They’re not the first people to try an all-ages venue in the city, but previous businesses have come and gone. Gilbert says part of the reason all-ages venues are difficult to sustain is because most music venues rely on alcohol sales. He says they chose to form a nonprofit – rather than a business – to take the pressure off turning a profit and to keep the focus on their mission.
Twenty-one-year-old Lucas Swope is the youngest member of the B-AMP board, and he remembers what it was like to not be able to go to shows.
“All my friends being older they would all go and I was just kind of left at home," says Swope. "So that’s my driver for being part of this project is to act as that voice for all the people that are currently in Boise that can’t attend because of their age.”
Swope thinks the venue may also help convince young people to stay in Boise after they graduate high school, rather than move to cities that have more all-ages opportunities.
"We’re looking at the community as a whole, of filling this void and giving the opportunity of space, equipment for people to come through and do what they love – which is music, and perform and attend."
Naomi Yager is one of the young people B-AMP hopes to help. The 17-year-old has helped book house shows in Boise in the absence of an all-ages venue.
“Venue shows and house shows have always kind of coexisted in a lot of ways," says Yager. "But I definitely think an all-ages venue is something Boise desperately needs.”
Along with Gus Marsden, Yager is leading her peers at the B-AMP Treefort venue. Yager – who is a musician herself – will play twice at Treefort, both times at the venue she helped make a reality.
“How great of a thing this is to be able to see because it’s been something that I’ve wanted to see happen and be a part of happening for a really long time.”
After Treefort wraps up late Sunday night, the B-AMP founders will turn their focus to finding a permanent space for people to watch live music – no matter their age.
Correction: In the original version of this story, Pollo Rey burrito shop was mischaracterized as closed. The shop will actually remain open through Treefort Music Fest and will serve food, sharing the space with B-AMP.
Find reporter Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill
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