Boise's Treefort Music Fest Pulls Out The Stops In Fourth Year

Mar 25, 2015

The fourth-annual Treefort Music Fest kicks off in Boise Wednesday. The 5-day event will take over much of downtown Boise, as 430 musical acts are set to perform (check out the 13 must-see bands).

I spoke with Emilie Ritter Saunders Wednesday during Morning Edition about Treefort. Here's our conversation.

So it's safe to say you’ve listened to every single band who’ll be performing this year, right?

Oh wow, no I need a few more sets of ears to have done that, although I’ve probably sampled about 200 bands. That’s the thing about this year’s Treefort, there’s just so much going on. And that means a lot of choices for music fans.

So how do you suggest people make decisions on who they’ll see?

Well it depends on your musical tastes of course – and Treefort organizers have represented just about every genre. They even have an international star coming this year -- Omar Souleyman. He's from Syria, and has been on the rise in the U.S. indie music scene world for a while. He’s been featured on NPR Music and – get this – actually started his career as a wedding singer. His songs are high-energy techno versions of traditional Syrian dabke [DUB-KUH] music.

Any other well-known acts coming?

Well the big headliner is TV On The Radio. The group is from New York City and is well-known among both indie and more mainstream music circuits. And Treefort organizers are betting the band will help attract a wider range of fans this year.

I know music is in the name of the festival, but it’s not just about the music. Does everything get a “fort” this year?

Yeah it would seem that way. This is the second year Treefort has opened itself up in a big way to other scenes that are thriving in Boise. There’s the film fest, Storyfort, Yogafort, Hackfort, Comedyfort, Alefort, Skatefort…there’s even a Breakfastfort this year!

Wait – tell us about breakfastfort.

Yes, this is an organic offshoot of the music shows happening at the El Korah Shrine. The Shriners – who have hosted Treefort bands for three years now – are hosting a late night buffet breakfast in the downstairs bar. Bacon is on the menu, as well as a vegetarian option. The Shriners are trying to capitalize on the lack of downtown dining options for the midnight-4 a.m. crowd. They’re pretty excited about it too.

What else is new this year?

Treefort was awarded the title of Cultural Ambassador by the City of Boise last fall. And that title comes with a $25,000 grant. Festival Director Eric Gilbert says one of the things they’re trying to do is bring in music industry people from places like Portland and Denver during Treefort. He says not every band is able to go to SXSW, the gigantic industry festival that swallows up Austin, Texas every year. So instead, they’re bringing the record label reps and band managers here.

“It just makes more and more sense to me to just bring that industry here where we can showcase more of what Boise has on a deeper level over that weekend as opposed to uprooting and trying to go chase industry around,” Gilbert said.

He says by connecting Boise musicians with the tools they need to be successful beyond the Treasure Valley, they hope to build the infrastructure the town has been lacking to have a really sustainable music scene.

And the festival’s had some good press lately, right?

Yeah, it’s been dubbed “the west’s best SXSW alternative” by a well-known Portland music critic. Treefort folks want to ride the coattails of that positive praise for a while.

We said earlier this is the fourth year for the event. How’s it faring financially?

Well the question of whether Treefort will make money, or even just pay for itself this year -- is a big one.

The festival relies heavily on volunteer labor to do everything from check wristbands at venue entrances to selling Tshirts and tickets. And without that donated labor, the event wouldn’t exist. Organizers are hoping to at least break even this year.

How are ticket sales looking?

So far they’re up over where they were this time last year. Those running Treefort  say the goal is to be sustainable financially – and they’re hoping ticket prices will cover expenses so Treefort can continue.

Frankie Barnhill – thanks for all the information, enjoy the festival!

Thanks, Emilie.

Find Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

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