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Finn Riggins

Treefort Music Fest Kicks Off Encore

If you’re going to Boise for the annual Treefort Music Fest, be sure to wear some feathers in your hair.

Although it has been 45 years since the Summer of Love and Boise is no Haight-Ashbury, a music festival has arrived that has the young people of Idaho’s capital city unified in the possibility of a unique celebration. Some Treefort enthusiasts are wearing green feathers in their hair to signal their enthusiasm.

March 21 – 24 will see the second annual Treefort Music Fest, a festival modeled after South by Southwest (SXSW for hipsters) in Austin. In fact, many of the acts from SXSW are heading north to perform in Boise.

With performances in the streets, various bars and other venues within a five-block radius downtown, more than 250 bands and other performers plus panel discussions, dance, performance art and vendors will occupy thousands of music fans, some of whom will travel long distances to attend. Local hotels have offers of special deals, restaurants are handing out discount coupons, and shop owners in the downtown area have special deals in place.

In its inaugural year of 2012, Treefort was an unquestionable hit in attendance, artistic admiration from the nationwide music press  and logistical success. Afterward, an astonished Boise couldn’t stop talking about how well it went for a first-time festival.

This year, Treefort has more than doubled the number of bands, added a mini-film festival to the lineup, expanded its panel discussions series, added more food vendors, and organized family-friendly previews at Boise State University. There will be a repeat of the popular Boise Rock School event, offerings from more local breweries, and more artists displays with visual and printed pieces.

Most interesting to a few patrons of Pengilly’s – a growly old Boise bar and one of the venues for Treefort – is the chance to hear Boise’s Youth Lagoon and Built to Spill plus SXSW performers Foxygen and Unknown Mortal Orchestra –  the last three highlighted in Rolling Stone’s lineup of best acts at SXSW.

Boise is losing its former label as a best-kept-secret town in favor of national accolades for being one of the best places in America to live. A long list of publications  lists Boise in the top ten for  Turnaround Towns (CNN), Best River Towns (Outside Magazine), Best Places to Live (CBS MarketWatch), Most Inventive States (CNN Money), and number six of Top Ten Hottest Music Cities (The Atlantic).

This last rating didn’t escape the organizers of Treefort, who have said they chose Boise partly because of its many artistic endeavors, it lacked a major music festival. Neighboring Washington state has two major festivals: Sasquatch  in late May, and Bumbershoot held over Labor Day weekend, but spring – and the inland Northwest – had a blank spot. And Boise, already known for its outstanding Shakespeare Festival, the Boise Philharmonic, Ballet Idaho, Opera Idaho and modern ballet company the Trey McIntyre Project, as well as many annual family-friendly festivals and events, had another blank spot – an event for its tuned-in young people

Boise Philharmonic conductor Robert Franz, who can sometimes be found downtown listening to local music, likes Boise’s newest annual event. He told NewWest.Net that “Treefort helps make Boise a musical destination. This great new festival builds a community that is rich and varied in its offerings. I’m thrilled that its founders had the vision to create such a compelling gathering in Boise.”

“I think Treefort is a good way for emerging artists to make their debut and the local bands to pay homage to Boise,” said Christopher Equality Cooke, a local student and adventurer. But as a student, he said, the tickets are too pricey for his budget. He’s disappointed but says he’ll hang around the outdoor activities.

“This is our state, Boise is our city, and we can make it into what we want.”

But the cognitive dissonance of an ultra-cool music festival being held in Boise, a state capitol where lawmakers seem bent on rolling back Idaho life to 1953, hangs in the air. Idaho is the third youngest state, but nearly half its state legislators are over 65 years old, ranking it the oldest-by-age legislature in the nation. It’s also the second-reddest. In 2012, voters overwhelmingly repealed three education bills that had passed in the Statehouse, yet this year, lawmakers re-introduced them. That, says Emily Walton, director of a nonprofit that registers and educates votes, is a perfect example of the mismatch between citizens and their representatives. “It’s particularly true in urban Boise and other metro areas in the state,” she said. “Treefort as a phenomenon is not on their radar screen.”

Walton looks at Treefort as a step into rejecting and ignoring a state structure that is “completely out of step” with the emerging leaders of Boise’s young businesses, arts programs and musical life, and other institutions.

“When we challenge the traditional structure and are shot down year after year, we start thinking that other ways of accomplishing social and business change in Idaho might be where we have to go,” said Walton. “This is our state, Boise is our city, and we can make it into what we want. To some of us, Treefort is symbolic of our declaration to pursue other ways to make this place into what we want.”

Treefort Festival Director Eric Gilbert is a member of Finn Riggins (shown above), and the band kicks off the night at 6 p.m.

The lineup and schedule of bands can be found here: treefortmusicfest.com.

The Boise Weekly also has a handy schedule: boiseweekly.com.

About Jill Kuraitis

Jill Kuraitis is an award-winning journalist who specializes in news of Idaho and the Rocky Mountain West. Her B.A. in theatre management is from UC Santa Barbara, and she went on to work in theatre, film, and politics before writing became a career. Kuraitis has two excellent grown children and lives in Boise with her husband of 30 years, abundant backyard wildlife, and two huge hairy dogs.

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