Southern Idaho might seem like an odd place for something like the Treefort Music Fest, which just concluded its sixth year, to thrive. The state capital, Boise, is the 99th largest city in America and is an oasis of liberal sentiment in Idaho, sorta: Clinton lost to Trump 39% to 47% in Ada County, of which Boise is the county seat—a smaller margin than almost anywhere else in the state. The heart of Lincoln’s Idaho Territory, the area around Boise was contested for many decades after his death and eventually stolen fair and square; potato pollen pollution looms over the beaten-down settlements that mark the high plains reservations where the people who once dominated these lands now live. Boise is generally booming these days; its population has grown by around 50,000 souls since 2000 and with all of that Simplot potato money (they’re the people that sell the fries to McDonald’s), and the place has a newfound cowboy confidence in its pert, pleasantly walkable downtown, one whose modern architectural flair bleeds effortlessly into residential areas to its north and east.
The city that birthed indie titans Built to Spill has a dense collection of rock clubs to choose from for a metropolis of just over 200,000 souls, fertile ground for founders Lori Shandro and Eric Gilbert, a member of the Idaho math-rock outfit Finn Riggins, to hold a sizable music confab. Treefort has grown since its 2011 inception into a sprawling event, the largest of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, that plays host to over four hundred bands in venues that range from old Shriners halls and punk clubs to converted burrito joints and motel parking lots. Treefort manages to totally saturate this small city when it blows into town. Its rustic, summer camp-themed iconography was pretty much everywhere you looked.
Although Canadian singer-songwriter Mac DeMarco and North Carolina crooner Angel Olsen are less well-known than those receiving top billing at previous editions, the depth of festival’s programming was on display in a more profound way than ever before. Treefort isn’t just a musical endeavor. It also encompasses a host of satellite “forts,” from its outdoor beer festival Alefort to its parallel comedy and film festivals, Comedyfort and Filmfort. Yogafort invites hungover attendees to find their center again in rigorous morning group sessions while StrengthFort provides a forum and competition for some of the region’s most physically powerful individuals. Storyfort hosts readings, spoken word performances and panels on self-publishing.
Above and below: Psychic Twin, by Jessica Ferguson/courtesy Treefort.
The mountains ringing the former gold rush town could be seen just barely on the festival’s third night as I waited patiently in line at the Linen Building, a concert venue that may well have once been a laundry, to catch a glimpse of Brooklyn-based genre-bending Latina singer/rapper Xenia Rubinos. While her celebrated debut Magic Trix drew upon noise, punk and R&B, last year’s Black Terry Cat added elements of thrash and neo-soul—her sound was unlike most else at the festival, although women that defy categorization and the easy comforts of genre were all the rage on Boise’s stages over the last weekend in March.
From Denver-based hip-hop act Wheelchair Sports Camp, which features the queer, disabled, 3’ 6” and irrepressibly fierce MC Kalyn Heffernan, to London-based rapper/playwright/spoken word artist Kate Tempest, who graced the main stage on the festival’s final afternoon for one of her typically fascinating, hybrid-filled sets, powerful and unusual female vocalists were hard to avoid, even in spaces that normally aren’t particularly hospitable to women. In the El Korah Shrine, where white men have for over a hundred years donned fezzes and pretended that their brotherhood has something to do with Egypt (to the bafflement and mild horror of an Egyptian-American friend who joined her filmmaker boyfriend for the trip), Brooklyn synthpop duo Psychic Twin unleashed an appropriately airy, glam-tinged set on the final night. Most memorably however, Saturday evening the Pollo Rey, a soon-to-close downtown Mexican restaurant, was converted into a club for a set by Shana Falana, expert ex-Brooklynite shoegazers who have ventured up to Kingston, NY to escape the exorbitant rents and concrete inertia. Their set, comprised mostly of songs from their aptly titled fall 2016 album Here Comes the Wave, was the least attended I went to all week, and the most memorable.
Kat Hunt, the director’s of What’s Revenge, also recently fled Brooklyn (Bedford-Stuyvesant to be exact) for greener, calmer upstate environs. Her marvelous, delightfully strange featurette, which enjoyed a weeklong run at Williamsburg’s Spectacle Theater last year but has otherwise seen far less festival play than it deserves, was one of the highlights of Filmfort. A hybrid of confessional documentary and speculative fiction that mixes seemingly discordant formal strategies with graceful aplomb, the film played in front of an appreciate hometown audience (Hunt has Boise roots). But like much of the work on display at Filmfort, including recent Slamdancers Dave Builds a Maze and How the Sky Will Melt, it deserves bigger audiences that a converted conference suite in a Boise office building.