By Maximilian Tapogna
This spring break I had the opportunity to cover Treefort Music festival in Boise, Idaho for KUPS. Although not usually counted among the top spring break destinations for college students, Boise is stunning this time of year. The sun was almost always out; musicians and concert goers flooded the streets downtown. All the locals I spoke to told me this was the best time of year to visit. Over the course of the week and weekend, my friend (a Boise native) and I caught a number of delightful shows.
We kicked off Treefort with some flamenco dancing and half-hearted Oles! at Boise Contemporary Theatre. Rom Drom from Boise, Id. featured a fusion of Romani styles, drawing from — they said — Russian and Spanish denominations. Rom Drom consists of a number of strong instrumentalists (upright bass, violin, percussion, and Spanish guitar), and three dancers/vocalists. Their show was short and sweet, well-suited for the venue and the middle-aged crowd it drew.
After Rom Drom we hurried to over to El Korah Shrine to watch Hosannas, a self-described “psychedelic rock duo” composed of brothers Brandon and Richard Laws from Portland, Ore. The set grew more captivating with each song, and the brothers informed the audience the energy would escalate as the night goes on. The last number I caught was fantastic — turbulent esoteric noise, perfect to move your body to. Alas, none in the audience was dancing.
We left Hosannas early and rushed to the Knitting Factory in an attempt to see JPEGMAFIA, followed by Vince Staples at the same venue. Apparently those were the shows to see that night, but the line stretching around the block did not deter us. We waited for an hour to no avail. People behind us with actual tickets to show (sold separately from the festival passes for some reason) skipped by us. I was mildly annoyed, though I suspect the blame should be placed on the venue, not Treefort. The experience was not entirely unfruitful: one bar on that side of town advertised $1 Irish Coffees during happy hour, so I will definitely be returning.
Departing the line into the Knitting Factory we headed over to Neurolux, a kind of punky bar on the other side of downtown Boise. The sun was setting outside, and on entering Neurolux it felt like the night had really begun. At Neurolux we watched Komorebi, an Electronic-Alt project conceived by Tarana Marwah who hails all the way from New Delhi, India. She commanded the stage, utilizing skills as a producer, instrumentalist, and vocalist in a way that felt whimsical and present. The crowd at Nerolux was effected, but couldn’t quite keep up. I would love to see Neurolux play again — (perhaps on a rooftop, at 2 A.M., in Madrid?) — or some other setting more conducive to her talents.
Komorebi finished her set and we walked outside to a beautiful Boise night. A women perched on a curb smoking a cigarette remarked to her friend that it was the first day spring. It certainly felt so.
We made our way over to the Linen to hear CMMNWLTH play, a local “rock n’ roll” act that performed pop-punk tunes. I enjoyed the music, but not as much as the local teenagers moshing in the vanguard. One of them, named Eric we later learned, received an honorable mention for having a good time from the lead singer (who was slightly insufferable, after the first song he cracked a wry joke about circumcision that didn’t land). I am a bit of sucker for this kind of music, however. We stayed for their entire set.
After CMMNWLTH we changed gears entirely to watch Sierra Hull, a singer-songwriter and virtuoso mandolinist from Nashville, Tenn. She was playing the Olympic, a kind of pioneeresque tavern with dark wooden beams that had a lively crowd.
Hull is undeniably the most talented musician I saw Wednesday night. She and her band alternated between bluegrass, jazz, and what sounded like baroque styles (at least in Hull’s solo mandolin playing). The highlight of the night was when Hull asked the audience to name a few favorite bluegrass standards. She compiled their suggestions and riffed on them indefinitely and ecstatically. I was floored.
It was late when Sierra Hull and the band finished playing. But we were not quite through. After some dirt-cheap whiskey sours at Mulligans, the bar beneath the Olympic, and some lively conversation with Boise locals — “Happy Tree Forts” issued from one and all — we headed back to the Linen to catch some of illuminati hotties, from Los Angeles. Their sound — especially the lead Sarah Tudzin — invoked the introspective, heart-breaky songs of Angel Olsen, Courtney Barnett, and the like. We stayed for a few of these tender numbers before retiring for the night.
Day two of Treefort began on a meaningful note. At 3 p.m. we entered the Owyhee Hotel and walked up to the second floor where the festival’s Storyfort is located. Storyfort, while essentially a side-attraction to the festival’s show-oriented crowd, is an aspect of Treefort that sets it apart from other music festivals. Storyfort brings in poets, writers, journalists, and other literati to share their work with the Treefort festival goers and the general public. That afternoon’s program was titled “Refugee Artisans — Quilting a narrative,” which showcased several immigrant women’s stories and the representations of these stories in art (in their case, quilts). While the broad architecture of the women’s narratives were similar — fleeing violence in a country and coming to Boise — each was markedly distinct. Hearing such powerful and urgent stories furnished my Treefort experience with a cultural enrichment I wouldn’t expect to gain from a music festival.
Later that afternoon we heard Liz Cooper & the Stampede play the mainstage. The psych-rock group — based in Nashville — played a number of catchy tunes, but came to life most in their tangent jamming. The drummer was a joy to watch; his puppy-dog smile never faltered. It can be hard to deliver on these mainstage shows, especially in the afternoon heat when one’s mind tends to wander (as mine does). But Liz Cooper’s (et al.) enthusiasm shined through.
We departed the mainstage and mozied over to Boise Contemporary Theatre (BCT). There Titspur, the solo dream-folk project of Samwise Carlson (a Boise native), played an intimate show. Carlson’s ethereal vocals were suitable for BCT’s blue and purple lights set against a white backdrop. Their sound recalled something of a Nick Drake or Elliott Smith song etherized and projected onto an astral plane.
Titispur at Boise Contemporary Theatre.
That evening we caught FRANKIIE — an all-female quartet based in Vancouver, B.C. — at the Linen. This dream-rock group displayed awesome vocals and an effervescent friendliness.
FRANKIIE at the Linen.
Following FRANKIIE we attended Black Mountain (also from Vancouver) at the mainstage. I entered the arena holding my breath. Black Mountain’s Treefort bio boldly maintains the band to be defining “what it is to be a classic rock band in the new millennium. . . musicians who are at the peak of their powers.” To my knowledge no other Treefort ensemble has received this kind of praise. I wanted to see if Black Mountain would deliver.
They certainly did. While I am not the greatest fanatic for their brand of hard, psychedelic rock, Black Mountain made me more appreciative of that style. The opening guitar riff from the song Mothers of the Son is still stuck in my head, and its creator, Stephen Bean, looked every bit the part of the rock n’ roll demigod. His partner in a crime, the vocalist Amber Webber, commanded the stage with an intensity matched only by her inches-high combat boots, adorned with interwoven locks and chains (the sight of which nearly caused your correspondent to feint). Regardless as to whether these musicians are at the height of their powers, they clearly know what they’re doing. Black Mountain played for nearly an hour-and-a-half (including a somewhat overly-conscious encore) before clearing the stage. We departed soon after the sun had set.
Around 10 p.m. we ducked into Neurolux to occupy ourselves until Cherry Glazerr, which was to start at midnight. There we encountered Madge, a one-women DIY-pop project from L.A. Madge was all smiles as she loaded up colorful beats, singing and dancing alongside them. But we didn’t linger, and walking out of Neurolux turned down the block to find ourselves inline to the El Korah Shrine.
At the Shrine we caught Night Beats, of Nashville, Tenn., a sizable group of midnight cowboys who played before Cherry Glazerr. They put on a good show, but it was getting late and I was beginning to zone out. Eight hours of standing around nodding my head to loud music was getting to me, and by the time Cherry Glazerr came on I was nearly dissociating, but I could still appreciate Clementine Creevy’s performance; her movements were spastic, bringing me in and out of reality as she brandished her guitar like a weapon or floatation device, seeming to hold on for dear life. When she finished we went straight home where I promptly passed out on my friend’s living room sofa.
If Thursday threatened to show the first signs of festival fatigue, Friday revealed the full-scale dearth of my capacity to hear live music. This was not my fault alone. Most of the bands I encountered that afternoon and into the evening were lackluster. Get Wet + played at the Shredder, a punk bar near downtown that is located away from most of the action. Were I to guess the median age of this dance punk trio I’d say roughly around 35; their Treefort band pic shows them smoldering in grey suits, and I suspect they actually do wear suits to their day jobs. There were kids moshing up front — not teenagers — kids aged 6-11 years-old (all wearing ear mufflers thankfully). It was adorable.
Later that evening we saw Art D’Ecco play at the Linen. This alt-psych group from British Columbia reminded me how effective it is to be an ensemble with some aesthetic intention, or least have a wardrobe that works. They were dressed like queer aristocrats, outiffeted in suits, ascots, and black, dazzling sequins. The lead singer, after remarking this was the band’s first all ages gig, encouraged the underage members of the audience to start their own bands, and “slap on a wig and some make up” while they’re at it. I cheered wholeheartedly.
The following acts were mostly misses. We made our way back to the Shredder to see deathlist, a punk group I’d heard of from Portland, but when we got their only a few minutes late their set was nearly over. We tried our luck again at the mainstage where Liz Phair was playing but could only manage to stay for a few songs before growing tired of her music.
The night didn’t improve until Sun Blood Stories, again at the Linen. Based out of Boise, Id. the trio produced an overwhelming but welcoming sound, a tumultuous sea of harmonic noise. Their set was cathartic and necessary. A quick introduction — in which the band came off as friendly and unpretentious — was followed by forty minutes of uninterrupted music, but I could have listened for much, much longer.
Our night ended at Spacebar, an arcade a block from the capital, where we played Galaga and listened to Devours, a queer dance-goth singer and producer from Vancouver. He was a blast. His tracks, partially inspired by retro Nintendo themes, were well suited for Spacebar.
Our Treefort weekend commenced with an afternoon fanfare of electronic pop-punk, deployed by the bubbly and infectious quartet CHAI whose members hail from Nagoya, Japan. It was the perfect music to start the weekend. CHAI’s unwavering enthusiasm spread joy throughout the crowd at the mainstage. Each member was outfitted in matching pink jumpsuits, and their cheerful choreography left me wondering why every band doesn’t feature some form of premeditated dance. It was excellent spectacle. One highlight was CHAI’s truncated, a capella cover of Dancing Queen. I didn’t check to see if the crowd followed suit, but I went wild.
CHAI at the Mainstage.
Aside from CHAI, the entirety of our Saturday was spent at the Linen Building where from 8pm to 1am Haviah Mighty, Linqua Franca, and Sudan Archives followed one after the other. This was a welcome reprieve from the previous nights spent running around all of downtown Boise. Each artist was splendid.
Haviah Mighty, from Toronto, Canada, kicked off our tenure at the Linen with a tour-de-force performance of tracks from her 2017 album Flower City, along with some new releases. Watching Mighty perform it is impossible to focus on anything else. The in-your-face intensity of her rapping style was contrasted by a friendliness and what felt like a true affection for the crowd, demonstrated in between songs. Both audience and artist were in it together.
Haviah Mighty performing on the Mainstage.
Linqua Franca matched the previous act and raised it up an intellectual notch. Her numbers were introspective and interrogative, traversing both personal and political themes. This was fitting for a hip-hop artist who holds a Masters in Linguistics from the University of Georgia (where she is currently pursuing a PhD), and serves on the city council of Athens (her homebase). An affecting moment was when she invited any and all women in the audience to come dance alongside her onstage.
A spectacular performance by Brittany Parks of Sudan Archives brought a satisfying end to the night. Her mellifluous synth textures combined with expressive violin playing was like nothing I’d ever heard. As a violinist, I am always thrilled to see the instrument represented off the classical stage, especially in the ways we least expect. Parks’ treatment of the instrument ranged ethereal to explosive, and her soulful, sometimes piercing voice elicited cheers from the audience.
Sudan Archives playing at the Linen.
Ultimately the discovery of a two-for-one happy hour at the Press & Pony has prevented your correspondent from providing any meaningful coverage of Treefort’s Sunday shows. Among other acts, I remember enjoying Y la Bamba at the Olympic and reprise of Sudan Archives at the mainstage.
In all Treefort was a spectacular experience. Before arriving in Boise I had not heard of the majority of the artists; now my Spotify is undergoing an especially prolific period of activity. Boise is a charming city. There a plenty of bars and views of the high desert abound. Anyone new to that part of the country should discover it how I did: through music and good company.