Like many music festivals, Treefort started out fairly small and DIY. In 2012 there were about 140 mostly Northwestern indie bands playing in a bunch of venues in downtown Boise much like what MusicFest NW was before it moved to waterfront area and died. The Present day Treefort Music Fest hosts 442 diverse acts in 39 different venues. There are plenty activities for the whole family (food fort, yoga fort, skate fort), but I’m here to tell you about the music:
Treefort would not be Treefort without Built to Spill. There’s something about Doug Martsch and company’s slacker delivery that slowly changed how what we called “rock” music in the 90’s and helped to transform it from something completely different. They will soon be heading off their twentieth anniversary tour and they sounded sharp and ready to embark on the massive world wide tour. Built to Spill sets the stage for all of the other headliners to showcase their new work, and there were so many to choose from. Black Mountain played to an enormous crowd to on the Main Stage on Friday night, appealing to those who appreciate heady hard rock. Led by psych-rock veteran Stephen McBean, the new iteration of Black Mountain features the sensuous Rachel Fannan on vocals and Portland based drummer Adam Bulgasem, whose thunderous beats drew actually drew me from a slumber in the hotel room across the street.
Downtown Boise may be small in comparison to other cities, but it has some premium downtown bar venues that some other metropolitan areas just don’t – Neurolux and The Olympic in particular. The upstairs portion of the Olympic is where Portland Party took place again this year. The band that really excelled was Mötrik, who as the umlaut suggests, has a German flavor. They sounded similar to synth pop legends Devo, but much more mathematical sustaining jams which probably lasted over 10 minutes, if you were paying attention. The lead singer wears a pair of glasses that made him look like he’s from some dystopian version of a not too distant future. These guys were so uniquely different that you just had to stay for the entire set to see what else that had to play.
Another band that stood out for their kind of future/retro sound was Video Age, who I caught at Neurolux late on Thursday night. The feel of the room had strong electronic-funk vibe that had the dance floor packed the entire set. While many similar bands use outmoded sounds from past eras for effect, Video Age seems of that era in every aspect – dress, stage presence, and execution. It was like they bottled up a little bit of 1986 and released it into the air that night. All fads aside, this band is the real deal. I actually tried to catch them a second time, but there were so many shows to check out. That is the beauty and the curse of Treefort. With so many options, it’s sometime hard to decide where you want to spend your time. The main stage had so many big attractions, but what about all of those little bands from out of state that you’ve never heard of? What about all of the Portland bands that travel out to Boise to perform? You do your best to catch as much of all as you can. Aan was on at the Shredder on Friday night, busting through song after song with frenetic energy. The Autonomics entertained a raging crowd late night at Tom Grainey’s and Summer Cannibals (who just signed with Tiny Machine) killed at Neurolux on Saturday night.
There is a lot of scheduling to pay attention to, and sometimes, you just end up in a dusty bar, and are blown away by the sounds coming from the small stage. This was the case for me with Cassandra Lewis and the Foxxtones at the Olympic who turned out to be a powerhouse of sultry blues. Cassandra Lewis showed off her pipes with a mind blowing version of Pink Floyd’s Breathe from Dark Side of the Moon and her original songs were darkly old fashioned, with a hint of flapper-girl twenties sass and style.
One lingering feeling was that festival was missing the same flavor it had last year. There were so many bands playing their hearts out, but something was missing…maybe the widespread gentrification of anything and everything popular has watered down the overall essence of what a music festival is put together for in the first place. One band that alleviated that sense of distress was Low, the Seattle trio that so understatedly provides a breath of fresh air, even while they were playing in the very dark and dank midnight session at the Linen Building. Their songs go deep, building slowly and gracefully into a trance-like, almost Zen state of wellbeing through the repetition of chords and lyrics. The audience in that very dimly lit room were transfixed to the subtly powerful performance on stage.
Without a doubt, Treefort has become a can’t miss event to kick off the festival season and is approaching SXSW is scale and diversity. The music community, including the musicians, fans, sound engineers, and volunteers is what keeps the spirit of the festival true and it’s always nice to hear someone say, “Happy Treefort!” to you as you enter another venue for another great performance.