Last weekend, Boise hosted its second year of the rising Treefort Music Festival, and it was an absolute blast. I hopped in the car and drove across Oregon to check it all out—Boise's not that far away, you guys—and it was definitely worth the effort. Treefort's a multi-day, multi-venue affair that's the perfect springtime antidote to SXSW: It's small, cozy, and refreshingly free of schmoozery. Any corporate branding was completely invisible to me. Now, granted, Idaho is a bit chillier than Austin in March, and last weekend Boise's weather was colder than usual. But with all stages indoors except for the big main stage, plus plenty of booze flowing and everyone sharing in the good vibes, it was easy enough to keep warm. I've been to enough music festivals (and enough different kinds of music festivals) to be sick of them generally, and I feel confident saying Treefort is something special. If you follow any of the bands who played on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, you'll certainly have noticed that they agree.
Portland bands made up a big part of Treefort's bill; I would reckon about a third of the bands were from PDX, although at times it felt like more. And Portlanders were a big part of the crowd as well. But this was really Boise's chance to shine. A small city with a small but tight-knit music scene, Boise's kind of the ideal place for this sort of festival: a localized downtown with enough venues and bars to host all the activities, including a killer record shop (Record Exchange), a trendy hotel (the Modern), and plenty of good places to eat (Basque cuisine!). Even with all the Treefort guests, the city felt a little big and empty. Compare that to how overrun Austin feels during SXSW, or even pockets of Portland during MusicfestNW, and it's refreshing. Crowds were not an issue (except in certain venues at night), and neither was transportation. Downtown Boise has a good number of cheap hotels, all within walking distance (I stayed two blocks from the main stage, without really even meaning to).
Because of a travel delay due to an empty tank on the 50-mile stretch between Pendleton and La Grande, I missed Thursday night altogether, including Unknown Mortal Orchestra's set at El Korah Shrine—the Shriner's hall where Built to Spill set up camp for the remainder of the weekend, headlining three shows through Sunday. One night they did all covers; another they performed Ultimate Alternative Wavers. I also left on Sunday, so I missed the impromptu reunion of Treepeople, the early band of Doug Martsch and the Hand's Scott Schmaljohn. El Korah was the press center for the weekend, and the largest indoor venue; it's huge, and makes our Eagles Lodge look like a shoebox diorama. It's where I saw the best set of a very full weekend of great sets: Portland's own Genders, offering just enough volume and drama to buoy up these ears after many straight hours of music.
The outdoor mainstage took up a city-block-size parking lot, and that's where the big headliners performed, fighting the cold gamely. On Friday night, Sharon Jones turned the city into a soul-funk dance party, donning a warm blanket in between songs and immediately shrugging it off once the groove kicked in. On Saturday, the Walkmen's cool, keening drama-pop sounded particularly bracing; the Treefort's garbage monster thing wandered onstage for a song, keeping things surreal. They served good, local beer via a token system familiar to those who attend beerfests, and in fact, there was a small beerfest called Alefest next door to the mainstage over the weekend. A curated tent of boutique vendors called Bricofort and a bevy of food carts made the whole thing feel like a pop-up village—which I guess, in essence, it was.
Neurolux is Boise's "cool" rock club and it was packed to the brim pretty much throughout the weekend. I saw several Portland bands play to the long, slender room, including Aan, Y La Bamba, and Typhoon, who offered some new, unreleased material from their forthcoming album White Lighter, due out in late summer. Around the corner, I saw Sun Angle do their fast-motion mindmelt at all-ages coffeeshop the Crux. The further east I wandered along Boise's main drag, the frattier the clubs got and the less interesting the music was.
But I haven't even told you about the shows I saw at the handsome Linen Building or at the crowded, dimly lit Red Room. And I certainly can't tell you about the legendary sets I missed—including an off-the-chain Thermals set that degenerated into chaos as security gave up trying to keep kids from riding on each others shoulders, or a truly nuts-sounding Wooden Indian Burial Ground set at one in the morning that supposedly devolved into nakedness and possibly public sex. I'll just have to go back next year and come back with more to tell. You come, too: I'm positive Treefort is going to become a much-anticipated and much-loved annual Northwest tradition for many. It deserves to be.