I’m happy to report that my fourth trip to Boise for Treefort Music Fest was as delightful as ever. The five-day, multi-venue festival's growing Portland contingent brought gray skies and rain along with them on Wednesday and Thursday, and Mother Nature tried her best to throw everyone off with an unexpected coating of snow early Sunday morning, but even that wasn’t enough to dampen the spirits of all those performing and attending this absolute gem of a festival.
Thursday evening, the Linen Building was the place to be for fans of heartfelt indie rock and punk. Boise’s own Western Daughter and Portland staples Alien Boy got things going on the right foot, before Chicago’s Ratboys won over an entire room of new fans with tunes off their new EP, GL. Singer/guitarist Julia Steiner’s vivid lyrics glide effortlessly over the band's underlying country twang, while Dave Sagan’s swirling guitar lends an extra layer of warmth and familiarity to their sound. Ratboys’ tour-mates Vundabar were also firing on all cylinders, and though I was somewhat familiar with the Boston band’s new album Smell Smoke, nothing could have prepared me for the trio’s live set. Seeing the band’s playful-yet-poignant spirit amplified by their unhinged energy had me texting friends back home and urging them to attend the band’s Mississippi Studios show the following night.
Titus Andronicus closed out the night with an “acoustic set” featuring frontman Patrick Stickles on electric guitar with Alex Molini on keyboards. Stickles charmed the dwindling late-night crowd with songs off the band’s latest album, A Productive Cough, at one point leaving the stage and moseying over to the venue’s makeshift bar, where he ordered a drink and posted up on the bar-top to deliver his next ballad. The duo closed out the set with some fan favorites off The Airing of Grievances and The Monitor, and cries of “Titus Andronicus Forever” rang out as the last of the crowd began to trickle out into the street.
Friday night’s festivities with the legendary George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic prompted whoever was controlling Treefort's mobile app to switch the main-stage line status to read “Sea of Humanity,” which was a pretty apt description for the massive party on hand to get down with Clinton and his crew of merrymakers. That same line tracking app proved helpful in getting me over to the Linen Building just before the venue reached capacity for a buzzed-about U.S. Girls performance later that evening. After some sound issues led to a minor false start, the band quickly established their footing and delivered one of the weekend’s more memorable performances. Meghan Remy and her band funneled decades of infectious pop, disco, psych, and glam into a set that kept the entire room reeling from start to finish. I felt unsure of whether I should move along with her animated band of virtuosos, or attempt to absorb Remy’s powerful words.
I’ve praised Seth Olinsky’s Band Dialogue tradition in the past, and this year’s installment was no different. With some extra conductors and ample air horns in the mix, Olinsky’s compositions reached new heights. Spectators bobbed their heads in unison to the massive rhythmic outbursts, which built steadily before erupting into a cacophonous conclusion.
Saturday evening sent me through a tunnel of Pacific Northwest indie rock history, with beloved Anacortes singer/songwriter Karl Blau kicking things off with a selection of tunes off his latest album, Out Her Space, along with his spectacular rendition of Link Wray’s “Fallin’ Rain.” Blau ended up pulling double duty, filling in on bass when Katy Davidson took the stage to perform under their Dear Nora moniker. Despite the makeshift nature of the band’s lineup, which Davidson admitted to having formed earlier that day, the group revisited an array of the project’s earnest and tightly woven indie pop and folk classics, a Key Losers song, and offered up a preview of some new tunes of their forthcoming full-length, Skulls Example. Those familiar with the material hung onto every word, and newcomers should have plenty to look forward to, as Davidson made it clear that Dear Nora is here to stay for the time being.
Across town at the Shredder, indie legend Calvin Johnson brought the heat with his Selector Dub Narcotic project, busting out his trademark dance moves and working the mesmerized crowd into a minor frenzy. The K Records founder seemed particularly energized after participating in Boise’s March for Our Lives earlier in the day, and noted how excited he was to “see us all in the pit” at the Treepeople set later that night.
His enthusiasm was warranted—witnessing Doug Martsch, Scott Schmaljohn, Wayne Rhino Flower, and Troy Wright (filling in for the late Pat Brown) take the stage made my weekend. The band blasted through a lengthy set, complete with their renditions of the Smiths' “Bigmouth Strikes Again” and David Bowie’s “Andy Warhol,” all while one of the most friendly mosh pits I’ve ever witnessed pogoed their hearts out by the stage. For fans who remember seeing the band back in their heyday, it must have felt like falling into a time warp. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least a little bit disappointed that Johnson never reemerged to join Martsch and Flower for a Halo Benders reunion, but it was clear that this year was all about Treepeople. If you’ve got a ticket to the band’s sold-out show at the Doug Fir this Saturday, you’re in for a treat.
Travel complications on the festival’s final day saw Boise's hometown heroes Built to Spill switch scheduled time slots with New York MC Princess Nokia. Doug Martsch & co. closed out the main-stage with a crowd-pleasing set that focused almost entirely on Perfect from Now On and Keep It Like a Secret. Later that evening, Princess Nokia’s headlining set at the El Korah Shrine drew a giant crowd, meaning if you weren’t inside an hour before she took the stage at midnight, you were likely shut out. As disappointing as it was to miss out, it was reassuring to know that Princess Nokia’s late Sunday set didn’t prevent a large crowd of her most eager fans from closing out their weekend with her.
Back over at the Linen Building, I was able to find consolation while shaking my weary hips to a lively set from prolific Bay Area garage-pop musician Sonny Smith. Sonny and the Sunsets’ 2017 Treefort set got hit with a torrential downpour at the main-stage, which forced many to scramble and take shelter under tents in the concessions area, so closing out this year’s fest with a warm and cozy Sunday night session from Smith and his band had a redemptive quality to it.
Once again, I missed out on all of the early afternoon events, including Hackfort, Comedyfort, Storyfort, Yogafort, and Skatefort. With more than 450 bands in town, taking in as much music as possible zapped all of my energy. It’s also worth noting just how many of the acts I caught were performing in all-ages spaces—it’s refreshing to know such a perfect festival blueprint exists, should Portland ever try to establish another sprawling multi-venue music festival of its own. With MusicfestNW and Bridgetown Comedy Festival both absent this year, I’m thankful for my Treefort fix. Taking off a full five days certainly isn’t feasible for many Portlanders, but if you’ve been on the fence about attending in the past, I urge you to take the plunge when next year rolls around.