Now that South by Southwest has ended and bands find themselves winding their way back home, Boise is primed to take full advantage as the fifth annual Treefort Festival kicks off on March 23. As one of the few festivals in the country that's not only affordable (single-day passes start at $79; five-day passes range from $179-$299 for a fast-entry Zipline Pass), but close enough to visit and return on the same day. As such, many Utahns make the trip to see acts like Built to Spill, Charles Bradley, Thee Oh Sees and Summer Cannibals.
For the same reason, a number of local Utah bands apply to play at the festival. This year's local convoy includes Baby Ghosts, Foster Body, JAWWZZ!!, New Shack, Matthew and The Hope, Soft Blonde and The Hound Mystic.
Founded in 2012, Treefort's mission was to host regional and national bands in Idaho's capital city, with the hopes of connecting their local music scene with regional bands, as well as making Boise a stronger market that national acts would want to visit on every tour. The first festival featured 140 bands, and sparked a creative revolution within the city, dedicated to helping it grow.
This year, Treefort spans five days and numerous venues, and features more than 450 bands—only 179 of them Idaho-based. The rest reside in the northwestern United States and, like our Utah bands, are typically within that one-day drive. The festival itself has also expanded to include eight smaller "fort" festivals (some separately ticketed) built around other forms of entertainment like film, writing, yoga and beer.
"This year's lineup is the strongest we've ever had," says Treefort festival director and talent buyer, Eric Gilbert. "It's really dense in talent from top to bottom. We like to think of our lineups as having a 'strong middle class,' as our focus isn't as headliner-heavy as most of the festivals around the country."
Baby Ghosts is one of the few Utah bands in the festival's short run to make a return appearance, playing The Water Cooler at 11 p.m. on March 24. "It's always nice getting to see bands and friends, plus we had a really fun set," Baby Ghosts' Bret Meisenbach says. "There's obviously a lot of great bands to see and things to do, like at most fests, but everyone in Boise is unbelievably nice, so it's extra pleasant."
Chaz Costello of JAWWZZ!! performed with Baby Ghosts that year, and says Treefort really "goes out of their way to take care of the bands." Festival organizers handed out gift bags adorned with drawings from local elementary school students. "They shut down what seems like the whole downtown area and let you wander from venue to venue, allowing you to really discover their city and the bands they want there. Also, a lot of the local businesses are so pumped to have you. ... I got a free bag of goods from a thrift store, a ton of free food and coffee."
In its short life span, Treefort has become a hotbed for exposure for the bands that play and attend. It's also becoming, like SxSW, one of the biggest indie-music networking opportunities, as musicians watch one another's shows and make plans for return gigs in the future.
Costello's fellow JAWWZZ!! member Madison Donnelly is looking forward to playing their gig. They, too, will play at The Water Cooler (5:50 p.m. on March 26). "I am really, really excited to play," Donnelly says, pointing out that making the trip up north is part of the fun. "I'm also super excited that we have a little caravan of bands coming from Salt Lake, and we can all hang out and experience the fest together."
But how about the networking, and the exposure? The opportunity for Utah bands to make noise outside their usual element? "I imagine we will [also] get some exposure," Donnelly says, "which is cool."