West Coast music festivals like Sasquatch and Coachella are mainstays in the industry, attracting some of the biggest names in the business and fans from all over the country.
But this weekend, a newer music festival in Idaho is beginning to make a name for itself among music trendsetters.
Flying under the radar
Three years ago, Lori Shandro could never have imagined she’d be producing a music festival with more than 350 bands.
But during the inaugural Treefort Music Fest in 2012, she says the excitement in Boise was palpable. And it made her realize something.
“There was a chance to create something permanent and lasting in this community and to change this community in a way that it wanted to be changed.”
Shandro says since that first year, Boise’s love for this community-grown festival has only increased.
Most of the bands playing at this weekend’s festival aren’t very well known. But that’s not what Treefort is looking for.
“There are some names out there that don’t necessarily have the best live show," explains Eric Gilbert, one of Shandro's right-hand guys. "But people will pay to see the mythos of that person. That’s the model that we try to avoid.”
Gilbert says the musicians he books mostly fly under the radar -- and that’s a good thing.
He says these bands are more likely to give a solid live performance. And there’s an added bonus for fans: they get the chance to discover new music close up.
Standing out in a crowd of festivals
For music critic Nick Peterson, that recipe is what makes this festival so unique.
“Bands love playing it,” he says.
Peterson runs Apes on Tape, a music blog out of the Bay Area. He travels around covering music festivals. But he grew up in Spokane, so when he heard Boise was starting Treefort three years ago, he was curious.
“You have Seattle and Portland that are such strongholds, and then Spokane and Boise comparatively -- I think the conventional wisdom is that they’re behind. But Treefort has shown Boise what it could be. And I think that offers a lot of hope and realistic opportunities for a community, and that’s huge.”
Peterson says the music festival market is pretty saturated. But he thinks Treefort’s doing a good job of standing out in the crowd. The music blogger says Boise’s laid-back friendly attitude translates into every part of the festival. And, it’s ability to be open to anything.
Magic Sword, an electronic music project that debuted at Treefort last year, likes that.
Magic Sword is more like a theatrical experience -- complete with lights, video clips of fantasy movies from the 80s, a comic book, and props. The musicians behind the project wear black cloaks and masks to hide their identity.
But instead of coming off as painfully nerdy -- the group is a big hit. The leader of the project, who goes by the moniker "the keeper of the magic sword," says Treefort was the perfect place to launch their music.
“No where could I have gotten in front of that many people," he says. "There’s this energy all over the whole city when Treefort’s happening. I felt like that positivity carried through.”
"We're going to do this right"
The Treefort team is a group of mostly 20 and 30-somethings. This is not their day job. There’s a PR guy from the local ski hill, a waitress from Casanova Pizza, and even a staffer from the Idaho legislature.
In the months leading up to Treefort, they got into high gear planning the five-day event.
In the beginning, Gilbert says Treefort was just a concept. He and Shandro laugh when they look back on what they were getting themselves into.
“Mid-stride that first year, I was really saying, we should tamper this down," he says with a laugh. "But Lori, from the get-go was like, ‘If we’re going to do this we’re going to do this right.’ So before we knew it the small one or two day festival of 60 bands or so turned into 140 bands that first year.”
At Treefort headquarters, just before the weekend, the festival team was hard at work. In between discussions on ticketing, volunteer schedules and beer tents, someone walked in with a case of PBR. The group took a moment to laugh and joke about the weekend’s unpredictable weather forecast.
After the last band has packed up late Sunday night and the dust settles on downtown Boise, the Treefort team is hopeful all these late night meetings will have paid off.
The festival hasn’t made any money yet. That’s pretty typical for a music festival’s first few seasons. But organizers are hopeful this year will mark their first time in the black.
But between now and Sunday, there’s music to explore.
The Treefort Music Fest starts Thursday in downtown Boise. The event wraps up in the early hours on Monday morning.