THROUGH THE LENS: Boise, Idaho’s Treefort Music Fest Is for Everyone
Kam Franklin of The Suffers - Treefort Music Fest 2019 - Photo by Peter Dervin
When you think of Idaho, the first thought in your mind will not likely be a mix of eclectic festivals. But think again: The Treefort Music Fest is the centerpiece of eight festivals, celebrating many branches of arts and entertainment, that happen simultaneously in downtown Boise in late March. They’re all tagged with the suffix “-fort,” such as Storyfort and Filmfort.
Our correspondent in the Northwest, Peter Dervin, attended shares his report below, along with a gallery of his wonderful photographs. There’s an extra treat as Peter had the opportunity to capture some informal portraits as well. I urge you to pay close attention as many of these names may be as new to you as they are to me, and they sound exciting.
Celebrating its eighth year, the Treefort Music Fest brings hundreds of artists and thousands of fans to downtown Boise with a variety of “forts” for all ages and interests. The music “fort” portion showcases musicians representing a broad range of genres, many coming through after an intense SXSW experience. The laid-back atmosphere at Treefort allows them to unwind and stretch out a bit. This year there was a bountiful Americana presence. Of the eight years this festival has been running, I have only missed the first, as I was unaware of it.
The Nationally Known
Liz Cooper & The Stampede roared into town with an in-store performance at Boise’s legendary Record Exchange and then a Main Stage set delivering another rambunctious set of rockin’ tunes.
I spent some time with Sierra Hull, and as we talked about her Northwest tour, I was able to take a couple of portraits. Immediately afterward, a excited full house at the intimate Olympic was waiting to hear her and the band. From the moment she began to sing, Hull had the crowd in the palm of her hand as we listened to songs from her latest album, Weighted Mind.
The Suffers are an emerging force of funky soul and blues that plays with exuberance and intensity. Led by vocalist Kam Franklin, they came out onto the Main Stage with a fury and the dancing didn’t stop. Mandolin Orange brought some straight-ahead bluegrass melodies to the Main Stage and filled the venue will some fine mandolin and guitar tunes and wonderful harmonies.
L.A. Edwards is a new band from Los Angeles that has recently transplanted to Nashville. With influence from the Flying Burrito Brothers and some good ol’ country twang, they instantly drew me in. I caught them a second time where they packed the room and played a flat-out amazing set of Americana twang and country rock.
Sarah Shook and the Disarmers from North Carolina was another band that I knew nothing about before they played an amazing set of swampy country blues. Shook has an intimidating stage presence and swagger. I loved every bit of their set and chased after them to get a band photo and thank them for such a great set.
Seattle, Portland, and Beyond …
Pacific Northwest bands and artists had their own impact on Treefort once again, and presented a variety of folk and country music to the fans.
Seattle’s Sera Cahoone played a couple great sets, one at the intimate District coffee house and another on the Main Stage with a full band. Her singing captured the audience, which listened intently. This was my first time hearing her live and it was wonderful.
Kassi Valazza from Portland was another surprise. Having never heard her before, her western country sensibilities were the twang that really kicked it. June West, who hails from Missoula, Montana, performed a wonderful solo set of modern folk songs that grabbed and held the audience with every word.
Taylor Kingman, also from Portland, delivered two outstanding sets, one an all-acoustic storyteller adventure and the other a rousing performance as TK & the Know-Nothings, which blew up the Basque Center with their Americana-country-psychedelic-rock.
Boise has a music scene that is as vibrant as any in the country. Every year I hear bands that simply melt my face and make a lasting impression.
One artist and band in particular I can never get enough of is Matt Hopper & the Roman Candles, they simply rock out! Hopper played a solo set and then later in the evening a set with the band. His songs just have that feeling that you can relate to and feel like comfort food for the soul.
Lee Penchansky was new to me this year and plays as the band Lee Penn Sky. I met Lee at the Olympic venue, where he was the stage manager, which hosted Idaho Americana artists Charlie Sutton and the Pan Handles, who both had great sets of bluegrass, folk, and blues. As Lee and I talked, he invited me to catch his set, which featured a collection of songs inspired by finding some family letters of an unknown relative who had survived the Holocaust. Having never known of his extended family, Lee traveled to Israel, where he learned about his heritage. It was a special performance, moving on so many levels.
The International Surprise
This year’s surprise performance was Japan’s CHAI. As I was walking from one venue to another, I saw that their music had the fans at the Main Stage cheering madly. I diverted toward the stage and witnessed a lovefest over these four young women singing in Japanese and pounding out some of the purest pop tunes. They were the darlings of Treefort 2019.
Even though it comes early in the year, Treefort Music Fest has become my favorite festival for so many reasons. A big one is that everyone — organizers, staff, volunteers, the Boise community — is friendly and gracious, resulting in a unique and special experience. Plus, I get a lot of walking in, logging in over 40 miles in those five days. Thank you, Treefort, for another amazing festival, can’t wait until next year!