How Boise’s Treefort Music Festival Gets Comedy Right — Both For The Crowd And The Comedians


“Boise has betrayed me,” I say to myself on a Sunday morning in March, looking out at a blanket of snow.

The past two days couldn’t have been sunnier or 70-er, and now, on the one day I’d planned to actually see some outdoor live music, I’m wading knee deep through a foot of powder. (I would later learn it was just over two inches, but I’m from the Caribbean, so my measurements are skewed.)

Being a not-famous, not-rich comedian of middling to average talent isn’t the most fun thing in the world. It’s for sure kinda fun — otherwise, I wouldn’t be doing it — but you’re never exactly the most important person in the room. Jokes are meaningless and affect no actual change; I’m at best a jester in streetwear and at worst an offensive, complete waste of the audience’s time.

The best part of any festival is the hang. Sure the shows matter, and I guess it can be fun to network if that’s your thing (you sociopath). But when it comes down to it, being a comedian at a music festival is all about the hang, because Lord knows it’s not about the performances. At least that’s the way I’ve operated the past few years of my very short career.

Moreover, music festivals never really get comedy right, and they shouldn’t have to — they’re MUSIC festivals. It always bothered me that they’d even try, because nothing’s funny at 11AM in a tent, much less someone aggressively to make you laugh. This is what made Boise’s Treefort Music Festival such a treat for me; I went in with no expectations and left with a new top five city.

I was staying with the comedy booker, Dylan Haas — a brilliant comedian and producer in his own right — at a beautiful family house in quiet, suburban North Boise. After texting me the unusual instructions to get into his house via a backdoor, I realized that I’d be a black man in suburban Boise essentially breaking into someone’s house… not a good look for my first day in town.

Luckily, another comedian playing the festival, Cliff Cash, was already there and let me in. I’m not sure if you’ve seen the news lately, or at any point in the last 300 years, but without Cliff that could’ve ended poorly.

After checking in and getting all the free artist swag, (they gave us Pop Tarts! I got strawberry!) I made my way to the artists’ lounge. It’s weird they even let me in because, as has been established, comedians aren’t artists — just assholes with a very public hobby. So, in true asshole fashion, I took advantage of the plethora of amenities offered, and boy was there a lot to enjoy.

I was immediately taken by the massage chair, trance music, and endless tacos in the artists’ lounge — who knew Boise had such solid tacos? Who knew the largest collection of creatives I’d interact with would be in the picturesque Pacific Northwest? Who knew I’d spend hours scouring Boise’s oddly amazing thrift shop scene (shout out to the Idaho Youth Ranch chain) with my best friend, comedian JT Kelley (an Austin comic that killed a packed room opening for The Daily Show’s Gina Yashere)?

Who knew this stuff? I definitely didn’t.

The shows (mine were on Friday and Saturday) were nothing short of phenomenal, because Treefort’s comedy venue, Liquid Lounge, is what a standup club should be. It manages to toe the line between dive bar and intimate performance space perfectly, and it’s masterfully managed by comedian Sophie Hughes (a name worth remembering, as she’s one of the most naturally funny, wildly inappropriate performers I’ve ever seen).

Being dead honest, what I expected from Idaho was a small group of pasty white people politely smiling through at my at-times off-color, high energy humor. What I ended up getting was… a sold-out room full of pasty white people raucously laughing at things I didn’t think pasty white people enjoyed. Demographically, there’s no big twist here, nothing super surprising — Boise is a very white town, but it’s cool. These two black girls caught my friend and fellow comedian Bianca Cristovao and I between shows and took pictures with us because we were “the first black people they’d seen all weekend.” That was cool.

In the end, I did manage to get out and see some music, but only because the artists in question were nice to me in the green room (niceness is my personal metric when it comes to who’s worth my time). Two acts that especially stood out to me were Nnamdi and Sassyblack, who both crushed their last nights at the Neurolux. They were followed by a DJ set by Rituals of Mine, who you may know not only from her music, but her eye-opening catcalling installation.

If this article reads like some kind of long-form advertisement for Treefort, that’s because it might as well be (but it’s also not!). I want everyone to go to Boise next Spring, artists especially. I want this festival to flourish. I want other performers to be taken care of as well as I was, and I want festivals like this to thrive endlessly. It’s so rare seeing a community just consume art like this, and it should be supported at all costs.

As for the random springtime snow? It was completely melted by noon — because Boise is great, but its weather makes absolutely no sense.

To check some of Yusef’s comedy, check this clip from FPIA 2017.