Boise’s Treefort Shows The Possibilities Of Diversity And Representation At Music Festivals

Philip Cosores for Uproxx

Just last week, it happened again. When Lollapalooza announced its 2018 lineup for its Chicago festival, one glaring issue was instantly evident to anyone with a shred of common sense. The first 14 acts on the poster all featured men as their leaders, with the first woman coming at spot 15 in the form of Chvrches’ Lauren Mayberry.

It is unfortunate for many reasons, with the voices of all those who scream for better representation on festival lineups seemingly going unheard by the biggest players in the industry. In Lollapalooza’s case, it also wiped out anything that was good about their lineup, namely that when compared to the other major American Music festivals of 2018, it had managed to come up with a bill filled with artists that felt very much of the moment. But who cares about that when they forget to invite the women?

But not all festivals fall into this same trap. It often times tends to be smaller, more thoughtfully curated events that don’t get a ton of national press that rise above the norm and set the standards for how music fests should look. Just this week in Boise, Idaho, one of these festivals kicked off its seventh year. When the festival producer, Lori Shandro Oüten, spoke from the stage on Friday, she remarked that it could have been called lucky number seven for Treefort Music Festival, if not for the fact that the other years had been pretty lucky, too. But here in year seven, Treefort was an event that had figured out how to have a diverse, fascinating lineup that had no problem attracting crowds. The artists ranged from legends to buzzy newcomers, Russian political refugees to part-time American motivational speakers, local heroes to first-time visitors.

Maybe the best part of the music bill that Treefort put together this year is that it didn’t feel like an attempt at inclusiveness. And that’s the thing, festivals can easily have broad representation with the sense that they compromised any aspect of their festival’s identity. The top-billed artists — George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Andrew W.K., Princess Nokia, Pussy Riot, Rapsody, Cults, Zola Jesus, Oddisee & Good Company, and Lido Pimienta — offered up just a single white male in their midst. It’s actually a rare occurrence that a festival features more women than men at the top of their poster, but there wasn’t just diversity in genders and race, there was also a fascinating diversity of sound. Rap, funk, punk, rock, and other artists who are less easy to classify were all featured prominently. In all, it is a lower-key representation of what is possible with festivals show some imagination, legwork, and a commitment to being the change that needs to occur.

Philip Cosores for Uproxx

Interestingly, the real star of Treefort Music Festival is Boise itself. For anyone unfamiliar with the Idaho state capitol, the likely perception is that it is merely a blip on a map, the place with the blue football field, a likely quiet town without much in the way of culture or attractions. But Boise is so much more than that. Along with the blue field of Boise State comes the young vibrancy typical of college towns. But even the word “town” feels insufficient for a city of more than 200,000 people. Boise falls in the sweet spot of being big enough to house ample satisfying options for cuisine, hotels, and activities while also giving its residents and visitors the feeling of calm and space. For someone from LA or similar urban sprawls, it is very easy to fall in love.

It helps that Boise puts its best foot forward at Treefort. Hundreds of locals volunteer their time and services to make the festival possible. As Shandro Oüten noted, the event simply wouldn’t be financially feasible without the generosity of Boise’s residents and its many sponsors. In that, the event very much feels for the local residents.