Treefort Music Fest Teaches Us How To ‘Festival Better’

In the high swing of festival season and in the wake of disasters like Fyre Fest and the anti-Coachella backlash, I’m curious if it is possible for us to “festival better.” Am I crazy to want a little more from these productions? To want a little more from us as humans? What if we went looking for more? More as artists and individuals, listeners and party go-ers, more as a community?

Point is, I think there’s something vital missing from our festival culture. And I think I might have found the solution in the most unlikely of places.

Treefort is an annual five day arts festival — held in downtown Boise, Idaho for six years running — and is the pinnacle of what makes the nation’s smallest big city so great. If you’ve never been to Boise then some of this might surprise you. But, if you know anything about this inconspicuous little hamlet, then you know it’s nothing like what you might expect, and it’s everything you might ever want.

To give you an idea of how my experience at Treefort felt, imagine me: outside at the main stage on a barely warm March afternoon, the clouds parting for patches sun, a little beer drunk and smiling from ear to ear. And Lizzo, an MC hailing from Minneapolis is on stage, absolutely crushing it, delivering a heartfelt message about powerful women and positive energy. I look to my right and a four year-old is on her father’s shoulders, a tear is rolling down his cheek as he cheers. And to my right a group of teenage girls’ clad in festival attire jump around, and behind me an elderly woman claps and hollers.

This moment I get it, what they’ve been telling me since I took a press pass: Treefort is for everyone.

Over the last five years Treefort has turned into a little party monster. And I think it is a major undersell to call Treefort a music festival, though music is undeniably the beating heart of the festival. I prefer to refer to it as a holistic arts festival… for everyone. It’s holistic in the dictionary sense of the word, only in understanding its parts can we grasp what it means as a whole. Under the umbrella of Treefort is a milieu of other “forts” that seem to grow exponentially as the years go by… Yogafort, Filmfort, Storyfort, Alefort, Foodfort, Kidfort, Comedyfort, Hackfort. The list goes on and on, thus opening the idea of the festival into a broader spectrum than I have ever experienced.

Every single one of these Forts functions like its own microcosm of the festival, with their own lineups and guest artists that will fill your five days, and stretch your creative curiosity in every direction imaginable. And when the afternoon grows long and the sun begins to set, every bar and restaurant in town hosts a night full of music in every genre from techno to country, metal, and cry yourself to sleep acoustic, and bands I’m not even sure we have genres for yet. Traveling musicians, and acts on the brink of everything big flock to this festival, preaching from the stage what a relief it is to be in the company of a town like Boise. You can feel it, this inclusive, “come sit with us vibe” pulsing throughout the town.

It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, during Treefort we’re all just together.

I was brought into town to cover Storyfort, the literary hub of the festival, a lineup stacked with authors, panels, craft talks, and poetry readings, that cater to my basest love of the arts. I could spend days there, hypnotized by the words of people I admire.