You can't hate everything: How Treefort Music Fest changed my mind about music festivals
Bad Weather California on the main stage at Treefort Music Fest 2013.
Before I explain why last weekend's Treefort Music Fest was amazing, I have to say that I hate big/corporate/non-DIY music festivals. Most of those events are just a bloated excuse for bloggers, record-label people and other industry assholes like myself to get drunk in public for days on end, while we stand around and metaphorically wank each other off based on who knows more bands. The general public's behavior is equally disgusting at these things -- it's like amateur hour for drunk college girls and aggressive bros who love Mumford & Sons, have no manners and want to make everyone around them miserable while they spill beer on non-drinkers and yell at the band.
I see shows every week of the year. So to me, corp-y fests seem like a giant cesspool of stupidity where people cram their live-music participation in during a single weekend of watching. (Because why would anyone want to bother supporting acts that are on tour all year, when you can just wait for your fave destination juggernaut fest to bring the buzz bands together with a handful of reunited, kinda-okay '90s groups for one feel-good weekend of food trucks, car/hotel camp outs and trash cans full of weird corporate swag/landfill material?)
But this past weekend's Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho, changed all of that for me. I enjoyed a music festival and had to put my pretentious, judgmental, un-fun foot in my mouth.
I wasn't going to Treefort on my own will. But when the chance to play savior arrived, I took it. Friday morning, the same love that had taken me to LoDo the prior weekend put me on the road to Idaho.
My boyfriend called and said his band was stuck in Wyoming -- after several days of vehicle mishaps, missed shows and a hotel shakedown by the cops (they do not like weed in Wyoming), they were slim on options. But they had to get to Idaho. I offered to rent a van, pick them up and get them to Boise in time for Treefort.
In one of those moments when Facebook actually acts as a social network, a veritable stranger offered to loan me a van. With one phone call, this kind gentleman gave me the code to his garage door, instructions on where in his house to find the keys, and got me on the road, no problem. I didn't even have to act dumb or cute to get help like this: It was a shining feminist moment for humanity. I headed home, grabbed a lady companion and we were off in a strange van to pick up the band.
Several hours later, we made it Rawlins, Wyoming, unscathed, loaded up the three boys and a bunch of gear and continued on. And then we hit the shit -- the scariest snowstorm I've ever encountered. The kind of snowstorm that could kill you (note: listening to Joy Divison's Unknown Pleasures while driving to certain death feels extra death-y. I don't recommend it). Going fifteen miles per hour across the skating rink of I-80 west, we passed flipped SUVs, smashed semis and dozens of cars shoved off to the side.
Other than a single bathroom stop at the Looney Tunes Tavern -- a bar I'm pretty sure was mirage, complete with dim blue lighting, a three month-old German shepherd pup named Jezebel wandering the AstroTurf floor and a jukebox playing Creedence Clearwater Revival for patrons who didn't seem to acknowledge us entering their realm -- it was pure desolation. After three hours and ninety miles, we decided to give up in Rock Springs for the night.
It was the third hotel encampment in four days for the band and they were over it. They just wanted to play the fucking festival -- or any show, really -- after being stranded and missing all prior shows on the tour. Tension and failure were the prevailing feelings, but safety came first, and paying a hundred bucks for a five-hour nap in a pseudo-swanky Holiday Inn Express that looked liked a Starbucks decorated by Target was in order.
The next morning, the roads were clear and we headed back on I-80 west to Boise, arriving just in time. They finally got to play a show and it was wonderful -- the fog of defeat lifted and weed wasn't so scarce anymore. Our party weekend had begun, two days into the four-day festival.
Our hotel in Boise was right in the middle of the action, and we could roam the city's many great venues (several of which were awesomely all-ages) and still be within walking distance of our room. This is key to a multi-day festival not sucking; if you have a place close by where you can charge your phone and body, the chances of enduring hours of walking and standing and potentially enjoying yourself are much greater.
But it wasn't just the nice hotel that seemed to not only accept but accommodate our entire floor of man-children getting rowdy until six a.m. -- it was the whole city of Boise. Treefort had its shit together. Food trucks lined the streets with reasonably-priced fare, a thrift-store tent was giving away clothes to bands and friends of bands, coffee was abundant and delicious, and everyone was cordial and friendly. Even the town's commercial architecture was inviting -- it kind of reminded me of Denver fifteen years ago, before all the beautiful buildings were knocked down in favor of neo-classical Noodles & Co. structures.
The lineup, too, was smartly crafted: Boise offered plenty of room for its local bands to represent, but it wasn't overwhelmingly localized. (The bands in Boise are good, by the way -- and hometowners Built to Spill did several shows.) The national acts were diverse -- Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings headlined and Dan Deacon also crushed it -- and the bands selected were all over the map in terms of style and draw.
I saw Bad Weather California, Grass Widow and Naomi Punk in the same day, surrounded by nice people who gave each other plenty of room to dance without throwing elbows at sternums. Maybe Treefort's Boise base was what made the festival seem much nicer than others I've experienced, but whatever it was, it ruled.
Treefort felt like a place to hear and see music without worrying too much about drunks or fights. It felt like a place where people gathered who actually gave a shit about the bands they were seeing. And in a world where festivals are often focused on the party and not the art, it was good to know that Treefort Music Fest exists. Because I might just go again next year.
Thanks, Boise. It was real.
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