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Diaries from Treefort Fest: Part 1

Photos by Lauren Khalfayan, find more of her work here

When you think of hubs of arts and culture in America, or even just on the west coast, I don’t immediately think of Boise, Idaho—an unsuspecting Portland-esque town. But Boise is the home to indie festival, Treefort Fest, which hosts musicians, filmmakers, yogis, and whatever else for a five day celebration of arts and culture. Unlike traditional festivals hosted in a vacant field in the middle of nowhere where you simply run across the muddy, beer can littered grass to the stage on the other side, Treefort takes things inside the city and hosts hundreds of acts across various indoor venues throughout the city, as well as headlining acts on their outdoor mainstage (it’s like a bigger Northside Festival).

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The Muckers

Treefort succeeds where many festivals fail by having a lineup that consists primarily of  smaller, independent acts rather than a hodgepodge of top 40 names featured in festivals like Coachella. There’s a heavy pacific northwest influence in the bands attending, with Washington, Oregon, and Canada well represented. It’s more band heavy than arguably any other festival this season and it’s also probably one of the most diverse when it comes to representation regarding women, non-binary artists, LGBTQ+ artists, and people of color.

The most underrated aspect of Treefort though, is that it doesn’t feel like you’re at a festival. You’re not standing in a packed crowd in front of a massive outdoor stage where you can barely see the artist and paying $8 plus for a miller lite. You’re up close and personal with bands in intimate venues where the vibe is identical (if not amplified) to if they were the only band playing that night—and the beer is $2. Multiple acts also played more than one set over the course of several days meaning you didn’t have to sacrifice seeing any favorites if there was a conflict one night. 

While I was at the festival, I spent a good chunk of time at the Boise All Ages Project – a gutted Urban Outfitters turned performance space where the lineup was geared towards a more garage rock sound. Local standout, CMMNWLTH, started things off there on Wednesday with a gutsy, emo-skewed set a la Sorority Noise, which revved up the crowd for a night of crowd surfing, moshing, and unexpected collaborations. Brooklyn’s own Fruit and Flowers took the stage shortly after, as well as Chicago’s Lala Lala, before together PANGEA closed out the night as headliners in an electric set. Lead singer William Keegan screeched cheekily about his dick being soft amidst fuzzy, riffing guitar solos as everyone in the crowd more or less lost their shit. Keegan seemed to keep checking in with the other band members with a sly smile on his face as if to say, “Do you see what the fuck is happening right now?” Whether or not this is par for the course for PANGEA shows, I can’t say, but I can say that this one was off the walls. They closed out the set by bringing up Joe Calvi and Patrick Collins of CMMNWLTH to lend vocals and drums respectively to “Snakedog,” ending the night in a collaborative spirit that would carry on for the rest of the festival.

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together PANGEA

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Joe Calvi of CMMNWLTH with together PANGEA

Day two really kicked things into high gear. In what I would say was the most stacked day of the festival, there were performances from Brooklyn favorites, The Muckers, as well as Skating Polly, Vundabar, The Districts, Twin Peaks, and Titus Andronicus. While it was physically impossible for me to be at all of these sets, the ones I caught were completely unreal – making that night maybe the best night of music I’ve ever seen – full stop. The Muckers managed to pack and energize a somewhat early set at El Korah Shrine to an unsuspecting crowd that totally was enraptured by their 70s influenced psych-rock/funk hybrid. Following that I got together with “ugly-pop” trio, Skating Polly who despite their 90s alt rock/punk sound find inspiration in everything from T.S. Elliot, to Micheal Fassbender, Steel Magnolias, and their guilty pleasure, Riverdale.

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From movies and TV shows, I’ll get little random lines that I genuinely just think are funny… and it’s the weirdest shit that sticks in my brain for some reason and just falls out of my mouth. I usually bend them the lines so much that I don’t think they’re recognizable. – Lead singer Kelli Mayo of Skating Polly on song inspiration

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The Muckers

LK0_9458 websize The Suffers

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The Suffers

Then came the jam-packed (no pun intended) section of the evening. I caught the tail end of The Suffers’ set, which had a grand finale like none other. Lead singer Kam Franklin wailed as her brass backing carried her home on cascading riffs that kept building until you were sure they couldn’t go any further or harder, just for them to prove you wrong. Then back to back, across different venues, were The Districts, Vundabar, and Twin Peaks. The Districts are a rare rock group that skillfully manages being bittersweet and soulful while remaining punchy, inoffensively poetic, and messy in the best kind of way. Front man Robby Grote is impassioned and explosive one minute and intimate and simple the next, delivering a truly dynamic set. He’s supported by the equally talented Connor Jacobus, Braden Lawrence, and Pat Cassidy who don’t shy away from delivering the same kind of fervid performances.

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The Districts

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The Districts

I had to tear myself away from their set to make sure I was able to catch Vundabar at The Linen Building. Vundabar has quickly become not only one of my favorite acts to see live, but their album, Smell Smoke, is my top release of 2018 thus far. The self-proclaimed Coen Brothers of Rock, Brandon Hagen and Drew McDonald’s performance is fraught with absurdity and whimsy while dealing with the topics like the dismantled American dream and death. Lead singer and guitarist, Hagen’s performance is even more raw and reckless live as he releases untamed yelps and screams to further punctuate his clever word play. While their album is decidedly a little “boo hoo,” their set is anything but. It’s filled with jokes and oddities—2 seconds of incomprehensible sounds followed by Hagen quipping that’s their latest single, tongue wagging, butt shaking, and cowboy hats. They’re unpolished perfection.

LK0_9404 websize Vundabar

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Closing out the night was Twin Peaks back at El Korah Shrine. Again, Twin Peaks is up there with one of the best bands I’ve seen live. There’s a feeling in the air at a Twin Peaks show that really anything could happen. Whether that’s the stage breaking, The Districts crowd surfing, or good ole fashioned rampant moshing, it’s a nonstop high from the very first riff. Both their sound and performance likens back to the long gone era of late 60s/early 70s rock n’ roll and while the majority of the crowd was probably not there to experience what that was actually like, we got to feel like we did for a night.

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Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks

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