Photo Credit: Treefort Fest

How Treefort Showcases Boise’s Soul

A convening. A tipping point. A series of catalytic experiences. The moments between the programmed moments. 

Beyond the overwhelm of hundreds of music acts, the impending fifth Treefort Music Fest means so much more than merely music. In a flurry of five-days of activity, it encapsulates the soul of Boise.

And that's why for the fourth year in a row, I'll wear out the soles of my Frye boots tromping all over Downtown Boise to soak it in. But I have a confession to make. I’m not what you would call a hardcore music fan by any stretch of the imagination. Granted, I attend about a dozen concerts a year - ranging from a laid-back local bluegrass set, to an underground hip-hop show where I can't quite catch all the lyrics, to the mega-stage production of a global star when they tour through town.

Why I Treefort (yes, I've made it a verb), is for the ways that this explosion of creativity and artistry showcases my adopted hometown. It is pretty much everything I wish visitors and new transplants, snarky national media and pundits would experience, understand and showcase about Boise.  

I love my city so much. And what I like about Treefort is when I ride downtown and I'm coming to the Main Stage, I see people just turned out in droves and they're happy. I hear music in the air; I can smell the food vendors: I just see so much creativity going on and it's, it's just like my city's been turned inside out and it's the coolest feeling!
-  Cathy Knipe via Fort Access

Here's my top 6 take on how Treefort showcases Boise's soul:

Our Bootstrap and GSD Attitude

If you read the story of how Treefort came to be, you know it was about a trio of Boiseans (Lori Shandro-Outen, Eric Gilbert & Drew Lorona) who wanted to create a showcase for emerging artists, both in Boise and across the Northwest. So, they set out to create it using their talents, connections, passion and desire to build something of value for these artists and the community. They didn't wait until the perfect moment, or until everything had been figured out, or a major sponsor swept in, or someone else with more festival experience created a formal structure.

They went out and Got. S%$!. Done. 

For years I've been trying to verbalize how Boise encapsulates both the independent spirit of the West and a progressive forward-thinking energy. This isn't about politics. This is about how — when you are a mid-sized metro area that many consider isolated or just a flyover city — you figure things out; you bootstrap to bring your idea to life and don't wait till someone writes you a big check. You make due with what is in front of you, not waiting until it is perfect and polished. You are nimble and creative, solving problems instead of waiting for easy solutions from someone else. You leverage proximity and closeness to share and amplify your vision, and rally others to your cause. You fail and learn and try again... and again. You can be stubborn about what you envision could be...and work your tail off to make it reality. 

There is a tenacity and a fortitude of spirit among Boiseans. And the birth and growth of Treefort is the offspring of that attitude. 

1-Degree of Access 

For some time I've thought about Boise having 2-degrees of separation instead of the requisite 6-degrees per Kevin Bacon. Need to meet with someone at City Hall, pick the brain of a startup CEO, set up an appointment with a state office or get time with a creative or coder? Email, text, tweet or just run into them on the street.  

I've now come to realize, thanks to new Boisean Gordon Jones, that this is not about separation...but access. Yes, a relatively small population of our city and state contributes to this. But it's about more than just numbers. Boise has a generosity of mindshare. The majority of people in this valley want to help in whatever way they can - through ideas, insights, connections, cash, or sharing of a story. The trajectory of growth for Treefort, and all of the forts that have sprung up around it, speak to that connectivity and proximity. 

As does our natural instinct to...

Catalyze & Collaborate  

Though this may prompt you to respond 'Collaborate and listen....' (showing your age and music influences), this is about what happens in the months before and after Treefort. As producer John Michael Schert shared, "...it's about the catalytic nature when someone experiences something, then wants to contribute their own ideas... It's embracing the 2/3 reality and 1/3 possibility of what Boise could be like a lot more."

The proliferation of forts is one great example - as people saw opportunities to convene, they took concept to reality and hence - Alefort, Comedyfort, Filmfort, Foodfort, Hackfort, Kidfort, Performance Art, Skatefort, Storyfort and Yogafort exist. And they don't exist in silos. They overlap and share artists and speakers, and cross-promote moments and events. Another example is the fantastic Treefort App, born out of developers who came together at Hackfort and started...hacking. Improving every year, the Treefort Dev Team's app is already one of the standout stars of Treefort 2016. 

These catalyzing moments extend beyond the schedule and into the rest of the year. Schert has shared anecdotes of multiple Idaho creatives flourishing in their chosen fields because of the existence and boost of Treefort. Many that could have moved to a bigger pond have chosen to stay, create and flourish here. It is both a platform and a stepping-stone. This co-mingling and melding of all walks of life that tends to happen in Boise so easily is distilled into five days of collaboration in a way that somehow feels cohesive. 

Freakishly Friendly

Life and vibrancy after hours. Sidewalks as gathering places. Crosswalks as conversation hubs. Strangers connecting digitally, then sharing an analog moment.  Those are the polished ways to say - Boise's freakishly friendly nature is on full display during Treefort week. I stopped counting all the tweets from visiting artists and attendees remarking on how dang nice Boiseans are. It's true. We are freaks that way. It's taken me about a decade to get over being confused when a stranger smiles at me when they pass on the sidewalk. 

And while it is great that we roll out the hospitality attitude when 14,000+ descend on downtown Boise in late March, the truth is - it happens year-round.  On a pie chart, Boise may not have the diversity demographics of larger cities. But the welcoming nature of its people, the embracing of strangers, and the open-mindedness towards new and different ideas is something that gives me hope for where our city is going. Treefort helps foster and grow that potential.

We don't take ourselves too seriously 

Call it irreverent, call it approachable, call it quirky. But Boise has a personality that doesn't take itself too seriously. Instead of polished, we'll take authentic. Instead of highbrow, we'll take welcoming. You can keep Austin and Portland weird, we're just fine with being authentically us - and not getting too uptight or overwrought about it. 

Case in point, the infographic roundup of Treefort 2015 by the numbers included how many squids were in attendance, and gave a tip of the hat to 'One Missing F' - acknowledging a marketing mishap that turned Treefort into "Treeort" on the 'now a collector's item' Trail Guide. 

Moments between the Moments

As co-founder Eric Gilbert shared, "It’s not about the headliners…. it’s about the full experience. It's the moments between the programmed moments - that is what Treefort is all about."

I couldn't sum it up better. My favorite memories of the past few years are those serendipitous discoveries while walking between venues. Stumbling on performance art that has sprung up on a street corner; watching kids experience music and art alongside their parents; hearing visiting artists rave about the welcoming nature and vibe of our town; and rediscovering pockets and corners and views of our city that I don't stop often enough to recognize and appreciate.

Treefort is an experience that transcends the official event itinerary.  It’s a series of micro-experiences making up your whole impression, instead of one massive event where everyone interprets it the same way. Like Boise, you show up expecting one thing and are blown away by what you hadn't planned for, and those micro-moments leave you with an impression all of your own. 


In essence, Treefort for me is the most concentrated amount of Boise-ness you can get. All the best aspects of Boise are present. It shows the Boise we all love to tell stories about. As a self-proclaimed Festival of Discovery, it's about what others can discover about us...and what we (re)discover about this place we call home.  

Speaking of stories, be ready for #TreefortStories to enter your feeds over the next week. Join us and share a snapshot, a post, a moment, a story worth sharing about how Treefort showcases the soul of Boise. Need a reminder of the stories that await you?  

Hear why the fans love it...

Why the bands love it...

An example of that catalytic + collaborative nature - Band Dialogue

And an example of one of those 'moments between the moments' you can experience - Rigsketball