Q & A: Lori Shandro, co-founder of Treefort

doland@idahostatesman.comFebruary 22, 2014 

  • Treefort Music Fest

    Treefort Music Fest is March 20-23 at venues throughout Downtown Boise. A four-day pass is $119 general; $99 for 20 and younger, which gives you access to all-ages venues.The Zip Line pass for $299 gets you to the front of the line, and the Secret Handshake pass for $999 gets you backstage and into special events. It also includes a 2014 Duck Club season pass. Info: TreefortMusicFest.com/tickets. Bonus: Treefort pass holders also get admission to the other “forts” listed below on a space- available basis by showing their wristbands.


    THE TREEFORT FILM FEST will showcase emerging filmmakers and independent films March 19-23 at The Flicks Theatre, 646 Fulton St., and The Shredder, 430 S. 10th St. in Boise. You’ll find filmmaker forums and workshops at other venues. Check the website for more details. A five-day Film Fest-only pass only is $25.

    STORYFORT will feature readings and performances from regional, local and national fiction writers, poets and storytellers from 1 to 6 p.m. March 20-22 and noon to 6 p.m. March 23 at the Sesqui-Shop, 1008 W. Main St. It’s free to Treefort wristband holders. The public can attend if space is available.

    HACKFORT is an extension of Boise State University’s Bronco Appathon app development competition. Apps will be a series of presentations and workshops at the El Korah Shrine, 1117 W. Idaho St., on March 20-22. The Bronco Appathon will be March 7-9.

    YOGAFORT takes over The Linen Building, 1402 W. Grove St., from March 21-23. Classes start at noon each day and will be done to live music. There is a performance at the end of each session that finishes at 5 p.m. It’s $75 for a Yogafort-only pass.

    ALEFORT brew fest will expand this year with more local and regional breweries and longer hours. Look for it near the main stage. Of course, it’s 21 and older, and you gotta pay for beer!

Practical, direct and business-minded, Lori Shandro never imagined she would be on the forefront of one of Boise’s most creative movements. That is, until the birth of Treefort, the city’s multilayered annual music festival that takes place each March.

“I envisioned myself the conservative, safe-choice, boring person,” she says. “It turns out I’m not that person at all.”

Under her guidance — and Treefort partners Drew Lorona, Megan Stoll and Eric Gilbert — Treefort has become more than a music festival. It is a cultural phenomenon, not only propelling Boise’s music scene forward, but now connecting the city’s cultural communities of literature, technology, film and mind/body health.

From the beginning, Treefort exceeded every expectation. That’s because of passion and timing, Shandro says.

“We were all working on our paths and we came together at the right time, in the right place, in a community that wanted it to happen,” she says. “It was serendipitous. You couldn’t force it.”

And as it has grown, Shandro has become a more visible part of the equation.

The momentum that became Treefort started in 2010, a year after Shandro’s husband, Adam, died in a private-plane crash. That tragedy propelled her to explore new interests and avenues. “I needed to do something I didn’t do with Adam,” she says.

Later that year, she took up road cycling and met Lorona, who then worked at Idaho Mountain Touring. They connected over music and talked about ways to bring the bands they loved to Boise — and maybe build a new music venue in the process.

They wrote a business plan and founded The Duck Club, which now produces Treefort and brings bands to Boise venues year round. Then they began looking for a partner on the music side.

Enter Gilbert, a musician and leader of the band Finn Riggins, who was trying to do the same thing — broaden Boise’s musical tastes and develop an audience for emerging bands like his. Once they started talking in September 2011, things moved fast and the first Treefort took over Downtown Boise in March 2012.

Treefort creates an umbrella that brings together local talent and emerging bands, then pairs them with regional and national touring acts, Shandro says. That’s a model that is being translated now by Boise’s other creative communities, which approached the Treefort team and asked to be under their banner.

Treefort 2014 will establish a network of creative activities with the return of Alefort and the addition of Storyfort, Hackfort, Yogafort and the Treefort Film Festival.

Her festival’s success is deeply connected to Adam, she says.

“It was Adam who helped me see who I really am,” she says. “Even in starting my own company, he told me not only that I could do it, but that he expected it.”

Though she still has her day job — The Shandro Group, an independent health insurance agency — she spends more and more time on Treefort and its growing branches.

“It’s been a conscious thing for me for how this festival has grown,” Shandro says. “It’s one thing to put on a bunch of concerts. It’s another to generate a positive effect for the community. Treefort is a great vehicle to bring the community together and build a better Boise.”

OK, what’s the deal with “fort”?

That’s all Eric. We were trying to come up with something playful, yet something that represented Boise. As this IS the “City of Trees,” it made perfect sense.

Where did the original inspiration for Treefort come from?

Drew and I were interested in developing the Boise live music scene to attract the kinds of bands we wanted to see come to Boise, maybe build their perfect venue. We had written a business plan, and we wanted to practice our marketing ideas targeted at speaking to the right audience for emerging bands.

We started looking for someone who had a similar vision and could help us produce these shows. Every lead brought us to Eric. He had the idea of seeing how many bands we could route through Boise on their way out of Austin after playing SXSW (South by Southwest music festival). The proposed one-day event turned into a three- and a half-day event once Eric was done making inquiries.

Our original thought was to show these bands how great Boise is (and that they need not drive right through on their way from Portland, Seattle, Denver ...) and how many fans they have here. Also, we wanted to show off the amazing local talent we have, while hopefully creating a place here that shows you don’t have to move to Portland to be in a band.

I know with the death of your husband, things have been difficult. How much has focusing on Treefort helped you heal?

During the years after Adam died, but before Treefort 2012, I had a psychic (don’t judge) tell me that I had to destroy something to help me move past the anger and grief that was holding me back. She suggested filling a room with cheap vases and taking a baseball bat to them. That idea didn’t sit well with me. During Treefort 2012, I realized that destroying something wouldn’t help me at all. I had to create something to help me heal. Treefort was that something.

You said once making it happen is different than letting it happen. How was the second year compared to the first?

It became apparent once the idea was fleshed out that this town was ready for it. Every time we had a need or role to fill, the perfect person came forth. For the most part, every aspect was built by someone who was passionate to build it.

Rolling from year one to year two and now to year three has been largely the same people taking what has been created and making it better. I was afraid of the “sophomore slump” or that the glow of year one would wear off. While there are definitely growing pains (accounting, yikes, integrating sponsorships in an interactive way …), we all appreciate every moment that we get to work on the project.

What do you think the secret of its success has been?

What seems to work best are the things that come from the passion of someone in the community. The best things about Treefort are done by people we couldn’t pay enough to do what they are doing. They do it because they love it. It’s a festival for the community brought by the community.

Going into year three, you’re adding new components — film, literature, tech development and yoga. How do you envision these different elements working together?

The elements that succeed have been because there has been someone in the community who is passionate about that element. We started an emerging artist music festival (Drew, Eric, Megan and I) because that’s where our passion lay – that and a passion for living in Boise. In each case — beer (Alefort curated by David Roberts), technology (Hackfort curated by Phil Merrill), film (curated by Ben Morgan), creative writing (Storyfort curated by writer Christian Winn) and yoga (Yogafort curated by Marisa Weppner) — someone came to us with an idea to combine their passion into Treefort.

What is your long-range goal for Treefort?

For it to become a self-sustaining entity that is owned and evolved by this community; for it to represent and celebrate the fact that you can live in all the awesomeness that is Boise and experience or represent the same amazing talent as anywhere.

What’s been your biggest learning curve?

It has been a pure pleasure to apply all that I have learned about business from doing tax consulting during my time as a CPA, consulting with people for more than 10 years on health insurance and now a business that is about helping this music and community flourish. Biggest learning curve — you become a workaholic when you’ve never worked so hard on something that doesn’t feel like work.

What’s been your favorite Treefort moment so far?

The impromptu staff brunch Monday at noon after Treefort 1. The tears of exhaustion were mixed with the tears of joy — and the bloody Marys.

What do you think Treefort adds to Boise’s culture?

The realization that not only can anything happen here, but it can be “you” that makes it happen.

What are musicians saying?

They say things like “Treefort is a breath of fresh air.” A place where musicians can relax with each other, as well as with their fans. They also usually say they wish they’d booked more time before or after their show so they could enjoy Treefort and Boise longer.

Did you grow up loving music?

Yes. Absolutely. In my life, it’s been something to think about, something to do, something to hide in and something to celebrate.

In all of history, with whom would you most like to dine?

Winston Churchill.

What are you reading now?

If I had time to read a book? I recently read “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett, (Signet). While I have my criticisms of the book, it was nice to read a novel again after so long. Being a working mother has not done a lot for my free reading time!

What’s on your playlist?

I make one playlist a week for my 5:30 a.m. spin class. I’d say about 50 percent of those songs come from my past and 50 percent come from listening to my favorite shows on Radio Boise (“Antler Crafts,” “Explorations,” “Disco Witch Hunt,” “Tennis Court Disco,” “Toast N Jam,” “Mother’s Ruin”).

What keeps you in Boise?

Having grown up in San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle — and my amazing “framily,” my kids and my friends who have become family.

What’s your favorite Idaho getaway?

Our little ski closet in Ketchum.

Whom do you most admire?

So many people, but specifically, I admire my children and the future I see in their eyes.

What is your motto?

Things don’t happen for a reason. They just happen, and it’s up to us as to what we do about it. That is how we become who we are.

Dana Oland is a former professional dancer and member of Actors Equity who writes about performing and visual arts for the Idaho Statesman. She also writes about food, wine, pets, jazz and other aspects of the good life in Boise.

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