Deeds: Treefort sprouting up rapidly, but still magical

mdeeds@idahostatesman.comMarch 21, 2014 

Treefort Music Fest's evolution has been grassroots and organic, so it feels natural when festival director Eric Gilbert compares year three to a living, growing thing.

"In a lot of ways, the irony of it was we were trying to cut the plant back and make it strong and dense," Gilbert says. "That was our thought process."

But as any gardener knows, pruning occasionally stimulates growth.

"It just kind of kept growing off of the sides and stuff," he says.

Hackfort.

Storyfort.

Skatefort.

Kidfort.

Yogafort.

Yogurtfort.

OK, not Yogurtfort — yet. But don't be surprised if a yogurt food truck materializes.

Treefort isn't Gilbert's plant. It's more like Jack and the Beanstalk. The thing has turned into a celebration of not just music, but technology, literature, film, comedy, performing arts — and beer, of course.

"All the different forts are the product of people coming to us with ideas," he says. "It was definitely not like, 'All right, cool, we've got this music thing handled, let's start doing lots of other stuff.' "

Gilbert is calm about his looming event, as always. When I catch up to him by phone, he's tending to his new baby daughter and getting the brakes repaired on his van.

"I have to haul artists all weekend," Gilbert explains.

How many artists? Better yet, how many total acts will be at Treefort?

Organizers turned down more than 1,000 bands, Gilbert says, before settling on "more than 360." But that could grow. Making definitive numeric claims is going out on a Treefort limb.

"By the time it's over, we might have 400 — you never know with Treefort," festival publicist Matt Dalley says, laughing in a manner that isn't quite "they're coming to take me away, ha-ha" — at least not yet.

READ the Official Weekend Survival Guide to Treefort

The buoyant, efficient Dalley, who has been with Treefort since its first year, actually sounds nearly as composed as Gilbert, although when I badger him for petty festival details, he admits to having Treefort data leaking out his ears.

Boise's emerging-acts festival has about 40 staffers and 400 volunteers.

"A couple of years ago, at a lot of these staff meetings, there were just a couple of us there," Dalley remembers. "Now there's like a ton of different staff people all crammed into a big room."

Ah, to get nostalgic about two years ago. "I know, it's weird!" Dalley admits with another laugh.

He loves it. Gilbert loves it. Boise loves it. Hell, our mayor — who appeared in a Treefort promotional video for last year's event — loves it.

What began as a small but ambitious idea — a mini-South By Southwest that catches bands on tour the week after the actual SXSW — has evolved into a small-city behemoth.

An article in the new Willamette Week asks, "Can the Treefort Music Fest make Boise the next Portland?"

Geez, let's hope not. We've got something special happening here.

Guitar whiz Delicate Steve, whose New Jersey-based band has played both prior years, flew into Boise just to wander around for three days and be an official musician at-large — a multi-talented man prepared to hop on stage at a moment's notice.

Born Steve Marion, the 26-year-old sounds like a kid on Christmas Eve when he describes his vacationlike role at Treefort.

"I'm so excited this is happening," he says. "All my friends are going to be playing shows, and I'm going to say, 'Hey, if you need somebody to jam, I really have no idea what's going to happen.' Which is exciting!"

Gilbert gets excited when he talks about how Treefort has affected Boise's music scene. During Treefort's first year, there were about 140 total bands. This year, there are about 140 LOCAL bands.

"A lot of the local bands are really stepping up their game," he says. "It's a cool sense of collaboration."

Gilbert has always maintained a cautiously optimistic, wait-and-see attitude about Treefort. This year is no different. Seventeen venues are involved, with as many as 23 stages.

"Personally, I think it's our best lineup yet as far as density of talent and variety of talent," he says. "It was really meant to just be a strengthening year, and it has expanded. I'm interested to see how that plays out in a town this size."

One thing is certain: There will be magic. The Treefort is growing, but there's still room for everyone.

"Everybody knows everybody," Delicate Steve says. "Everyone's there to see music. Everyone is ready to just lose their s--t at a show.

"It feels like a family affair."

Definitely. Just with not-so-many parents and thousands of smiling, hyperactive kids.

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