Giving grief is a valuable interview strategy. It is this finely honed journalistic skill that I use to tease Eric Gilbert, director of Treefort Music Fest, about the absence of big-name headliners at his event.
“Treefort,” I quip with cynical pride. “Not Coachella — and proud of it!”
I expect Gilbert to bristle. Or at least groan. Instead, he laughs in agreement. “Totally!”
It just so happens that Treefort, which turns five next week, is comfortable in its skin. Some of us struggle with that. Americans have this inherent expectation that if something is reasonably successful, then it must strive to become fatter and richer. If a grassroots indie festival manages to grow organically for a few years, then it makes sense for it to become more expensive, more commercialized, more mainstream. Super-size it.
Not Treefort. Treefort was built on young, emerging bands, cult acts and tour-in-a-van diehards. Oh, and with a left-field band or two for the “older” folks (Charles Bradley and Leftover Salmon in 2016). It’s not like there aren’t plenty of exciting names on the Treefort poster. Bradley, Yacht, Hinds, CocoRosie — these are all acts playing at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, this week. And Boise’s own Youth Lagoon and Built to Spill are indie favorites. (They’ve both played Coachella, too.)
But if you’re looking for a big ol’ Mumford & Sons-type gorilla? Or even a notable indie crossover act? Something like TV on the Radio, which played Treefort in 2015?
I sense Gilbert shrugging over the phone.
Not Coachella — and proud of it.
“I went to Coachella last year,” Gilbert says. “And I definitely don’t think it’s what we’re trying to be. I think that’s fairly obvious in a lot of things that we’re doing. It’s just a different perspective. I don’t say that necessarily as a derogatory thing toward Coachella.”
The two-weekend arts and music blowout in Indio, Calif., sold all 198,000 tickets and grossed more than $84 million from those sales alone in 2015. Treefort felt pretty dang exciting in Downtown Boise last year with an estimated overall attendance of 14,000. Treefort’s financial challenge for years was to finally break even.
“Even though we’re a for-profit entity, we’re not just trying to maximize profits and pile people into a field,” Gilbert says. “Not saying that’s solely what Coachella is about these days, but what we’re doing is a product of our intentions.”
Coachella headliners included AC/DC, The Weeknd, Alabama Shakes, Jack White and Drake.
Treefort would just seem weird with one of those acts. (OK, maybe not Jack White.)
This is Treefort’s strongest overall music lineup, Gilbert says. The more than two dozen stages all offer quality, he maintains.
“Each venue has stronger headliners across the board as opposed to focusing on growing the top, the Main Stage,” he explains. “Which is counterintuitive to most festivals.”
Counterintuitive — and proud of it.
“In a day and age when most of the (big-name) headliners are all playing the same festivals, I think Treefort continues to be kind of a curveball in that,” Gilbert says. “It’s not us trying to be different, it’s just us being authentic. But I do think if you look at the broad scheme of things, I think a lot of these festivals are uninteresting because they’re all the same bands. Even if they are the biggest ones. I think it’s gotten a little ridiculous with all these festivals trying to out-headline each other.”
And Treefort ticket sales are up. “They’re up from out of state, and they’re generally up,” Gilbert says. “It’s not like they’ve shot up from previous years. But they’re definitely stronger than we’ve ever seen and people are buying earlier.”
“I don’t know what all that is attributed to,” Gilbert admits. “But I think our lineup stands out to people that are paying attention. They’re in line with us.”
Inspired to get in line yourself? Act friendly and you can probably even cut at Treefort. You’d never get away with that at Coachella.
Huckleberry Jam lineup
The Huckleberry Jam, which happens Aug. 11-13 at Tamarack Resort in Donnelly, arguably has a stronger lineup in its second year. Check out the main stage.
Aug. 12: Brandi Carlile, Beats Antique, Monophonics, Jeff Crosby & The Refugees.
Aug. 13: Michael Franti & Spearhead, Robert Randolph & The Family Band, Lake Street Dive, Moon Hooch, Shook Twins.
No James Beard, Boise
I was hungry for humility. I wanted to eat my words. I not so secretly hoped that my recent argument — that Boise chefs have virtually no chance at becoming James Beard Award finalists, let alone winning — would irk a few judges. Maybe some of them would be nudged to finally vote for Boise.
Sadly, regional voting politics prevailed again. When James Beard Award finalists were announced this week, small-market Boise was nowhere to be found.
I’m sure all the finalists are deserving. Still, it’s never easy to swallow.