As someone who ostensibly is a right-brain kind of guy — a musician — Eric Gilbert has learned to get comfortable with numbers.
Answering questions about the growth of Treefort Music Fest for five years develops this talent.
For example: Exactly how many bands in 2016?
“I think we got it nailed down at 450 bands,” Treefort’s director and co-founder says.
What about official stages? “25,” Gilbert decides after making a careful distinction between “stages” and “venues.”
How many local bands? “There’s 179 locals,” he declares confidently.
That’s impressively precise.
What about headaches? Exactly how many headaches at Treefort?
Don’t ask. Gilbert would never admit to a single aspirin.
Treefort, which takes place March 23-27 in Downtown Boise, is a massive undertaking. Five days. Thousands of fans. Hundreds of volunteers.
But for Gilbert and the Treefort team, the organizational challenge is a labor of love. It’s a festival created by indie fans for indie fans.
Even if the lineup includes a Grammy winner (Thundercat) and a band recently featured in Rolling Stone magazine (Hinds), the festival’s “big” names are far from household names. Treefort’s target wristband buyer — a person Gilbert describes as a “core music fan” — appreciates this. He or she is the type of adventurous fan who believes that discovering new bands is just as fun as seeing ones you already know.
25The number of international bands, from countries including Germany, Japan, Israel, Denmark, France, Italy and Switzerland.
The secret is out about Boise’s emerging-acts festival. Gilbert estimates that Treefort turned away at least 1,400 bands who submitted an application to perform this year.
From its start, Treefort was designed to take advantage of the horde of indie groups trekking west after performing at South By Southwest. The Austin, Texas, festival ends the week before Treefort begins. After generating buzz in jam-packed Austin, acts such as soul singer Charles Bradley and electro-pop group Yacht will roll into low-key Boise. Treefort will feel like a relaxing vacation in comparison.
In the Northwest, Treefort has become a cultural phenomenon. Dozens of acts from Portland and Seattle perform at Treefort. Many set up camp for the entire weekend, enjoying downtown Boise’s food, nightlife and Treefort atmosphere.
Treefort’s environment has diversified as the festival has evolved. Last year, Treefort fully embraced its non-music offerings, known as subforts. Whether it is Alefort, Filmfort, Hackfort or Yogafort, there’s now something for almost anyone. (Preview the subforts, page 12.)
“More and more people Downtown are getting involved in their own ways,” Gilbert says. “It’s just really bringing the community together and having people experience things. ... It’s kind of cool to have everyone together and a lot of room to stumble upon things that you wouldn’t normally see otherwise.”
I think the subforts are definitely part of the fabric.
Eric Gilbert, Treefort festival director
This year, curation sometimes was handled on a venue-by-venue basis. So if you love a particular music genre, you can find a destination. Saturday night at the Knitting Factory will be a hip-hop haven with Aesop Rock, Oddisee and Magna Carda. Meanwhile, the Basque Center on Saturday will have bands such as local favorites Amuma Says No and California’s La Misa Negra, which describes its sound as “1950s and 60s style cumbia and high-energy, Afro-Colombian dance music.”
Wandering around is a fun way to experience Treefort. That said, it helps to know where you’re going.
As usual, the Main Stage will be at 12th and Grove streets. (Kids 12 and younger get into the Main Stage free.) The area outside the Main Stage also is where you’ll find food trucks, the brew festival Alefort and other Treefort activities that do not require a wristband to enjoy.
The Main Stage doesn’t open until Friday. But the party starts Wednesday at six Treefort venues. The first official music event is at 6 p.m. at the Mardi Gras, where local band Thick Business will collaborate with Ballet Idaho.
In past years, you could hang out at the Main Stage and not feel too guilty for not exploring the rest of Downtown. But Gilbert says this year’s festivalwide lineup is Treefort’s strongest yet. So bring your walking shoes and an open-minded, eager spirit.
“I feel like a lot of the club shows have multiple headliners playing on the same bill,” he says.
“We actually want our Main Stage busy and full the whole time,” he adds, “but there’s also room for everything else to be going on. Which, last year, shocked me. The Main Stage was full, but everywhere was busy.”
Gilbert still begins each festival with a touch of doubt. Every year, Treefort gets a little bigger yet tries to maintain a vibrant, intimate feel. In 2015, Treefort had 8,000 ticketed attendees and 1,800 band members.
Will Treefort’s noble high-wire act — a balance of ambition and attendance — result in a slip someday?
“We shall see. I don’t take anything for granted,” Gilbert says. “It worked surprisingly well last year. There’s just enough people to go around, and I like that people are trying a lot of different things.”
WHEN: March 23-27
WHERE: Downtown Boise. Main Stage is at 12th and Grove streets.
TICKETS: Festivalwide passes cost $179 (plus fees). Single-day festivalwide passes run from $79 to $89 (plus fees). Main Stage single-day passes cost $30 (plus fees) in advance, or $40 if you walk up. When capacity allows, individual music venues will sell entry passes for prices ranging from $10 to $30. Visit the Treefort website for more information.