Attendance up for this year’s Treefort; festival dates set for 2018

Treefort Music Fest co-founder and music guru Eric Gilbert is resting easier now. The ever-expanding and multifaceted five-day festival wrapped up Sunday. The event took a Herculean effort to pull off in terms of programming, planning and execution and, by all indications, 2017 was the most successful Treefort yet, Gilbert says.

“It was the best we’ve had in terms of attendance and in how we’ve settled in to be able to operate it,” he says. “More people showing up means more work, and it brought some new challenges, but they were ones we were able to manage. So I’m really proud of what we pulled off.”

This was the sixth year for Treefort, which filled Downtown Boise with activity March 22-26. The event brought more than 400 musical acts to town and included an increasing number of “subforts” and satellite happenings that spanned themes from literary arts to technology to yoga.

Gilbert and the Treefort staff are still crunching numbers, but it looks as if about 18,000 people participated in some trackable way. Organizers distributed 9,000 passes, including the five-day, zipline and single-day passes that were purchased and given to performers, sponsors and others involved in the festival. The other 9,000 includes Alefort cups sold and tickets bought at the door.

The Treefort success had a ripple effect. Downtown hotels felt the impact, says Carrie Westergard of the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau. Hotels near the event were full, and some even turned people away.

About 30 percent of rooms at The Grove Hotel were filled by Treefort attendees.

“It was our first sellout for Treefort,” says Steve Steading, digital marketing manager for The Grove. “We’ve never experienced this before during Treefort. It’s a testament to how big the event is becoming, and I think it’s good for us and good for Downtown.”

And business was — not unexpectedly — booming at the Owyhee Tavern, the restaurant attached to the building that becomes Treefort central during the event.

“It was nonstop during the festival,” says Owyhee manager Chris Scharf.

Yogafort co-founder Marissa Weppner says she is still “buzzing” in the Treefort afterglow.

“You’d think I’d be super exhausted, but I just feel vibrant,” she says.

Yogafort saw a record turnout, with 250 Yogafort passes sold and 100 to 200 people attending each class at JUMP.

“We had people dropping in for a class, people with their Treefort wristbands, musicians came through — it was just awesome,” Weppner says.

JUMP was a new venue this year for Yogafort and Hackfort, and the larger space made it possible for more people to attend. There still is an opportunity for Yogafort to grow, but Weppner wouldn’t want it to overshadow Treefort.

“We’re in a sweet spot right now,” she says. “I don’t want Yogafort to take over my Treefort experience.”

Treefort attendance numbers don’t include people who went to what’s become known as Freefort, the music and other events at free-access venues such as Pre Funk, The Modern Hotel and Even Stevens Sandwiches, and to the subforts such as Storyfort, Kidfort and Skatefort that don’t have an admission charge.

Having all this access is a great way to expand, find new community partners and give people a chance to sample Treefort, says Gilbert says, who hopes those people will make an investment in future years.

The festival added other aspects this year, such as free bus shuttles that also included live bands.

“That was ValleyRide’s idea,” Gilbert says. “We’ve been talking with them for couple of years, and we were finally able put it together. It was their idea to put music on the bus, so we made it happen.”

Gilbert is excited about how all the programs deepened their focuses this year.

“When I think of things like the refugee conversation that Mayor Bieter led at Storyfort, having Nate Silver (and FiveThirtyEight) here, the LED performance, and getting the (Boise) Philharmonic involved — I think it enriched the way people are being impacted,” he says. “We’re having important conversations and having fun at the same time.”

The event is on track for its seventh edition next year. It will take place from Wednesday, March 21, to Sunday, March 25, 2018. There are no tangible plans to expand or add more forts, Gilbert says, “but knowing us, it’s hard to say we won’t.”

Look for the first round of passes to go on sale in late August or early September. Check TreefortMusicFest.com for updates.

Related stories from Idaho Statesman