Treefort Music Festival has music for all ages
Treefort week always lifts my spirits. Mostly because of all the reasons you’re familiar with — the music, the events, the food, the celebration of all things Downtown Boise. But also because the beginning of Treefort means that my yearly research project is finally finished.
The annual music festival is certainly a time to play. But if you want to be up to speed on all that it offers, it can also be a lot of work. And I’ve certainly put in my hours. Every spring since 2012 — the very first Treefort — I have listened to, and taken notes on, every single band in every single lineup.
I’m not usually what you would call a meticulous planner. Not by a long shot. I do little, if any, research on big purchases. I don’t start thinking about taxes until around April 10. Even a barista’s attempt at small talk by asking about my weekend plans will often leave me scratching my head.
Yet the idea of going unprepared into Treefort and its maze of live music is — to me — not an option. The combined fears of missing a great band and being stuck with an unsatisfying one somehow kicks me into gear in ways that the fear of, say, being without a career contingency plan does not.
Back in 2012, when Treefort had a mere 137 artists and perhaps just one or two music clips to sample on the festival’s website, this band research could basically be knocked out in a weekend. But things have certainly escalated. Both in number of bands — over 440 this year — and in samples offered.
And so my research, and time commitment, has escalated too. I still make plenty of mistakes, but I’ve learned a few tricks that help to minimize them.
Of course, if you’re just now introducing yourself to this year’s lineup, then you’re going to have to scramble any way you can. But for future reference (or if you can manage an afternoon cram session before the music starts tonight) here are a few tips for those of you who take your Treefort choices (too) seriously and don’t mind the risk of alarming your loved ones with your efforts.
1) Start early. About half of the lineup is usually set by January, which is when I start paying attention, at least sporadically. Think of it as upgrading Treefort from merely a five-day festival into its own full-blown seasonal hobby. And it’s cheaper than normal winter pastimes like skiing — even if wristbands do seem to be approaching the price of a Bogus Basin season pass.
2) Listen to as many samples as feasible. If you’re like me, you are wholly unfamiliar each year with a sizable majority of the bands. It’s tempting to listen to just one song from each and form an opinion. But it’s probably not quite accurate. Of course, depending on your tastes, some artists make it easy. If electronic DJs aren’t your thing, you’ll encounter plenty in the artist lineup that you can safely gloss over. My biggest time-saver is the doom metal. When I go to a band’s page and hear those first few sludgy chords, followed by guttural, roaring vocals, I get a sense of accomplishment knowing that I’ve successfully evaluated a band in under 15 seconds.
3) Take notes. I use a star system as I go through the lineup — from 5 stars (attend at all costs) to 3 (interested) to zero (bands with vocalists who roar). I’ll also jot down a short description that usually makes no sense to anyone but me. This had never been a problem until a couple of years ago when friends began learning the depths of my sickness and started asking me to share my notes, only to be confused by them. (“What exactly do you mean by ‘potential for good weirdness’?“)
4) Be wary of reviews. Sometimes the pros know what they’re talking about. Sometimes they don’t. But even if they do, you should consider their recommendations as merely a starting point before checking out a band for yourself. Keep in mind that the reviewer may be a pretentious, roar-hating music snob.
5) Look for a live-performance video. This one is key, but definitely requires extra effort. Bands with good studio songs aren’t always able to pull off the same quality live. But I’ve found it more likely for the opposite to be true. Every year I change my notes on a handful of bands from “interested” to “must see” after seeing live footage. You can find a lot of the best bands in high-quality YouTube videos provided via AudioTree, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts and Seattle radio station KEXP. But most of the artists have at least some sort of YouTube presence.
6) Make a playlist. Every time I come across a song that really catches my ear, I’ll add it to a personalized Spotify playlist, which I’ll listen to during those rare instances in which I’m neither working, sleeping or doing more Treefort research. It keeps the bands you really want to see fresh in mind as you continue to cede brainpower to the cause.
7) Make the hard choices. Once my notes are done, I’ll match them to the festival schedule and start figuring out my plan. This inevitably leads to at least some level of heartache. Last year, I listed only three five-star bands, but two of them played at the exact same time. Luckily, the issue has been remedied somewhat this year with several bands being scheduled on more than one day. And don’t forget about the second-chance shows, which aren’t listed on the official schedule. Friday and Saturday afternoons are littered with good options that could significantly ease your decision-making.
8) Consider making sacrifices. Unless you shelled out the big bucks for a straight-to-the-front-of-the-line Zipline pass (and really — even if you can afford it, do you really want to be that guy?), then you might not want to take any chances on missing your must-see shows. Especially if that show is at the El Korah Shrine, which tends to have lines around the block for some of its more anticipated bands. To get your foot in the door, consider making plans to see the previous band as well, even if it’s someone you’re not particularly fond of.
9) Make your notes portable. No, I’m not suggesting that you haul a notebook or a bunch of stapled-together sheets of paper from show to show. The reason I’m not suggesting it is because I’ve done it — although it was for that very first simpler-times Treefort, which required just three sheets that folded easily into my back pocket. By the following year I had graduated to a smartphone and started emailing myself the notes. Now, with the help of a co-worker, I’ve moved on to a color-coded spreadsheet that can be viewed on my phone and sorted by both times and rankings. Why not just use the Treefort schedule app, you ask? It’s useful, certainly. But you’ve put in the work. You know things. That checkmark in the app isn’t going to remind you that Caroline Rose’s keyboard player has outstanding dance moves. But your notes will.
So there you go. Four hundred and forty bands and 36 hours later (based on an average of five minutes of research per band), you have a plan. And if you’re like me, you also have a question to ask yourself: “Is my estimate of 36 hours a wild misrepresentation of a much higher actual number in an attempt to make me sound less insane?” Almost certainly. But at least you are now prepared.
Which brings me to one last tip:
10) Be ready to completely ignore your painstakingly prepared research when necessary. Are you really going to insist on going to that three-star show by yourself while most of your friends are dancing at the two-star? No, of course not. Be with your people. That way, no matter who you end up seeing, you’ll have a roaring good time.
Now that I’ve advised you to trust no one when it comes to choosing your bands, it’s time for me to be a complete hypocrite and list my top picks. Hey, if you’re not going to put in the work, you might as well listen to someone who did. But, again, don’t take my word for it. Go check these out for yourself.
I’m listing three or four per day that I’m looking most forward to, along with my actual, mostly nonsensical notes for each. For a much more educated (and coherent) list of suggestions, check out Treefort co-founder Eric Gilbert’s always-excellent rundown of top under-the-radar bands.
Wednesday, March 20
Rosie Tucker — 7 p.m., PreFunk Beer Bar, 1100 W. Front St. Also 8:40 p.m. Thursday at The Olympic, 1009 W. Main St.
“3 STARS: Nice understated vocals; good songwriter; folkish pop; ‘Fault Lines’ and ‘Gay Bar’ are great.”
Doe — 11:30 p.m., Linen Building, 1402.W. Grove St.
“3 STARS: ‘90s Weezer-inspired alt-rock; some Pavement moments too; consistently solid.”
The Puscie Jones Revue — 11:50 p.m., El Korah Shrine, 1118 W. Idaho St.
“3 STARS: Funk/soul/jammy ‘60s rock w/ Edwin Starr vocals.”
Thursday, March 21
Vertical Scratchers — 10:20 p.m., The Shredder, 430 S. 10th St.
“4 STARS: Punk rock meets the Kinks.”
Night Beats — 10:30 p.m., El Korah Shrine, 1118 W. Idaho St.
“3 STARS: Authentic dirty surfy ‘60s; true rock and roll show.”
Mike Krol — 11:30 p.m., The Shredder, 430 S. 10th St.
“5 STARS: Lo-fi catchy danceable top-shelf punk rock; in same vein as Hives; on Stooges family tree.”
Extra commentary: This AudioTree set was probably the best thing I saw during my research.
Anemone — 12:30 p.m., Neurolux, 111 N. 11th St. Also playing 8 p.m. Friday at El Korah Shrine, 1118 W. Idaho St.
“3 STARS: Relaxed yet danceable pop; high vocals; sometimes French; ‘Party Theme’ is in fact a disco party.”
Friday, March 22
Esme Patterson — 3:30 p.m., Main Stage, 1201 W. Grove St.
“3 STARS: Catchy Americana rock; great guitar; fantastic vocals — squeaks to guttural; live is better than recorded.”
Art d’Ecco — 6 p.m., Linen Building, 1402 W. Grove St. Also 7 p.m. Saturday at PreFunk Beer Bar, 1100 W. Front St.
“3 STARS: Catchy, bassy new-wave-ish dance pop; sometimes fuzzy; high whispery vocals; under genres, they list ‘Canada.’”
Liz Phair — 8:30 p.m., Main Stage, 1201 W. Grove St.
“5 STARS: Creator of 2 of my top 5 albums from the ‘90s; precursor to Courtney Barnett.”
Caroline Rose — 12:30 a.m., Neurolux, 111 N. 11th St. Also 6:50 p.m. Saturday at Main Stage, 1201 W. Grove St.
“5 STARS: Pleasant, keyboard-dominated pop; good playful songs; even a little Devo-ish on ‘Cry’; keyboardist has moves.”
Extra commentary: Official song videos aren’t as revealing as live-performance videos, but this one is particularly good.
Saturday, March 23
Chai — 4:20 p.m., Main Stage, 1201 W. Grove St. Also 9:30 p.m. Friday at El Korah Shrine, 1118 W. Idaho St.
“4 STARS: Goofy Japanese band; disco-punk; Alvin & Chipmunks vocals; live show looks like a loveable train wreck.”
Cedric Burnside — 6:40 p.m., Basque Center, 601. W. Grove St. Also playing 9 p.m. Friday at The Olympic, 1009 W. Main St.
“4 STARS: Good dirty blues; this is how it’s done — fewer b.s. Jimmy Ray Vaughn solos, more John Lee Hooker dirtiness.”
Lens Mozer — 8:20 p.m., Neurolux, 111 N. 11th St.
“3 STARS: Jangly alt-rock; repetitive but catchy; a little dreamy w/ drony vocals but not boring; couple great songs.”
Linqua Franqa — 10:10 p.m., Linen Building, 1402 W. Grove St. Also 3 p.m. Sunday at Owyhee (first floor cafe space), 1109 Main St.
“3 STARS: Everything about this is cool; alt-rap; some weird interludes; looks fun live; ‘Gold Bike.’“
Sunday, March 24
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers — 3:10 p.m., Main Stage, 1201 W. Grove St. Also 11:10 p.m. Saturday at The Olympic, 1009 W. Main St.
“3 STARS: Edgy back-to-roots country; clever songs about alcoholism and losing.”
Sudan Archives — 6 p.m., Main Stage, 1201 W. Grove St. Also 12:20 a.m. Sunday (Saturday’s lineup) at Linen Building, 1402 W. Grove St.
“3 STARS: Smooth, cool, loungey African-flavored pop; super-relaxed; looks like one-woman show.”
TEEN — 11:40 p.m., Neurolux, 111 N. 11th St.