Words & Deeds

Treefort Music Fest attendance grew more than ever. Profit did not

Treefort festivalgoers turned out in record numbers, including at the new, larger Alefort/Foodfort tent.
Treefort festivalgoers turned out in record numbers, including at the new, larger Alefort/Foodfort tent. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Maybe you braved the long line snaking into the new, larger Alefort beer tent. Or rubbed shoulders with the zillion folks packed into funk pioneer George Clinton’s outdoor concert. Perhaps you noticed chefs packing up early at Foodfort because they’d blown through all their chow.

Treefort Music Fest, held March 21-25 in Downtown Boise, seemed bigger this year — because it was.

The annual music and arts celebration experienced the largest year-to-year attendance growth in its history, festival director Eric Gilbert says. About 24,000 people went to Treefort last month, he says. That’s up from about 18,000 in 2017 — a 33 percent increase.

Gilbert stops short of calling it a tipping point for Treefort, which has expanded since starting in 2012. “But it felt like a jump,” he admits.

“There’s a lot of people in Boise that don’t know what we’re doing still,” Gilbert says. “But it still felt like the broader demographic was paying more attention than in the past.”

That 24,000 included about 6,000 musicians and other attendees who received a free pass, plus all who participated in “Freefort” activities such as Alefort or Foodfort, as well as nearly 1,200 volunteers and youth who received discounted passes.

Cool temperatures, raindrops and snowflakes didn’t stop festivalgoers. They watched 460 musical acts at 31 venues, plus fanned out across Downtown for related activities ranging from literary events (Storyfort) to yoga workshops (Yogafort).

“To be honest with you, we were kind of thankful for the weather, because it felt like it had the potential to be really overran,” Gilbert says. “I felt like the weather helped keep growth in check, which is good. We’d like to continue to grow at a manageable pace. We want people to continue to be able to get into the shows they want to get into.”

Treefort’s attendance explosion did not equate to similarly larger profits, marketing director Megan Stoll says

“While our overall attendance went up, Treefort did not see an increase in profit,” she says. Why? “We wanted to make 2018 a year of growth into people and infrastructure,” she explains, “which led to a more enjoyable experience for all attendees.”

Improvements ranged from that improved Alefort/Foodfort tent and upgraded sound equipment in smaller venues to a new bar and merchandise stand at the main stage. Internal teams at Treefort were expanded, too.

“Growth into people and infrastructure are things that just came with the festival growing,” Stoll says.

Gilbert thinks the majority of the attendance growth concentrated on ancillary “Freefort” activities. Sales of five-day festival wristbands remained in line with prior years’ growth numbers, he says.

Still, without proper planning, Treefort could fall victim to its own success. Everyone trying to attend the Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic concert eventually got into the main stage, Gilbert says, but the evening was a Treefort milestone.

“It was the first time on Friday night we had to deal with lines out the main stage,” Gilbert says.

Nevertheless, Gilbert and the Treefort crew are up for the challenges growth brings, he adds.

“33 percent sounds big, for sure,” Gilbert admits. “... It wasn’t astronomical growth. It felt like steady growth.”

The eighth Treefort Music Fest is planned for March 20-24, 2019. Online: Treefortmusicfest.com.

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