Like a living organism, Treefort Music Fest is constantly branching out.
It’s not as if organizers yank it out of the ground, shake the dirt off the roots and replant the concept.
But veteran festivalgoers will notice subtle and not-so-subtle changes at the eighth annual festival, which takes place March 20-24 at multiple Downtown Boise venues.
Don’t worry, though. You’ll still find 440 musical acts creating beautiful, earsplitting thunder across the city.
Here’s a guide to some of the fresh stuff.
1. The Main Stage is a big(ger) deal
This year, festivalgoers will enjoy four days of Main Stage action at 12th and Grove streets — Thursday through Sunday. In prior years, the Main Stage opened Friday, two days after the festival began.
Casual Treefort fans don’t always explore venues outside the Main Stage, festival co-founder Eric Gilbert says. This is a way to offer them more. “There’s also some people who can only do one day,” he adds.
When Treefort winds down Sunday, the Main Stage will end music slightly earlier than it has in the past. Toro y Moi, who starts singing at 7:40 p.m., will finish his set around 9:10 p.m.
“Treefort kind of builds up and builds down, the way the arc of the five days go,” Gilbert says. “This kind of helps us do that.”
2. Alefort has a new layout
The high point of Treefort coincides with Alefort, a weekend beer, cider and food tent outside the Main Stage in the Owyhee parking lot, 1109 W. Main St. It’s open Friday through Sunday. Alefort’s official mission? “... To present unique and high-quality food and beverage experiences that illuminate the intersection of beer and cuisine with Boise’s greater culture.”
Alefort will have a new look. Rather than each brewery having a booth, more than 100 beers will be poured at six organized bars: The Alefort Presents Bar, The Brewhouse, Hoppy Bar, Wild & Funky Bar, The Lager Manifesto and Big & Barrel-Aged Bar.
Grouping beers this way makes sense, Alefort director David Roberts says. “If you’re standing in the middle, you can do a 360 view and just go to the flavor you crave,” he says.
It also improves the Alefort experience. A flavor wheel at the Wild & Funky Bar will help drinkers choose which sour beer they’d like to try. Subsections at The Brewhouse will highlight specific ingredients — malt and mash, hops and boil, and yeast and ferment. The beloved Nail Pull will be set up with the Big & Barrel-Aged Bar. Also this year, Fresh AF 2019 — Alefort’s specialty IPA — will be canned and sold on-site by Barley Brown’s Beer.
It’s free to enter Alefort, but you must be 21 or older. You’ll need to buy a reusable cup for $3.50, and beer tokens will cost $3.50. (Yes, that’s a new price: Tokens went up 50 cents.) Most beers will cost one token; some of the specialty choices will require two. The cups hold about 9 ounces, Roberts says.
3. Foodfort is focused
Foodies flock to ticketed Foodfort dinners, talks and other events at the Basque Center. But the masses will experience Foodfort inside the Alefort tent — beer in hand.
This year, the Foodfort menu at Alefort is more focused. Instead of half a dozen restaurants serving random (but delicious) tastes, there are themes. And they match well with beer and cider. Food will cost one or two tokens.
▪ Friday is a taco takeover. Six restaurants will serve local tacos from 3 to 8 p.m. Ever heard the term “nixtamalization”? Don’t feel bad. Bottom line: Boise restaurants Diablo & Sons and Calle 75 take raw corn and make their own tortillas. (This is unusual at American restaurants.) At Foodfort, they will create fresh tortillas on the spot. “They’ll be feeding fresh masa into the sheeter, pushing out these uncooked corn shells,” Roberts says. “By the time it gets to your taco and you, it’s probably been less than 3 minutes.”
▪ Saturday is a Basque bash from noon to 5 p.m. Traditional Basque cider house foods from The Basque Market and Bar Gernika will be served. Delicacies will include roasted chistorra chorizo with smoked onion jam, fried Basque pepers with sea salt and garlic, and steak with salsa romesco and scallions, among others.
▪ Sunday is brunch time from noon to 4 p.m. Half a dozen restaurants will serve up recovery-day goodies. You’ll find meat pies from Kiwi Shake & Bake, plus restaurants offering vegan parfaits, doughnuts and more. Don’t forget to grab a coffee-infused beer over at Alefort.
4. There’s more free stuff
To fully participate in Treefort, you need to buy a Treefort wristband.
But to have a fun time? You really don’t need one.
Treefort doesn’t just encourage free parties and second-chance shows. It organizes and promotes them on its official website, making it easy for you to mooch your way through the entire festival and see a ton of great bands in the process. (You really should buy at least a one-day wristband. Just sayin’.)
PreFunk Beer Bar, 1100 W. Front St., has been a freebie leader for years with its outdoor stage. Five days of music — all free. This year, Treefort went ahead and put PreFunk’s bands on its official schedule. The only difference now? If PreFunk’s venue is at capacity, Treefort wristband-holders get priority for entry.
Another free venue on the Treefort official schedule? Spacebar Arcade, 200 N. Capitol Blvd.
Free stuff at Treefort is about more than music. New this year? A Treasure Valley Roller Derby exhibition bout from 1:30 to 3 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at the Idaho Power parking lot, 13th and Main streets.
(Oh, and don’t forget that kids 12 and younger get into Treefort events free with an adult ticketholder. That includes the Main Stage.)
5. The music industry is here
Each year, Treefort hosts workshops related to the music industry. And each year, Gilbert wonders why they aren’t more popular.
“Personally, I think it’s an asset that’s being overlooked and underused thus far at the festival,” he says. “Especially for people who are young musicians or young, aspiring, music-industry type of folks. It’s a good opportunity to mingle with people who are doing it on a national or international level, and hear them talk.”
Free and open to the public, Music Talks are held Thursday through Saturday at The Trailhead, 500 S. 8th St..
For the first time this year, the Recording Academy will hold a talk. From 3 to 4:30 p.m. Friday, it “will sit down with artists to discuss their focus on advocacy in today’s music environment.” (Heard of The Grammy Awards? Yes, that Recording Academy.)
Another highlight? Influential Seattle public radio station KEXP will present a talk. “Mastering the Hustle,” a panel for touring artists, will be from 1 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday. It will offer “a candid conversation about the challenges of the road with artists and booking agents.”