From March 21st to 25th, a sector of Boise, Idaho came out in full force for the seventh incarnation of Treefort Fest. A community effort, Treefort is a showcase of when local venues, eateries, and individuals have trust with the outside contributors and attendees. Boasting hundreds of musical acts over the course of five days, it’s a live-music lover’s paradise. Acts ran the indie gambit, ranging from local highlights to artists well versed in the spotlight. With such a wide selection, and over the course of five full days, scheduling your “must-sees” was a fairly quick affair.

This left plenty of time for new music discoveries as well as the other events taking place. There was a menagerie of beer options in the Alefort; one of my personal favorites were the readings and panels at Storyfort. Restaurants and chefs held tastings and talks and there was an art gallery. And of course, there were plenty of activities for the little ones. All-ages events can be difficult to pull off - especially when the bulk of the attendants for these kinds of events are young adults craving escape. But as Treefort shows, a locally grown effort means the fest is built to be inclusive from the ground up. From showrunners to the acts - and to honestly just the general attitude of the community - the desire for fresh, open perspectives offering a common bond beyond a love for the terms art and community nourished an event by the people, for the people.

For The 405, my main focus was on the music. I had the opportunity to speak with several of the artists and bands about music, Treefort, and how they fit into that mix. (Each interview sold separately.) For this piece, I’m highlighting the acts I saw (in order of appearance) that not just put on a good show, but embodied the attitude of Treefort; this includes a look into a panel I attended focused on art, identity, and voice.

***

Big White

The band of Aussies torched a late night set in an upstairs bar. A group of locals who became fans years ago when the band first played welcomed Big White back with libations and laughs. With three members trading off on lead vocals, Big White brought a rollicking good time, balancing garage, classic rock, and new wave. The intimacy of the venue didn’t stop the band from playing like they were filling a concert hall. And the good ol’ ones leaning in the back, eyes long glazed, appreciated it.

The Suffers

The stage was conceived for Kam Franklin. Her voice, and the warmth her spirit brings, is supplemented by the earnestness the rest of The Suffers bring to their instruments and vocal parts. The way they play these compositions is so pristine, even the wavering of the trumpet never glided off its set course. But it felt like it could walk out the back door any minute. And of course, their tasty brand of Gulf Soul had shimmies shook and hips a twistin’.

Rituals of Mine

The drums crack the rib cage. The vocals of Terra Lopez break your heart but always mend it together again. The fans wouldn’t have it any other way. Terra spoke on how important the fans are to them but that was apparent in the band’s performance. More often than not, it felt like Terra knew she was singing not to, but for and with the crowd. Tears dormant for too long broke free. While everyone had their own reasons for being at that show, once inside, everyone was there for each other. For all the might of the music and the ferocity of Terra’s vocal/ dancing combo, there was power found in the negative space. The darkness- those breaks- were bell tolls for the others navigating the often-dark tunnels in life. But of course there was always the light to bring us back.

Lido

The Colombian-born singer-songwriter and her band helped elevate a message of intersectionality and empowerment at Treefort. Lido’s sound is what makes experimental music so important. Lido can go from screaming, hearkening back to her days in a metal band, to singing notes with the kind of intonation that would make your middle school vocal coach blush. Afro-Caribbean beats are crafted via electronics and traditional percussion instruments. She writes and sings her songs in Spanish, but is always eager to provide an engaging back story and explanation of each song- many of which center on empowerment, overcoming wrong doings not just by lovers but by the society that should be there to help you up. The way she belts those notes and gyrates and thrashes on stage, that pain- that hope- is made physical for those watching to learn and understand.

bell’s roar

This is the solo project of Sean Desiree in every sense of the word. They compose the music, engineer, produce, and master every track. Through bell’s roar, Sean takes full creative control, sculpting everything from the ground up. During their set, they used pre-recorded tracks for the music and sang over them. No backing band was needed. The music was just the cement foundation; the weight of Sean’s words need a solid base to keep the truth afloat. With songs discussing everything from gender identity to the plights of native peoples (sometimes all in the same song), their authenticity and earnestness resonated with the crowd. The tears of people finally hearing words sung- lamented publicly- that tell their story broke a part of me. While there is happiness in that moment of validation, the relief in the eyes of those finally feeling their hearts known- after God knows how many years- is something I cannot forget.

US Girls

It could have been the outfits, but I think it was more the attitude and aura, that made US Girls some of the baddest people there. Such a dirty sound played so crisply. Their dress and groove is not so much hearkening back to the ‘70s as it is reminding you what it is they’re destroying and making new for themselves. New age funk with a DIY and punk enthusiasm, their stage antics and coordinated movements are only heightened by how in tune each individual member is with one another. It’s a theater production. And with a larger ensemble, no one overpowered or overshadowed another; their only focus was the music and the show. It was a testament to teamwork and trust between artists.

Haley Heynderickx

A full house, Haley’s genuine awe at the amount of fans who turned up for her set was refreshing. It was in her eyes and in her voice. Haley’s music draws you in, utilizing dynamics, jazz chords, and a trusty trombone to maximize the drama. Haley’s voice waivers, hinting at feeling unsteady. But in the moments when she calls out, you realize that unsteadiness doesn’t mean she’s not in full control. The balance of dreamy folk and more percussive jazz is a meditation; with allusions to her Catholic upbringing, Haley unpacks those concepts never purporting to have the answer. Humbleness and self-awareness are not goals but daily acts. The crowd recognized this in Haley and her performance.

Oddisee and the Good Company

The set was a lesson in DC hip hop- namely go-go music. While he did take a minute to explain the history of go-go music, experiencing the set was where all the details were. Oddisee and the Good Company’s sound relies heavily on live instrumentation; while modern innovations will always be utilized, the heartbeat of the music is via the live instrumentation. While talk of politics, identity, state/ racial violence, was reflected upon lyrically, an optimistic gloss was always painted over it. Explorations of time signatures, beat boxing, audience call-and-response, the show was designed to not just entertain but engage.

Jamila Woods

I’m not sure I saw an artist smile as much on stage as Jamila Woods did. Her take on modern soul is infused with pop, reggae, psych rock, and anything else she finds suits her artistic endeavors. Syncopations seamlessly rolled back to hazy keys – a light fog over a lake at dawn. Jamila and her band also showcased what it means to purposefully cover songs. Their rendition of ‘Say My Name’ took the song to those funkified edges that were merely dots on the horizon before. She did a mashup of ‘Killin in the Name Of’ and ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’. The composition retained the heaviness of the originals and Jamila’s voice reassured as the Angel of Death, maintaining the existential heaviness of the songs. It feels silly writing it, but these covers are reminders of how much of our music experience is determined by the boxes of genre. Art is meant to always be experimenting.

Princess Nokia

Flight troubles be damned. An update in time and venue only increased the anticipation. The venue was packed to the point where I was convinced the floor would give out. She was there for the fans. She directly connected to the audience through direct interaction while performing. When she reached out, people weren’t clawing at her; they were happy just for a graze of the hand. And she of course took time to thank those squeezed in the back. Princess Nokia counterbalanced the heavier and more aggressive numbers in her set with a few songs with her singing; one song was a several minute long a capella. Her steady alto wasn’t so much a detour as a purposeful part of the journey.

Art, Identity, and Voice Panel- with Lido Pimienta (Lido), Sean Desiree (bell’s roar), and Micki McElya (Associate Professor at UConn; P.h.D., NYU)

How does one reconcile with the fact art is you but at the same time it can never be? How do labels, personas- both self-given and not- affect your accessibility to larger platforms for your art? What is being done to dismantle and restructure the current norms to be more inclusive? McElya made it a point to note that how we discuss history in public spaces affects identity- enormously so for those part of underserved communities in one fashion or a plethora. As noted earlier, Lido includes political messages in some of her songs. Some. But she has noticed a trend of people placing political messages in her writing when the song is really just her being her, nothing much deeper than that.

The goal is making sure those voices from underrepresented peoples get heard. The issue is often those who claim alliance do more speaking than listening. One way Sean shows support is through direct action. They gave out grants to local queer/ trans artists of color and is working on supplementing that. Again, risks come from the outside. Once they break through, there will be difficulties in many not to categorize fairly quickly. This can often lead to pressure to assimilate, even if partially, to art that is more white-washed, more “accessible”. There’s no room to be yourself. This should be a moment for opportunity. But as stated in the panel, the corporatization and neo-liberal capitalization of artistic outlets makes it limiting for those they claim to serve. This furthers the feeling of responsibility on these artists; this means they do not dare take risks or carve out room for fun or true experimentation. There is a terrible expectation of gratitude and a judgement of not “correctly using platform” from groups in power. Groups who can never understand the actual struggles of these artists as individuals and the communities they come from/ associate with. This arrogance of course comes from the engrained belief that somehow the oppressed doesn’t understand fully the acts and horrors of the oppressor. And all of us a part of any privileged community showcase this time to time, no matter how much we want to believe otherwise. Because as soon as you doubt that artist when you do not understand the art nor the message nor the medium upon initial presentation, you are saying your first glimpse is somehow more reasonable than a pre-planned revolution.

Things are moving in the correct direction. At Treefort, there was so much hunger for the new and the earnest. Boise finds itself in a peculiar position. Caught in a tug of war between Seattle and the Midwest, the attitude of the younger generation was that of enthusiasm. The structure and intentions behind the showrunners, artists, and panellists encourage a strengthening of the current inclusive nature of the festival. There is a craving for art. More importantly, there is an understanding that there needs to be more understanding; more listening. If you think “progressive” ideas stopped with your politics at 23 years old back in 1973, I have some bad news for you for you. As long as there is art, people from underserved communities will have a way of telling their stories to those that need to listen. Treefort guaranteed those voices were made accessible to the masses. As its popularity grows and more money flows in, here’s to trusting the Treefort team will work to have 2018 continuing where 2017 left off.