Boise's Sesqui-Shop, set in a bright storefront at 1008 W. Main St., has quickly become a downtown fixture celebrating the city's sesquicentennial with rotating exhibits. This month, due in part to Treefort Music Fest descending on the city, a new exhibit brings historical context to Boise's growing music scene.
"I try to include a little bit of history in everything we're doing here," said Sesqui-Shop manager Rachel Reichert. "I think it's a good avenue to get into history, by having this more mass, pop culture appeal. Then you can really dive in and learn something."
Vibes: A Celebration of Music in Boise features a collection of ephemera on loan from community members. A pane of glass from the Blues Bouquet and black-and-white photos of early chamber orchestras greet visitors as they walk through the doors. In one corner, near a wall dedicated to Built to Spill frontman Doug Martsch, stands a bright blue neon Neurolux sign. Owner Allen Ireland even lent the shop a table and chairs from his iconic bar and venue.
Those pieces pair with original artwork—like stripped-down show fliers from 1980s punk venues made with hand-drawn graphics and simple lettering—yellowing zines and issues of the defunct 1970s culture rag Idaho Renaissance, featuring black-and-white photos and big blocks of text. Big black letters on pastel-colored paper advertise Dirt Fishermen, the Descendents and NOFX shows at venues like the Crazy Horse, the Zoo and the Boise High School gymnasium.
For Todd Dunnigan, one of Reichert sources as she sifted through the years of Boise's musical past, many of the posters have a personal connection.
"My story, at least with Boise music history, is I played my first gig at the Fireside Inn on State Street in 1979, when I was 15 years old," said Dunnigan. "And basically ever since then, until the time I moved away in 2001, I was out five nights a week either playing, doing sound or seeing bands. It was just kind of what I did."
After moving back to Boise last year, Dunnigan embedded himself in the music scene by signing on to host the History of Boise Rock on Radio Boise.
"I just always loved what was going on in town and always wanted to be as part of it, as much as I could," he said.
Dunnigan pointed to a poster advertising a gig for his band, Methods of Dance.
"It's almost embarrassing," he said. "It's the crappiest looking flier up there. ... But for us to do that, it was actually kind of difficult. There wasn't computers to print it out or anything."
According to Reichert, many of the vintage posters were crafted by Neurolux's Ireland to advertise shows at his past and present venues.
"He had the original, so it was a lot of, like, ripped paper pieces and ink drawings, all taped together, and then the photocopied version of it," Reichert said. "It was kind of cool to see how people were crafting their message back then."
In the years since, technology has evolved, and thrifty artists can crank out bright, colorful posters in less time. Across the room, another wall shows contemporary posters for bands like Y La Bamba and Delicate Steve. These days, of course, that work is done almost entirely without scissors and glue.
"I do quite a bit with digital," said graphic artist and poster designer James Lloyd. "I'll usually sketch out a few drawings, and then when I find something I like, I'll just ink over it with some sort of pen. Once the drawing's done, I'll just erase all the pencil lines and draw it into Photoshop."
Lloyd said while digitally printed posters come out cleaner, the screenprinting process can create more of a handmade feel.
"It makes a worse image, but every image is different so each poster is individual. It makes it more of an art piece," he said.
Lloyd is also the official illustrator for Treefort, and one of his drawings served as inspiration for a giant monster costume featured in the four-part Road to Treefort film series by Retroscope Media. Daniel Fo and Willow Socia collaborated on the costume, which is now on display as part of the Vibes exhibit.
"I would say I spent a month and a half, total, on the project," said Fo.
Fo sculpted the monster's rock-like head out of foam, while Socia crocheted the arm and leg pieces that make up the rest of the costume. Black and brown shoelaces—picked up at a North End garage sale—fill out the monster's beard.
During the exhibit's opening First Thursday, March 7, visitors interacted with the gallery-like space. A big draw was a large chalkboard wall inviting visitors to share their first concert experience.
"I realized when we were doing this, I was just sort of asking everyone, 'What was your first concert?' It was really more than a one-line conversation," said Reichert.
Within a few hours, the board was filled with band names and accompanying dates--everything from Metallica in 1988 to the Beatles in 1964--scrawled out in white chalk.
"People kind of huddled around it all night, and were talking about their first concert, or maybe reminiscing over concerts they wish they had gone to," Reichert said.
Reichert watched as visitors reacted to the exhibit, many of them reliving shows.
"It's cool to have people come in and connect with something that they had experienced during their childhood, or during their 1980s punk phase, and really kind of take them back," said Reichert. "They end up telling stories they would never have shared with people around them."
But the space won't remain static; the Sesqui-Shop will also serve as a venue for performance art during Treefort.
"I'm looking for any way to activate the space," Reichert said.
She hopes to keep the space fresh with a rotating lineup of exhibitions—a goal established with the previous Collect Boise exhibit.
"I think the more collaboration, the more successful this place will be," she said. "I'm interested in having a constant sense of change here; every time you come here, there's something else going on."