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Roots, Branches, Sprouts & Seeds

A look at Treefort's impact on Boise's music scene


"Treefort is a megaphone to an already healthy and vital music community."

"I'd sort of written the scene off as mostly cover bands and stuff like that."

"Everybody around [the festival] has been woven together like fabric."

"Treefort has definitely done its job in making Boise music-aware."

Eric Gilbert, co-founder and director of the Treefort Music Fest, has been called a "mastermind" and a "godfather" of the Boise music scene. Sometimes, the praise gets even more hyperbolic.

"I've been hearing 'Best Festival Ever' from bands, fans, writers, Twitterers," Nick Peterson told Gilbert during a March 2013 interview for the podcast. "Bands crying that it's over. You're getting compared to religious deities, I see on there."

Now in its third year, featuring more than 350 bands and expanding to include technology, film and other aspects of Boise art and culture, Treefort isn't a case of turning water into wine. Instead, as Gilbert told Peterson, he and the rest of the Treefort team simply saw a diamond in the rough.

"The idea from our perspective was to really build on what is really becoming a growing momentum here [among] the creative class scene in Boise in general but also--very much so--the music scene," Gilbert said.

Festival producer Lori Shandro touched on the same idea after she was named one of the Idaho Business Review's 50 Women of the Year.

"We were all working on our paths and we came together at the right time, in the right place, in a community that wanted it to happen," she said to Idaho Statesman's Dana Oland this past February. "It was serendipitous. You couldn't force it."

These statements aren't just boilerplate. Talk with others connected to Boise's music scene--musicians, promoters, scene veterans and newcomers alike--and a portrait emerges of Treefort as both an outgrowth of and an inspiration for a community of imaginative, passionate individuals.

"Treefort is a megaphone to an already healthy and vital music community," said Evil Wine promoter Wes Malvini, who worked at Red Room during the past two Treeforts and will act as a venue manager at The Crux and The Shredder during this year's festival.

"For Treefort to continue to be a sustainable entity, it needs to continue focusing on the already vibrant community that exists," he said. "Treefort gives a sense of power to those who have been building it and continue to push things."


As those who remember the 2010 Promenade Music Festival--or Boise Weekly's own Local Music Festivals--will know, a multi-day, multi-venue music festival isn't a new concept for Boise. Local musician and producer Todd Dunnigan, who organized the History of Boise Rock showcase at the El Korah Shrine on Wednesday, March 19, even had the idea for one more than two decades ago.

Back in the '80s, Dunnigan went down to South By Southwest with a friend.

"We had the same idea," he remembered. "We came back from South By Southwest, and we were like, 'This would be the best thing for Boise if we could do something like this here.'"

But the city government at the time didn't agree. Dunnigan and his friend pitched the idea to then-Mayor Dirk Kempthorne, who wouldn't OK the permits.

"We went to various local businesses and said, 'This is a really great idea. What do you guys think?'" Dunnigan added. "Are you guys crazy? That's a stupid idea," those business owners said.

Prevailing attitudes in the Boise music scene during the '80s and '90s didn't make a large, multi-genre festival seem possible, either.

"Scenes at large didn't seem to want to intertwine," Dunnigan said. "There were people in individual scenes who'd say, 'Hey man, we ought to really combine forces.' But their scenes at large just didn't see the merit to it."

Musician and soundman Doc Woolf, who started out in the late-'90s, early 2000s punk and metal scenes, had similar recollections. He also noticed the music suffering from this isolationism.

"The majority of the bands [at the Bomb Shelter rehearsal space] were punk and metal, and they all sounded the same. They literally all sounded the same," Woolf said. "And it's not until you walk around and meet everybody that you find out people are bored with that scene. And they want to do something new, but they feel like people won't come out and see them if they try something experimental."

Still, a supportive, collaborative environment began to grow. When Dunnigan and House of Hoi Polloi's Steve Fulton founded Audio Lab Recording Studios in 1992, he said the idea was to make it "a clubhouse for Boise musicians."

"I want this to be a place where the rapper guys are hanging out with the alternative music guys and they say, 'Hey, let's make a track together,'" Dunnigan said.

Such was Ryan Sampson's experience when his ska band The PirkQlaters recorded the album Tough Town, USA there.

"There was us and Kamphire Collective--a hip-hop group--and Exit 51, an alternative country group," Sampson recalled. "It was a good array of bands. And it worked: We were all best friends. I still talk to a lot of them to this day."

A similar atmosphere developed at house show venues like the House of Rock, which was run in the mid- to late-'90s by musician and former BW music writer Jason "Bug" Burke. Burke started booking shows mainly as a way to barter with touring bands--"If you put on a show for [my band] in North Carolina, when you come through, definitely hit me up," he said as an example--but his house quickly became a fixture of the music scene.

"They were getting big bands that were up-and-coming and soon to break," Sampson said. "Jimmy Eat World played there. ... It was a vast melting pot of different styles and shows."

The House of Rock also became "like the Cheers [of the Boise scene]," Sampson added. "Everybody hung out, everybody went to shows. And the whole viewpoint of the House of Rock was, 'The House of Rock will support you if you support the House of Rock.'"

To that end, show-goers emptied their pockets to pay touring performers and the House of Rock booked local bands.

This spirit carried over into the new millennium, when a younger generation of Boiseans set up house venues like Grandma's House and the Baby Sale House. Adam Showalter--who will perform at this year's Treefort with his tongue-in-cheek hip-hop act Sword of a Bad Speller--started going to house shows when he was 18 and ran the Baby Sale House from 2007-2009. Groups that performed there included Wolvserpent (then called PussyGutt), which ran a house venue called Elk a few years prior, and one of Treefort 2013's most popular acts, Wooden Indian Burial Ground.

"We weren't getting anything out of it," Showalter said. "It was hard work. If anything, we lost money."

But he and others in the scene held shows because "it's an important thing to experience and to help other people experience. House shows changed who I am. House shows are the reason I have the friends I have now."

If there's an underlying theme to the past 20 years of Boise music, Todd Dunnigan said, it's this: "Ain't nobody else gonna do this for us; we gotta do it ourselves."