Music festivals are constantly reinventing themselves, and indie festival Treefort Music Fest in Boise, Idaho, is no different. With a small town atmosphere and a wide array of entertainment options that range from music and skateboarding to lock picking and drag queens, there’s literally something for everyone at Treefort. If you’re looking for a festival with variety, personality, and an outpouring of community support that rivals few others in the United States, Treefort Music Fest just might be one to add to your list.
Boise, fondly referred to by locals as “The City of Trees,” is a trendy city that’s surrounded by beautiful scenery and opportunities for outdoor adventuring. Its downtown area is filled with vibrant street art, wine, and a culinary scene that rivals its neighboring West Coast cities of Seattle and Portland. In fact, Boise, which has one of the largest Basque communities in the United States, has put itself on the map as an epicenter for Basque cuisine that will make you feel like you’ve been transported to San Sebastián.
While Boise is an energetic and vibrant city any day of the week, the five days that it hosts Treefort Music Fest each year make it come alive in a way that takes on a life of its own. During Treefort, hundreds of musical acts perform at a main stage in the official festival grounds, set in Boise’s beautiful Julia Davis Park, as well as at historical venues spread across downtown Boise. The musical acts are a combination of well-known national headliners like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Margo Price, and Ani DiFranco; local Idaho acts like Boise’s prized Built to Spill; as well as emerging artists across a wide range of musical genres. Boise’s local businesses pull out all the stops during Treefort with painted shop windows welcoming visitors, and every Boisean you meet will beam with pride for their city.
Treefort, which began in 2012, is a showcase of Boise’s local musicians, artists, creatives, and storytellers and draws in over 25,000 people (and counting) each year, many of whom travel from outside Idaho to attend the festival — and for good reason. With more than 500 musical acts, surprise appearances from the likes of beloved Breaking Bad actors Aaron Paul and Bryan Cranston, and a jam-packed schedule of diverse cultural opportunities all over downtown Boise, the festival leaves you torn on whether you want to have dinner with an award-winning Korean chef, snap a selfie with viral TikTok influencer Doggface208, or relax and rejuvenate to the sounds of Tibetan singing bowls at a sound bath in Boise’s historic Basque Center.
A Fort for Everyone
With a setup similar to SXSW, Treefort’s lineup is based on 13 different “forts” through a multi-venue model spread across Boise’s downtown area. Each fort has its own schedule of entertainment on the lineup, which ranges from shows, storytelling, and films to interactive and engaging activities that cover technology, gaming, cooking, and skateboarding. The locations of the forts range from bars, basements, coffee shops, bookstores, record shops and parking lots, and finding each of Treefort’s venues adds to the appeal of exploring the magic of each of downtown Boise’s hidden gems.
One of the most noteworthy things that sets Treefort apart, besides the deep-rooted community pride, is Boise’s notable dedication to restoring iconic, historic buildings into year-round music and event venues. Duck Club Entertainment, the creators of Treefort Music Fest, originally planned for Treefort to be a physical music venue, but it quickly evolved into an entire festival. Ten years after Treefort’s 2011 inception, the plans for Treefort Music Hall began, and it will officially hold its grand opening in June of 2023. Other buildings, like the historic El Korah Shrine, have recently been acquired by Duck Club, and restoration is underway to make it a year-round venue while preserving its vintage vibes. Other local buildings throughout downtown Boise, such as the vacant Greyhound Bus Station, are rented for the festival and converted into what Duck Club calls “a wild world of art, music and immersive experiences.”
While all of Treefort Music Fest’s forts are worth visiting depending on your interests, here are a few that set Treefort apart from other festivals and should not be missed.
Dragfort, the self-proclaimed “queer dream destination of Treefort,” is at first glance a typical high-energy display of drag, parties, and performance. But after taking a deeper look, you’ll soon realize that it’s so much more. The LGBTQ+ community and their allies have found their home at Treefort, and its inclusive environment not only allows everyone to feel liberated in a celebration of self-expression, but it also creates a safe space to talk about and bring awareness to difficult issues that the LGBTQ+ community faces, like the Idaho House of Representatives’s recent proposed bill that would restrict the performance of public live drag shows across the state. Several events were highlights not only of Dragfort, but the entire festival, such as the Pink Runway Party, which is described by treefort as a “cocophany of queer joy,” and It’s Brunch Bitch, an action-packed drag show that wraps up the festival and sends Treeforters home with all the feels. Boise is a city that is proud of the diversity of its community, and it shows.
Foodfort, a celebration of the food and food systems local to the greater-Boise area, works to bring local, regional and national chefs, media, and culinary experts together to facilitate thinking and discussion about food. Daily events like A Night at Miss Kim’s, which highlights the Korean cuisine of James Beard award winner Chef Ji Hye Kim; Street Eats, a market-style shindig inspired by the night markets of the world that features local and traveling chefs; and Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, a bus station parking lot cookout with six-time World Barbecue Champion pitmaster Tuffy Stone, give foodies endless opportunities to explore all of the culinary displays that Treefort brings to the Boise local food scene.
In the midst of all the festival craziness, Yogafort is a place to catch a yoga session or sound bath, decompress, and re-center your energy before a long day of eating, drinking, and music. From doing yoga while sipping local brews to stretching to the live rhythms of Indian Rāga, Yogafort has options for beginning to expert Yogis alike. Yogafort events begin in the morning and wrap up by late afternoon before the evening’s festivities begin.
Navigating Treefort is easy, considering the festival is spread across the entire downtown area of Boise. With its walkability, most events are within a 10- to 15-minute walk from each other and allow festival-goers to familiarize themselves with all that Boise has to offer along the way.
For those who want to save their feet for standing at shows and hitch a ride from venue to venue, the Treeline shuttle service is a fun, social, and easy way to get around. There are even bands playing on the Treeline so you can be entertained while you ride.
The Treefort Music Fest App, which was locally developed, was a lifesaver in staying organized and saved me a ton of time. It allowed me to preview the day’s lineup, read descriptions, create my own schedule of must-sees and allowed me to share my schedule with my friends and see what they had on their radar as well. It even had the Treefort Lineometer, which allowed me to get real-time line info on each venue and save myself precious festival time if it was already at capacity. Throughout the festival, text notifications popped up, highlighting must-see events and giving reminders of important information.
For those on a budget or with little ones, the Fort Zone is free, open to the public and family-friendly. It welcomes the community in to experience things like Kidfort, art installations, free performances, a wide array of beers at Alefort, and food trucks galore.
Festival attendees have a variety of pass options, ranging from $100 for single-day tickets to Zipline 5-day passes for $420. Tickets are also available for individual shows throughout the city, and some venues offer events to the community for free. In 2024, Treefort will be held from March 20 to 24.