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Treefort Music Fest 2016: The 10 Best Performances

on March 28, 2016, 11:45am
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When we think of music festivals, the biggest ones in the country follow a similar roadmap. Within a fenced-in footprint, a culture is created, and whether the backdrop is the rolling hills of the Coachella Valley or the skyline of Chicago, the culture is largely a creation of the festival itself.

But there is a different category of festival that Treefort Music Fest in Boise falls into. It’s the type that takes over a whole town, utilizing every venue space it can find to book bands both big and small. These festivals don’t create their own culture as much as they amplify that of the city they are held in. Whether it’s Hopscotch in Raleigh, Noise Pop in San Francisco, or Capitol Hill in Seattle, these are opportunities for the music fans of a community to come together and create something and for out-of-towners to get a warm welcome to a local scene they might not ordinarily visit.

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Photo by Philip Cosores

For Treefort’s part, there is a palpable pride that its organizers take in throwing the festival, and rightfully so. They’ve seen the event’s esteem and reputation grow since its inaugural year in 2012, including in 2016, when most of their marquee events saw massive turnouts, lines down the block to get into venues, and enthusiastic crowds watching touring acts that might ordinarily pass Boise up on a larger tour.

There’s also an outdoor Main Stage that’s fully functional on the weekend of the fest’s five-day stretch. This year it featured the likes of Youth Lagoon (playing their final US performance), Boise legends Built to Spill, Charles Bradley, Chairlift, and Yacht. The stretch the stage inhabited also featured food trucks, street art, NBA Jam-style basketball games, and a pleasant amount of children and dogs.

On this stage, one of the festival’s organizers, Lori Shandro, would speak ahead of bands, thanking sponsors and appear visibly taken aback by the festival’s warm communal reception. She asked people to look around and realize that their peers are probably artists who are performing at the fest or volunteers that helped build the stage or locals that worked at businesses supporting the event. And walking around the city revealed exactly that. Your waiter would talk to you about the shows they were looking forward to. The record store gave a discount with a festival wristband. Chalkboards and signs read in countless quantities: Welcome Treefort.

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Besides getting to experience the warmth (even in the cold) of don’t-call-it-Boyze Boise, and bolstered by a wide range of activities at places like Alefort, Comedyfort, Filmfort, Storyfort, and the very popular late-night Breakfastfort, Treefort still puts music first and foremost in the spotlight. Hip-hop fans were treated to Oddisee and Aesop Rock at the Knitting Factory, while an amazing little spot called The Shredder (complete with an arcade, a quarter pipe, and Motörhead videos on a projection screen) housed ear-splitting sets from Head Wound City and DZ Deathrays. Into It. Over It and Pinegrove gave songwriting fans their fill of thoughtful lyrics, while Thee Oh Sees and CocoRosie both filled the house at El Korah Shrine.

There was so much good music, and narrowing it all down to a favorite 10 was difficult … but not impossible. Check out our picks for the best sets of Treefort Music Fest 2016.

–Philip Cosores
Deputy Editor

Magic Sword

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Photo by Phillip Roffman

Originally pinned to play Radio Boise Camp Fire Stage, local electronic outfit Magic Sword created their own stage, light show, and art installation. Oh, and all of this was found on a moveable vehicle. Treefort attendees, however, had no inclination to any of this. As we waited patiently for the band to setup on the then-barren stage, the crowd suddenly broke into a frenzy. Everyone began to point at some approaching object: a vehicle dressed up like something Dr. Doom would drive into the apocalypse slowly appeared in-between Radio Boise Camp Fire Stage and the Main Stage.

Almost immediately, audience members found themselves engulfed in lit-up handmade butterflies flying high above, lightsabers glowing blue, and a giant glowing spider. It’s very clear Boise knows how to get down. What was even more impressive was how the community came together to make an experience worthwhile for one of their local acts. While Magic Sword struggles sonically in their progression and variation— they make up for it given their analog abilities; wailing B.C. Rich 80’s guitar solos, an actual drummer, and, of course, a keytar. Change it up a bit! –Phillip Roffman

Lucy Dacus

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Photo by Philip Cosores

If you look way down at the bottom of the Lollapalooza lineup, you’ll find the name Lucy Dacus, a Virginia-based songwriter not recognizable by name or song to many. Even on the Treefort lineup, where she doesn’t have to compete with the likes of Radiohead and Lana Del Rey, she’s still wedged deep in the middle, and performed ahead of Your Friend, Porches, and Alex G at Mardi Gras on Wednesday night. So when an artist so under the radar shows up on a lineup like Lollapalooza, it’s fair to investigate and see what the festival is seeing.

It turns out that Dacus and her band are plenty ready for festival stages. Her recent album, No Burden, isn’t the singer-songwriter fare you’d expect from an artist performing under their own name, but is a robust, full-band ensemble. And the live show ups the stakes on that, with Dacus willing to let her arrangements flesh out even further. Highlights “Strange Torpedo” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore” earn their comparisons to Sharon Van Etten, without putting the vocals as front and center as Van Etten does. And throughout the set, there was the sense that Dacus was winning over a tough crowd, likely there for the headlining acts but unable to deny the power of what they were witnessing. It’s exactly what you hope to find at a music festival, a fully-formed vision that is ready to be discovered. –Philip Cosores

Sioux Falls

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Photo by Phillip Roffman

On Sunday afternoon, Isaac Eiger ripped apart his vocal chords in a crackling scream, smiling madly from cheek to cheek. Portland trio Sioux Falls, dusted off the punk genre for all present at the Linen Building stage. As attendees trickled in, the venue quickly became claustrophobic as most touring bands and a number of headbanging enthusiasts filled the venue. Again, keep in mind, this was 4 p.m. on Easter Sunday. In Boise, Idaho. Those are some tough odds. Without pause, bassist Fred Nixon, accompanied by drummer Ben Scott, pummeled through chunks off their debut, Rot Forever— a self-deprecating narrative that gets more provocative and bold upon each listen. Yet what allows Sioux Falls to stand out so well within the bloated genre is what they display live so well: straightforward emotional communication, followed by unforgiving progression, and a self-inflicted attack on the human spirit brought to you by Issac himself. Sioux Falls wants you to enjoy their show, feel good, and walk away with “good vibes”— but they will force you into a frenzy before your exit. –Phillip Roffman

Mothers

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Athens, Georgia four-piece Mothers benefited from having Hinds booked directly behind them at the Linen Building on Friday night, seeing their set grow from decently attended to jammed packed by its end. But, why people were there is less important than what they were able to take away from it, with the band rising to the occasion with brooding intensity.

On record, the very good When You Walk a Long Distance You Are Tired, singer Kristine Leschper stands front and center with her mournful, malleable vocals. They are otherworldly at times, strikingly familiar at others. The backing music often seems like just a canvas for them to be presented on. But live, Mothers showcase the technical chops of the whole band. Leschper’s guitar work is precise and hooky, while lead guitarist Drew Kirby passionately fills in the holes, often crouching down to the stage’s floor to complete the band’s musical portraits.

Leschper announced that the Boise appearance was the farthest they’d ever been from Athens on tour, with the surprise being that the band is more than ready for increased attention and touring adventures. Sure, they don’t grab you by the shoulders like Hinds, but there is something to be said for gentle and precise daggers to the heart. –Philip Cosores

Thundercat

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Photo by Phillip Roffman

Thundercat: music so good it should be found on celluloid, accompanied by a full cast, storyboard, and profound narrative. Like other great acts that follow that cinematic construction — think: Explosions in the Sky, Andrew Bird, and Flying Lotus — it’s easy to believe that beat-scientist-turned-sonic-director Stephen Burner can turn any environment into a living, breathing soundtrack.

Where do I even start? Got it! When “Heartbreaks + Setbacks” fluttered from the stage, the high synths in the song’s crescendo pierced its audiences coats, sweaters, and beanies more intensely than the cold outside. It was as if El Korah Shrine was in a sonic acid trip directed by Christopher Nolan himself. People helped one another out to all experience a shared moment as close to the stage as they could get, their collected bodies tangled and entwined in serendipitous harmony circling the front nonstop.

Let’s not forget that part where “Them Changes” hit us like a ton of bricks and we all ended up in different places while nodding our heads to each snare and high hat hit. God damn was the drummer succinct: turning on a dime as if it was recess, all to reach and obtain the syncopation of whatever was erupting out of Burner’s six-string Ibanez hollow body at a rampant solo. While the line to get into this cinematic dream was insane, and many ignored the long wait to seek shelter from the cold, those who braved the elements started a fire and had fun. –Phillip Roffman

Alex G

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Photo by Philip Cosores

The lineup of Alex G, Porches, and Your Friend that stopped in at Mardi Gras on the opening night of Treefort is the same bill that’s currently touring the country together. But, because it’s a festival, something peculiar happened. After Porches filled the room to the point that it was difficult to move around, a mass exodus occurred after their set’s completion. It’s doubtful that this is happening at stops across the country, with fans buying tickets and staying through the headliner. You know, like a normal concert.

It’s safe to say that all those who skipped out on Alex G will be kicking themselves down the line. Just last week at SXSW, I had two artist interviews schedule our meeting according to when they would be seeing Alex G perform. He’s an artist’s artist, and taking in his set, it was easy to see why. Be it in vocal melody or in his guitar hooks, there is a definitive nod toward ’90s indie rock, with Pavement’s off-kilter looseness present, that feeling that everything is mapped out to not seem overly plotted.

It’s also music with big ideas, knowledgable enough to place gentle, soft vocals, and screams within moments of each other, the binding element being the sheer emotion that’s present in the music. During “Salt”, a few couples began slow dancing in the room’s darkened center, the space clear enough to move freely. It was a moment you couldn’t get without half the audience leaving, but all the more perfect for the spell that Alex G casts. –Philip Cosores

Chelsea Wolfe

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Photo by Phillip Roffman

Boise has an artist problem. What does that mean? The person making your pizza at the local Piehole, the father and mother walking down Capital street with their child, hell even that barista at Starbucks— they’re most likely in a band. Now, because they’re all in bands, they also consider themselves worthy of the “Artist” title, which perhaps gives a number of them the courage to make half-assed comments and mock the acts playing right in front of them. Why? Well, they’re artists and they know better. This was my biggest frustration upon arriving at Treefort Music Fest.

Fortunately, Chelsea Wolfe put the kibosh on all that real quick. Insert Ben Chisholm’s bass, and allow your chest cavity to be held captivated in a way only vibrations can describe. It was fucking loud. Wolfe and co. had Boise exactly where they wanted you to be: perplexed, off your phone, and with a closed mouth. Everybody who was present at the Knitting Factory was in sync to what was being produced from the stage. It was almost as if we were drones thrusting our bodies in syncopation with the deep and vicious melancholy oozing from the stage.

What makes Chelsea Wolfe’s performance so unique, however, is the ability of seeing her credo from designer Yohji Yamamoto present on stage: “Perfection is ugly. Somewhere in the things humans make, I want to see scars, failure, disorder, distortion.” Chelsea Wolfe, by all means, did not fail, but allowed herself to take risks and insist her audience tag along. You can’t ignore an angel that screams primal rage into a hollow body guitar— all to get just the right level of distortion. For those who left Wolfe’s set halfway through to watch Geographer soundcheck for 40 minutes, better luck next time. –Phillip Roffman

Hinds

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Most fans are shielded from the business and logistics a band faces before hitting the stage, and it’s likely that the audience that packed the Spanish four-piece Hinds‘ Thursday night set at El Korah Shrine didn’t know just what the group has been through of late to get to this moment. The four women didn’t complain about their 16-hour ride to the show, over mountains and through snow. They didn’t seem fatigued from the 17 performances they knocked out the previous week at South by Southwest. They didn’t seem to dread the three sets they would be delivering at Treefort within the next 24 hours. They just boisterously, passionately, and pleasantly did what they excel at. They played their hearts out.

And the passion and fun that the band has been having on stage is what is resonating with audiences. They wear their youth and excitement as an asset, turning highlights like “San Diego”, “Garden”, and “Davey Crocket” into loose rallying cries. It’s intrinsically fun, carefree music that by definition can’t let the work aspect of their touring schedule affect their performance. This is what professionalism should look like. It should look effortless. –Philip Cosores

Charles Bradley

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Photo by Philip Cosores

“If I can’t give it to you from the heart, I’m not going to give it to you at all,” Charles Bradley exclaimed, flirting with the audience while smiling back at his backing band, His Extraordinaires. With one pelvic thrust from the frontman, Boise was sent off into one of the more emotional experiences of the night.

What makes Bradley so unique and intimately special — beyond his James Brown schtick, Otis Redding-like delivery, and flamboyant use of finger-to-tongue —  is that we’re watching an artist who literally wears his life on his sleeve. Whether he’s talking about his mother passing or his hard life shuffling around the East Coast from Florida to Brooklyn, audiences get to see a man who has suffered and turned every challenge in his life into a success.

Charles Bradley // Photo by Phillip Roffman

Photo by Philip Roffman

However, Bradley welcomes these challenges, and this is where it gets emotional. Bradley insists that his audience understand that success isn’t the only thing that defines you, but that the challenges overcome create who you are going to be for the rest of your life. Once this rhetoric was delivered from the stage, all of Boise collectively lost their emotional baggage and had a mini breakdown driven by tears.

The reality and brevity of Bradley’s statements throughout the entirety of his set sent me (and many around me) over the edge, especially when we all got patriotic. The concert felt more like a civil therapy session than it did a show, and it was welcomed tear for tear by the Boise crowd. As Bradley’s set concluded, he jumped off stage and doused the Idaho audience with hugs, kisses, and roses. I guess it’s just soul. –Phillip Roffman

Youth Lagoon

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Photo by Philip Cosores

When Youth Lagoon was booked as one of the headliners for this year’s Treefort, there wasn’t any indication of the weight the set would hold. Since the project’s mastermind Trevor Powers decided to retire the moniker, claiming the songs represent “a space I no longer inhabit, nor want to inhabit,” Treefort wound up being the last American tour date on his docket (with one last show coming this June at Field Day in London), a fitting curtain call being that Boise was the place that Youth Lagoon sprouted from, where Powers has called home throughout its ascension.

The performance closed the Main Stage programming on Sunday, and Powers didn’t hold back in giving his fans something to remember Youth Lagoon by. Even beyond this evening, Powers was a fixture of the festival, seen daily taking in bands, meeting fans, and supporting the Boise music scene that he stands near the top of. Appropriately, the support is mutual, with audience members crowd surfing, singing, dancing, endlessly requesting “Montana”, and weeping to songs spanning all three YL albums.

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Photo by Philip Cosores

Highlights were frequent, but emotions ran highest as the set neared its conclusion, specifically when Powers pointed to the audience as he proclaimed “you’ll never die” during “Dropla”; during an extended euphoric instrumental conclusion to main set-ending “Posters”; and a gut-wrenching, single song encore in which Powers performed “17” solo. That might be a glimpse to what the future holds for Powers, standing solo on a stage, or maybe it will be the last time his music is so naked.

The only indication this night held was what Powers himself said during the performance, raising a toast to the audience, saying “Cheers to evolution, cheers to where you know you are going, cheers to the future.” While the night left many in tears, for Powers, there is relief to the ending of this chapter. But he embraced the moment and made it count. It was the proper burial that Youth Lagoon deserves. –Philip Cosores

Gallery

Photographers: Philip Cosores and Phillip Roffman

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