Long and Winding Road: Boise's Music Scene Finds its Stride 

Boise has always had talent but it took years of struggle to learn what do with it

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Those weren't the word in Jensen's mind when he conceived Rotating Tongues--he said he just wanted to illuminate all the talented people in the city and hopefully light a fire under them--but he agrees it is an excellent analogy to how Rotating Tongues played out.

"I have heard people say that it started things in a new direction," Jensen said. "[Since then] I have watched things explode in exposure. I've seen more local music showcases at bars than I ever have. These bands are taking themselves seriously enough to put on their own shows, rather than just opening for touring bands."

Jensen saw a disorganized and curmudgeonly group of naysayers lined up like bowling pins, so he rolled a snowball at them. And just a few years later?

"It's a vibrant scene where people are really pushing themselves," said Jensen.

As great a story as it would be for Boise's rise to be solely from hard work and talent, there were also global factors at play. The biggest of them being the great recession.

A study recently released by the Pew Research Center backed up what was already something of folk wisdom: that people aged 18-34 are those hit hardest by the economy.

"The share of this age group who were employed is the smallest that it's been since the government started collecting this data back in 1948," Kim Parker, associate director with Pew Social and Demographic Trends told NPR's Audie Cornish.

Historically, young creatives fled Boise for the opportunities and cultural acceptance of Portland, Ore.; Seattle; San Francisco; Austin, Texas; and Denver. Boise may have cost less to live in, but they were getting what they paid for, until they could no longer find jobs to pay for it, that is.

When the economy tanked, Boise's native sons and daughters flocked home and their younger siblings started staying put. Faced with the choice of wallowing in collective ennui or riding the wave created by Rotating Tongues, they chose the latter.

It didn't hurt that new computer technology was making music production more accessible than ever before.

Spotting the growing trends, Boiseans tried to make something of the scene with new venues and festivals, all which were billed as the missing link. It was almost as if they formed a line and took turns putting on a helmet to charge headlong into a wall with the hopes of breaking through.

One of those helmet-wearers was Jaclyn Brandt, marketing director for Promenade (and occassional Boise Weekly freelance writer), a multi-day, multi-venue music festival in Boise that went off with a thundering fizzle in 2010.

On paper Promenade seemed to have it all: a wide variety of touring and local acts, plenty of press coverage and the collective enthusiasm of the music community. Brandt worked for two years to put it together.

But in practice, the majority of shows that were part of the festival were wildly under attended.

"We expected more people to want to utilize the discount you got with the wristbands," said Brandt. "But they seemed to want to just pay $5 to see one show. At the time, I thought people didn't want to spend that much money," Brandt said. "But seeing Treefort, I guess that isn't true."

Instead, Brandt sees it as a mindset, that people just aren't used to the concept of a festival and either only went out for one night or attended a single venue rather than bouncing around. She said that, in retrospect, she could have done more to break genres up at different venues to encourage migration.

Brandt said she didn't lose money on the festival, but has since decided to put promotion on the back burner and take a full-time job with Journal Broadcast Group. She will, however, be working as a venue manager for Treefort Music Fest.

"I think it can't just be one person," Brandt said. "If it's a community effort, it can be a labor of love because it's not anybody's full-time job. And I think we have the kind of community that can do that, because they care so much about the arts and community."

But even in the face of Promenade's fizzle, it could not be denied that bands were everywhere. One of them that played as part of Promenade was a fairly unremarkable act called Your Friend Peter Giles. Even friends quietly admitted attending the band's shows was an act of charity that showed how tight-knit the community of Boise musicians had become.

So Trevor Powers, aka Peter Giles, decided to scrap the project outright and start from scratch. When he emerged from his year of hibernation with the recordings he called Youth Lagoon, Boise's already growing musical landscape had been given a shot of turbo from Radio Boise, which, after years of work, was finally ready to go live on air.

Youth Lagoon debuted as a live act at a Radio Boise fundraiser at Visual Arts Collective in March 2011.

More than just a new band, Youth Lagoon's heart-warming electro ballads shattered the idea that Boise bands had to ape the indie-rock sound of Built to Spill to get attention in Boise. The phrase: "This is the first local band I've genuinely liked in a long time," was whispered ear to ear like a game of telephone and a wave of electronic bands practically leaped from the woodwork.

Within a few months, Youth Lagoon's Internet-released single was written up in Pitchfork, and the band was signed to Fat Possum Records and sent on a national tour that promoted Boise as much as it did the band's album.

That was about the time that Gilbert booked some friends that he'd met on the road for a show at VAC after they had performed at SXSW. He called it the Post-SXSW Mini-fest.

Though the name wasn't much more than branding, as the show was a single night with a single band from the festival, it was packed. That gave Gilbert an idea: If he could pull in one band on the road home after playing in Austin, why not more? Why not a lot more?

But that would require resources. And Gilbert's resources were limited to a musician's salary augmented by a night job slinging pizza at Pie Hole--hardly what was required.

And that's when something very strange happened: Someone came to him with money she wanted to put into music, and she needed his help.

Lori Shandro doesn't look the type to go all in on a music festival. The Boise mother dresses business casual, with a minimum of band T-shirts or tattoos. She speaks plainly and calmly about what most would consider a fool's errand: investing six figures in a music festival in a B-market that has rejected the concept in the recent past.

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