Seeing the Forest for the Treefort 

The annual festival has become a snapshot of Boise culture

Kishi Bashi at Treefort 2017.

Harrison Berry

Kishi Bashi at Treefort 2017.

Credit is due to Treefort Music Fest, the brat prince of Boise. In its six years, it has brought thousands of bands and fans from around the country to the City of Trees. It started as a music festival but, modeled after SXSW, more "forts" were added each year and TMF has blossomed to include technology (Hackfort), literature and poetry (Storyfort), yoga (Yogafort), movies (Filmfort), food (Foodfort) comedy (Comedyfort), beer (Alefort) and more. Festival Director Eric Gilbert said it wasn't until 2017, however, that he felt Treefort had hit its stride as a full-bore Boise cultural festival.

"I think this year was the year it really felt settled in a meaningful way to us," he said.

The first two "forts" to become permanent parts of TMF were Hackfort and Storyfort. Since the beginning, Hackfort hasn't just been for hackers. Forums focus on coding, high-tech, digital media and gaming, as well. In 2017, Hackfort speakers included Kathleen Cohen of The Collaboratorium at Jack's Urban Meeting Place, Ann Lemay of Ubisoft, Alex Hackford of Playstation, Agatha Yu of Oculus and the entire crew of the Fivethirtyeight Politics Podcast. It was a big enough blip on the radar that then-President Barack Obama name-dropped Hackfort from the podium during his visit to Boise State University in 2015.

In its first year, Storyfort featured writer talks, Q&As and fiction and poetry readings during the day in the Sesqui-Shop, a space on Main Street where the city hosted special events for its 115th anniversary. Though both forts started out small, Gilbert says they have always been counterpoints to the music side of the festival.

"It was representing breadth. I love how people were getting serious during the day but having a good time," he said.

Over the years, the number of forts has grown to offer Treefort attendees a variety of experiences outside the typical music festival fare. Alefort cropped up to create partnerships with local breweries and Foodfort presents cuisine from local producers and chefs. The festival repertoire is always shifting, but also perennially guided by a strong City of Trees ethic.

"We're authentically representing Boise and trying to amplify it in a human way," Gilbert said.

March 21-25, 2018, downtown Boise, treefortmusicfest.com. Tickets go on sale Friday, Sept. 8, 2017. Artist announcements begin in December.

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