The Hills Have Ears 

The Foothills Become the Cheap Seats for Idaho Botanical Garden Concerts

Wilco's Jeff Tweedy called them "freeloaders." Leslie Feist called them "desert people." But Renee White, director of events and marketing at Idaho Botanical Garden, called the people who sneak into the hills to watch the Knitting Factory's Outlaw Field concert series without paying simply, "the hill people."

"It surprises me how many of the artists mention them," said White.

An artist's view from the stage at any Outlaw concert shows a sea of people, followed by Idaho Botanical Garden foliage, the Old Idaho Penitentiary--and then often more than 100 "hill people" perched on rocks like colorful billy goats, legs dangling from precipices.

"We're basically like a drive-in movie for grown-ups ... and the kids on the hill are all on peyote," laughed Feist during her show.

"Tickets were $50? Shit, I'd probably be up there, too," joked Tweedy.

On Aug. 2, Boise Weekly went native to quiz the hill people about their habits, ascending into the nosebleed section for a show by Cracker, Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd and the Monsters and Barenaked Ladies, which was sold out.

"I just told my friend I was coming down here after work," said Renee Jessome, an employee at Micron. "She'd never heard of it before."

Jessome and her friend, Holly Staffen, sat in red folding lawn chairs, a cooler between them. Bottles of Corona sweated in their cup holders. Their view showed the tops of green trees and a sliver of the crowd, but provided a passable view of the brightly lit stage.

"It's not that I couldn't afford it," Jessome said. "I give money to the Idaho Botanical Garden. I want to be spur-of-the-moment ... I can come up here when I want. My kids can run around."

And she didn't have to pay for her kids to get in, who she said may not enjoy the music.

Blues Traveler frontman John Popper had some choice words for the casual crowd. He began by giving a shout out to the hillfolk. Every person on the hill whooped in unison and waved.

"There are people on the mountainside, too!" said Popper. "Course they didn't buy a ticket or anything. Cheap bastards in the bleachers. They must have binoculars up there. They had money for the binoculars, of course."

Popper spent close to two minutes talking about the hill people. While it started off tongue-in-cheek, he eventually sounded annoyed.

"We love the people up on the hill, we do," he said sarcastically.

Andrea Harris stood in the middle of one of the hillside trails, wearing a tan Blues Traveler T-shirt. In her purse was a small box of wine. She said she was a longtime fan of the band but didn't think Blues Traveler would be annoyed that she was freeloading.

"It's awesome," she said. "It's free and you get your exercise. I like hiking up here anyway."

Harris said she came to the hills for Widespread Panic last year, and for another band she couldn't remember. She said she doesn't go to a lot of concerts and couldn't name a band that she'd paid to see recently.

Sneaking into concerts isn't a new phenomenon. In 2011, the University of Utah fenced off the hill above its Red Butte Garden amphitheater, from which hundreds enjoyed free concerts.

"We're lucky," said Harris. "I mean, this is Boise, we have Foothills. It's not our fault we have beautiful Foothills. And it's not like you're getting the full concert feel."

In most groups on the hill, talking took precedence over listening. Eric and Carrie Elliott gestured to a footlong sub sandwich in their cooler.

"We like to be able to take the dog places," she said while patting her pooch. Eric said they are casual listeners, not regular concert-goers, and that the hills let them find out about new bands without paying for expensive tickets. They said they'd readily pay to see The Eagles or Elton John.

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"We don't have to know the band to be up here," he said. "This is only half the show. The other half is being outdoors, watching the sunset."

Another couple, Kevin Mullin and Margo Katula, sat farther back near the largest seating section in the hills. Blankets and children were more common there, with larger groups mingling rather than listening intently.

"If you don't blow the 80 bucks for the tickets, you can take this nice lady out to dinner," said Mullin, gesturing to his partner. "The only thing about being up here, there's no restroom."

Mullin said it was their first trip to the hills, but they plan to return for Norah Jones.

"I told him that even if we didn't get to hear the music, we could sit up here and have a picnic. The music is just the icing on the cake," said Katula.

But the series' organizers would prefer folks hear the music from inside the gates.

"The best way for us to keep bringing great shows to Boise is for people to support those shows by purchasing tickets," said Greg Marchant, senior vice president for development and expansion at Knitting Factory.

"If everybody tried to watch from the outside, obviously we couldn't produce the concerts anymore," he added.

Idaho Botanical Garden has enlisted a volunteer during show nights who stands guard at the path. But he doesn't bar folks from hiking into the hills, instead, he asks them to clean up after themselves.

"I think people go up there to really party. I think if you really want to come listen to the artist, you come inside the gates. You can't really hear up there; it's not a good concert experience. It's hot, it's dusty, it's dirty," White said. "If you want to just hang out with your friends and talk, there's not much we can do about that."

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