Boise, Idaho is home to a music festival even people who don't like music festivals will love.

By Karen Ruffini
March 11, 2020
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Amy Russell/Treefort Festival

UPDATE: Treefort Music Festival 2020 has been postponed to Sept. 23-27, 2020. All tickets purchased for March will be valid for the new September dates, but anyone who is not able to attend then can request a refund by contacting refunds@treefortmusicfest.com.

The world is divided into two different types of people: those who live for music festivals, and those who loathe them. For the most part, I’ve fallen largely into the latter. To me, spending more time planning an outfit for the festival than you do at the festival itself entirely misses the mark on what it’s really all about. I’ve held firmly onto these (perhaps preconceived) notions, dismissing invitations to Coachella, SXSW, or Governor’s Ball, with the reasoning that, if I wanted to see an artist, I’d do so without having to wait for them in a lineup or be in a crowd of hundreds or thousands.

That was until I found myself attending Treefort Music Festival, whose humble roots in Boise, Idaho, completely rocked my perspective on festivals.

After spending a few days in the picturesque city, I was told by Boise locals on several separate occasions that, when visitors ask how they like living in Boise, they simply reply that it’s fine — underselling their gorgeous stomping grounds so as not to attract more people to come visit. And it’s not because Boiseans are not friendly (they very much are). It’s because there is so much unspoiled beauty in this city by the mountains that locals strive above all else to keep it that way.

Lila Streicher/Treefort Festival

After my arrival, it quickly became apparent that this city’s heartbeat at its core is its people. It’s a home for artists and artisans, with a quirky and enticing culture that offers something special to those who stumble upon it. And there isn’t anything that shows off this culture more than Boise’s Treefort Music Festival —  the greatest festival you’ve probably never heard of.

About Treefort Music Festival

Treefort Music Festival is much more than just a music festival. Treefort celebrates those in the community by dividing the festival into 11 categories, or “forts,” ranging from musicians and comedians to poets and hackers. Each fort is densely packed with talent, but feels in no way intimidating to the festival-goer. It feels so unlike any other festival that’s currently out there — but how exactly does Treefort set itself apart?

“I think it's the human element of it all,” says Treefort publicist Marissa Lovell. “Treefort is a big festival in terms of how much there is to do, yet it’s still very accessible. There’s a laid-back vibe to everything and you can’t help but just enjoy yourself.” There is an effortless feeling when bopping around the forts, even when it feels like there should be chaos.

Amy Russell/Treefort Festival

“It’s kind of quirky, you know?” Lovell says. “Treefort is like a breath of fresh air for festivals — you don’t have to worry about dressing a certain way or getting around or even knowing who any of the bands are. You just have to show up with an open mind and be nice.”

What to do once you’re there

The beauty of the festival is that you can do as little or as much as you’d like. It’s gloriously unassuming, and gives even the biggest introverts the ability to let go of their inhibitions. Do you want to be a yogi? Head on down to Yogafort. Maybe you want to feel inspired by poems and thoughtful readings? In that case, you should hop over to Storyfort. Or, if you’re into local brews like I am, you’ll want to hit up Alefort, Treefort’s celebration of local libations.

Aaron Rodriguez/Treefort Festival

“When Treefort started nine years ago, their mission statement was wanting to highlight what was happening in the community,” says Alefort founder and facilitator, David Roberts. “They focused on artists who wanted to pursue their music, and at the time, craft beer was experiencing an explosion. My mission of creating craft beer aligned perfectly with their artists’ missions, so I reached out and pitched them on adding a beer component to the fest.”

Fast-forward to present day, where Alefort is easily one of the most popular forts of the festival. Each year, Roberts unveils new libations for Alefort, but keeps a few tried-and-true brews that he knows are crowd favorites. He notes, though, that each choice is intended to highlight the craft beverage scene in Boise, ensuring that each selection connects to a “greater sense of cultural identity in the city.”

Conner Schumacher/Treefort Festival

It’s hard to digest that a festival of this magnitude weaves so much meaning into every little cog of its mammoth machine. And yet, somehow, it does — and it’s a palpable energy you feel humming around you when attending.

Treefort Festival tickets

A bit about Treefort passes: You can dip your toes into the festival waters by getting a single day pass, a Main Stage pass (which only allows admission to the main stage), or other singular passes (such as the Alefort Buzz Pass) where you can enjoy a slice of the festival's offerings. Or, you can go all in and get a full festival pass like the Zipline Pass which, for $385, allows a fast-pass to the front of the line for any music venue. It's one of the festival’s most popular passes, and for good reason. You can quite literally zip through the lines and find yourself the perfect spot for a show, and I can’t recommend this way of experiencing Treefort enough.

Having different places to go once you have your ticket to Treefort can feel at once exciting and anxiety-inducing. The amount of planning Treefort’s team puts into organizing every act and show is obvious — and they do it sustainably, no less. It’s like walking through a bizarrely wonderful foreign planet while also feeling like you’re right at home, fully immersed in this tight-knit community — even if you’ve only spent mere hours there.

Aaron Rodriguez/Treefort Festival

One of the benefits of Treefort’s lifespan is that you can really stretch your time out accordingly, in a way that makes sense to your schedule. Yes, there’s the main stage for music, but that’s not necessarily the highlight of the day. In fact, the highlight of Treefort is simply Treefort itself: a mashup of every well-loved thing in a tight-knit community, brought to life by creators and believers, hoping to spread their pride of Boise past its city boundaries.