Treefort Wrap-up 20(1)8

By Katy Dang

Rockerzine | May 5, 2018

Treefort Music Festival in Boise, Idaho, is a test of endurance. From day 3 on, it’s a battle of wills to keep going. People drop out and take nights off, but in order to really experience it, you have to power throuogh. Recognize that it is physically impossible to do it all, what with 472 bands and 763 official events, then choose the best you can, prioritize, make a don’t-miss list, then dive in and go.

Over the course of 5 days, Treefort is a celebration of creativity in many guises. Boise lets its (rather modest) freak flag fly and all forms of inventiveness manifest throughout the sleepy town. It’s a near embarrassment of riches but taken in stride: Idahoans know how to roll with it. The musical range is stubbornly quirky, making for some surprising shows you can only see somewhere like Treefort; but really, is there anything else like Treefort?

This year’s incarnation of the event, it’s seventh, saw the landing of the Mothership at the Main Stage. Yes, Mr. Maggot Brain himself, the one and only George Clinton, brought Parliament Funkadelic to the adoring masses and showed everybody how it is done. As one 12-year-old put it, “Anybody who missed Parliament Funkadelic last night failed at Treefort.” There are no truer words.

Photo by Whitney Rearick

I know, I know: you’ve seen them before, a hundred years ago, at the top of their game, with Bootsy, blah blah blah. Doesn’t matter: to have them at Treefort reminded everyone just what can be done when you follow your creative vision and let it see you through. Free your mind, indeed. You all better know what follows. Don’t even try to go see any other band after George Clinton and his 17+ member band takes you wherever they want you to go. Just go home, and let his wisdom sink in. Sorry, every other band.

Thanks to Parliament, the organizational tool for this year’s write up is brought to you by the letter P. Here are the other highlights that we caught for 2018.

P is for Psychedelic. It becomes a bit cliché, trying to come with descriptions of bands or musicians to typify them so people can imagine what they sound like through words. I am reminded of Nick Cave in “Wings of Desire,” when he is thinking to himself, “I’m not going to tell you about a girl, I’m not going to tell you about a girl,” and then he says, “Let me tell you about a girl.” I always mean to go see other bands and write about other people, but I am never, ever disappointed when I choose to see Bret Netson. Netson is a visionary guitarist, creating otherworldly sounds that modulate and soar from this earth into space.

It’s trippy, heady stuff. Netson played solo with 4 drummers one night and did a practice set with the Mighty Tad Doyle another, which should be the beginning of something tremendous. It was cool to be there as the seeds of their collaboration were planted and started to sprout.

Photo by Nathan Dang

P is for Ponderay. Every year, I decide that I will not to see bands from Boise during Treefort, figuring I can see them another time in town and should be focusing my efforts on out-of-town acts. Every year, I’m glad I don’t stick to that self-made promise. Ponderay is a true find, a lovely band with a light touch and dreamy guitars. The front man looks like a young Wilson brother of Beach Boy fame, surrounded as he was by a Brian and a Brion, lending more credence to the comparison. Artist Erin Cunningham summed it up perfectly when she said, “It sounds like driving into an ocean sunset.” There you go.

P is for Precision. We recently discovered that spending any amount of time in New Orleans will elementally change the way that you think about and appreciate music. That’s just the way it is. It opens up a whole new world, including forcing you to finally check out the oft mythologized Galactic. These are musicians of the highest order, every single one. Add a singer that can drop the floor out below you and you leave inspired and satiated.

P is for Possibility. Oakland-based cumbia band La Misa Negra once again whipped Boise crowds into a bouncing frenzy (possibly because they didn’t know how to Cumbia), while Naan Violence – a dude from Atlanta playing traditional sitar music – was treated with reverence by his audience, who were seated on the floor, just like musician.

Photo by Nathan Dang

P is for P. Waite, a local bass player around town who is in something like 400 bands. The two you need to know about are el Dopamine (electric bass) and Hillfolk Noir (stand-up bass). El Dopamine charges into their set in their own style: You know what they do? They mean it. Front man John O’Neill  brought us straight back to Idaho with a song about driving to Meridian (where the fancy houses spring up like weeds and Mormons abound) that is really about, well, everything. P. Waite played the hell out of his bass, showing his punk rock roots and grounding their sound with the charging drums of Joe Hensley.                                                                                  Thomas Paul’s guitaring (which should be a verb, I just decided) brings it all around, back where it needs to                                                                   be, back where we are. These are the bands you actually need.

Hillfolk Noir played on the same stage that George Clinton had been on the night before. (Think about that for a minute). Their invented genre of Junkerdash saw P. Waite suited up, walking the bass in and around Travis Ward’s finely crafted songs, including one “for the North Idaho zombies.” Ali Ward playing the saw (among other uncommon instruments) and the mood-defying harmonies are punched along by the best-amplified Samsung-suitcase drum that you’ve ever heard. Yes, really.

P is for Past. Every year, there seems to be at least one reunion show for the Boise fans. This year it was the reformation of Treepeople, the early 90’s post-punk-on-the-cusp-of-grunge band that started in Boise and re-settled in Seattle, contributing to the definition of that city’s sounds. Doug Martsch and Scott Schmaljohn trade guitar riffs and vocal leads. Mr. Martsch later went on to establish a little indie band called Built to Spill. They played 3 shows during the course of Treefort, and we were lucky enough to see them on the third night at the Shredder, a perfect venue for old fans and new kids to start a roiling pit. The kinks were all worked out and a good, fist-raised time was had by all.

Photo by Nathan Dang

P is for Paint. Local graffiti crew Sector Seventeen spent all 5 days of Treefort painting a mural on the wall of the Hitchcock building, which houses Boise’s beloved independent Record Exchange as well as venerable venue Neurolux. Their adherence to the director’s vision was great to check in on as the fresco came to life over the course of the festival.

P is for Passion. People do things for different reasons. Some people become musicians because, well, they have to: there is no other avenue for them. It is a need, a calling. This is obvious in Ora Colgan, a singer and songwriter from Montreal with a voice that brings tears to your eyes the first time you hear it. She played a low-key, driven set at 2:30 in the afternoon on the last day of the festival. The audience at the hipster bar was transfixed by her detailed guitar and violin playing, and a voice that required two microphones. She was brave and exquisite.

Photo by Katy Dang

Alright, that’s it for the P’s—Oh wait; one more for Nnamdi Ogbonnaya. How about Phenomenal? This guy absolutely slayed in his Sunday night performance at Neurolux. His recordings make it seem like he would be doing really smart, incisive, word play over trip-hoppy, sophisticated beats. Sounds good enough, right? Then he gets on stage and rocks it like no one else all festival (except for Parliament, in their full force). Nnamdi, from Chicago, is one of those unique performers who catches you off guard and then becomes your favorite band. His punk rock origins compel the listener and his tight tight tight three-piece didn’t miss a step. What an incredible front man; in the crowd, guitaring on a few songs, and truly impressing in lyrics and delivery. He was the find of the festival for me. Their sports-radio air-horn signaled that the best had arrived and conquered.

And so it goes: another year in the books for Treefort. There’s no sign of it slowing anytime soon, so we can look forward to more of the same next year as we bask in the glow of this one. We like it like that, here in Boise.