Traffic slowed and shadows of the downtown buildings grew longer. Two and a half years since Treefort Music Fest 2019, the world was different then the last time our chests rattled with the bass, our ears rang with screaming guitar licks, and our hearts were filled with the annual Northwest musical pilgrimage that has become the mecca of independent artistic discovery. Obvious reasons aside, through a painful overuse of the term of “the new normal,” the city was different, more buildings, more fresh coats of paint. Gone were the years of 2013 Treefort, in near freezing temperatures, to jump venue to venue across several city blocks with sidewalks filled with average weekenders confused about what a Treefort even was. Yet, through the change, through the nearly insatiable desire to be back in the presence of audiophiles, music fans, and artists, there was a nagging fear of the unknown. What would a five-day music festival look like two years into a global pandemic? Would artists and festival goer really take this as serious enough? Would this be too much and the end of Treefort? How could a live music festival exist under the veil of COVID?
Six days prior to a.k.a. Belle striking up a chord at the Main Stage to help usher in Treefort 9, the State of Idaho entered into a Statewide Crisis Standards of Care, meaning one’s ability to receive care in a hospital will likely be impacted due to a pandemic crisis with no discernable end in sight. On the first day of Treefort 9, Idaho was struggling to approach 41% vaccination rate as a state (40.99% per usafacts.org). With this in mind, I parked, put on my mask, descended several flights of stairs from the downtown parking garage, and proceeded to the COVID pre-check tent. Treefort Music Fest required all participants, attendees or artists, to show proof of vaccination or negative test at the Pre-Check Party Zone prior to receiving their pass to the festival; even going as far as administering vaccinations on site for those interested. Equipped with my bright orange “COVID Clear” wristband and traditional cloth festival pass I moved into the world of a music festival in a time of COVID.
I had my virtual schedule in my pocket via the Treefort App, a spare mask on my person, over a year’s worth of live music money to spend on artists merch, and some simple personal rules to follow: mask at all times (this was required by the festival), social distancing of six feet or more, and if it got too packed or if masks weren’t being worn, I’d bail. I proceeded through the security check at the main stage and into the unknown. The open-air parking-lot-by-week-main-stage-by-festival venue was a small sample of what the coming days would perpetuate for attendees of Treefort 9. Masks. Everywhere. With the exception of those enjoying the various frothy adult beverages or eating at numerous delicious culinary stops, faces were covered with a litany of cloth creations; and there was that one guy who was trying to drink his beer through his mask. Further, I could stretch my arms out and “Sound of Music” it everywhere I stood without giving fellow festival goers a face full of Nanobot hands. Those outside the music venues who wished to take their masks off did so away from the crowds (usually in shaded areas) and this music fan, despite a security guard providing a scientific analysis of the threats of breathing in our own CO2 when wearing masks (Nanobot does not know of any such fact to said comments) witnessed no pushback on mask wearing anywhere I went.
Artist after artist played to the crowd like they’d just come out of a coma and they weren’t going to hold anything back, regardless the size of the crowd. From the captivating Japanese Breakfast set to the pop-up SunDog set at Radioland, to Ealdor Bealu and Blood Lemon power rocking The Hideout, to Afrosonics creating a memorable dance party to a sparse crowd, to Smokey Brights inexplicably not passing out from the heat while bringing the energy and poise, to Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah mesmerizing and Chong The Nomad hitting beats so heavy you felt them in your bones for days, and many, many more, as the music exited speakers and entered your ears, life felt, even for 3 minute sprints, like it was all still there and everything was going to be OK.
The short change over between sets, virtually imperceptible to the fans coming into the venues carried added weight as personal worked to ensure a clean and safe environment for the next artist. But the artists took this incredibly seriously as well. Carson Russell, guitarist and vocalist of Ealdor Bealu remarking they too wiped down the equipment because they’re “all on tour here and want to make sure everyone is as safe as possible.” On a larger scale, as Kim West of Smokey Brights put it, “there’s been a lot of people working really intentionally for a long time to make this happen and you feel it.” Whether a fan or artist, you felt it. You noticed it without it diminishing the experience. If you weren’t paying close attention, you’d think you were in any of the other highly memorable, largely successful Treefort Music Fests of years past.
Festival goers, security, volunteers, staff, Boise Police, and everyone who attended all witnessed the same thing, a shared passion for art that can coexist in a mutual respect for fellow humans, regardless theories, beliefs, or identity. Walking away from the last show on my schedule for the five-day festival I reflected on how it compared to years past. With only one glaring difference, the energy and feeling live music brings to us doesn’t change when the rest of the world is hurting. Music gives us hope. Music mends the exhausted feeling in all of us. When taken safely and seriously, it just what we need right now. That one difference? I really miss all the friends I’ve made over the years that come together annually in downtown Boise, Idaho for the best music festival there is. Treefort Music Fest
took a chance had some serious huevos to try and pull off a festival now; in Idaho of all places. But they succeeded on every possible level.
In year nine of Treefort Music Fest we all saw how to achieve a music festival in a time of COVID. May the time come when we can all safely gather again without masks and enjoy the art, food, beverage, and sound together. When it does, may that time be at Treefort.