Live Report: Treefort Music Fest 2024

Idaho's annual bash boasts laid-back charm and the freshest sounds…

Let it not be said that CLASH doesn’t travel far and wide to discover the best new acts to tantalize our readership. This past week, we found ourselves in Idaho’s capital, Boise, for the 12th annual Treefort Music Fest. 2,704 feet above sea level and surrounded by the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, the city has big skies and a big country attitude, the modest population matching Southampton’s. For a festival rolling with the SXSW model, it’s perfect, with everything on offer being no more than a fifteen-minute walk away. Lasting five days and with forty-six venues dotted across the city’s downtown area and parks, the selection of acts and activities on offer is truly impressive. 

Boots on the ground, we headed to a few of the area’s dive bars to get some band recommendations from the locals, soon discovering half the bartenders we talked to would be playing sets themselves at some point or another. Happy to evangelise about the city’s other performers, Boiseans involved in the music scene form a tight community, borrowing members and even guitars – seriously, we saw the same battered guitar in three different sets. The vibe is supportive, friendly, and proud that people are taking an interest in their home. 

While there was a wide range of musical tastes on offer, it’d be fair to say that Treefort appeals to the indie rock and folk crowd, with the likes of Neko CaseTy Segall, and Devendra Banhart getting top billing. That’s not to say Treefort didn’t have a few surprises up its sleeve. While the open areas are family-friendly, the city’s many bars and breweries let things get rowdy with a capital R. When the sun was out, though, the charming Julia Davis Park was the place to be. 

Home to the festival’s three biggest stages, the park unsurprisingly boasted some of the best sets of 2024’s edition. Ireland’s CMAT went down a storm, the songwriter’s infectious energy and brand of country rock proving a winner. Halfway through the set, one fan gifted the singer a commemorative plate, much to the musician’s delight. “I hear we’ve got something in common, Idaho… our love of potatoes!” Charming, funny, and with hooks for days, CMAT will be welcome back, no doubt about it. 

Recently teamed up for a US tour, folk-rock act Dawes and vocal powerhouses Lucius made for good bedfellows, the acts breezily performing a mixture of each other’s best tunes as well as Pink Floyd and The Beatles—a denim drenched crowd pleaser. Portland’s The Macks had the festival buzzing, the group performing three sets of scuzzy garage rock with demented swagger. Explosive and embracing 1970s rock visually and sonically, the band is a must-check for those who like their rock n’ roll dangerous.

Hometown cult heroes Built To Spill drew an unsurprisingly large gathering, with frontman Doug Martsch’s effortless guitar wizardry and deceptively catchy numbers reminding everyone why he’s a legitimate alt-rock legend. Over thirty years in the game and sounding as mighty as ever. TORRES took to The Hideout stage showcasing material for their latest album, What an Enormous Room, and unleashing the Springsteen-esque banger ‘Don’t Go Puttin Wishes in My Head.’ Shredding with glee, the Orlando native was even more fiery than on record, getting a good few “Hell yeahs!” from the audience as a reward. 

Yin to this Yang was the following set by South London oddballs Dry Cleaning. Bringing their brilliantly singular sound to a quickly confused Idaho crowd, the band’s mesh of John McGeoch guitars and spoken word tales of old sandwiches was polarising. Still, the local college kids and hipsters were lapping it up, braving an icy rain shower to see their set through to the end. Perfect weather for the post-punk crew, really.

More accessible was songwriter Olivia Barton‘s first festival appearance, a mix of heartbreaking honesty and self-deprecating humour. Playing tender tunes from 2022’s ‘This is a Good Sign’ and accidental TikTok hit ‘if I were a Fish’ (originally a duet with partner Corook), her acoustic-backed set showcased a great lyricist with a bright future ahead. More pulse quickening was the gothic country rock meets ranchera sounds of Roselit Bone. Dressed in black and with frontwoman Charlotte McCaslin spitting lyrics like a rattlesnake mixed with Patti Smith, the band sounds like they belong in a Tarantino flick. Cinematic and dripping with undiluted cool. 

Elsewhere in Downtown, we had an equally eclectic mix of noises drifting through the city’s streets. Groningen’s The Vices melted some faces with an electric set by the Boise Brewing building. Part Strokes, part surf rock with some lead guitar parts that’d make Hendrix smile, the four-piece relished their chance to entertain a US audience. Invoking shades of The Tallest Man of Earth, twenty-three-year-old Savannah artist Jonah Kagen had a fair few fans swooning, his earnest lyrics and accomplished guitar playing tugging at the heartstrings. Unable to squeeze a favourite into his set time, he appeared at the side of the stage to give a private rendition to those eager. Charmer.

“Are you guys having fun at this festival? Well, I’m here to bum you out!” laughs Madi Diaz to a packed Treefort Music Hall. At times both beautiful and brutally honest, the Nashville-based artist had a few burly truckers alternating between laughter and wiping the odd tear away. It’s easy to see why her fans include Waxahatchee, Angel Olsen, and Harry Styles—a standout set in a festival filled with magic moments. Eager to ramp the American spirit to 100, we headed down to Pengilly’s Saloon for a drink and some fiery country numbers.

Stood on an antique bandstand in the corner, Graham Farrow Knibb and band had some sweetly nostalgic country numbers to lure you in before unleashing some scorching Southern rock. The spirit of the Allman Brothers lives on. Lurking in the city’s dive bars was a fine selection of metal, psych, and all kinds of filthy esoteric noise to excite lovers of distorted guitars and dark spaces. Rhododendron proved a highlight, the three-piece’s brutal mix of jazz drumming, erratic guitar shrieks, and dirges exciting at rock hub The Shredder. Headbangers need to watch these young noise merchants – we’re sure more exciting material awaits. 

With a couple of college kids in tow (shout out Connor & Brady), CLASH finished their Treefort in the sweaty basement of The Shrine Social Club to see Crush the Monster‘s homebrewed flavour of Doomy psych. Pit instantly erupting, we spent the next forty minutes dodging fists and trying to protect our ancient film camera. It was a perfectly memorable last set that showed that Boise can get down with the best of them. 

With five days of music on offer, Treefort could quickly feel like a slog if poorly organised, but this was far from the case. Bands enjoyed more extended sets than often seen at festivals, allowing crowd and act to build a stronger connection and making you less inclined to rush off halfway through to catch something else on your list. Most of the events were family-friendly, allowing the entire city and surrounding communities to come and enjoy the fun. Still, there was enough programming late into the night to give those with more rarefied tastes new boundary pushers to discover. 

Musically, two big takeaways were apparent. After fifteen years in the game, it was great for this writer to see a natural progression to a festival with a fair gender split. The biggest draws of the whole festival were, in fact, female-fronted acts, with Treefort not making PR decrees about such a fact. It was simply solid programming that gave the people what they wanted and revealed an events landscape that is thankfully very different from a decade ago. 

Secondly, rock is alive and well. Be it shoegaze, alt-rock, or mustachioed 70s stadium sounds, the kids are very much embracing their parents’ record collection. Unlike the lazier revival scenes of the past, however, the musicians of the streaming age are more open to blending sounds and aesthetics to create something new. One song may traverse between the rage of Kurt Cobain and the moody electronics of Tricky. Barriers are gone, but the desire to flip a finger at the world’s injustices is very much back in vogue. 

With its walkable streets, accommodating inhabitants, and first-rate lineup, Treefort proves a real winner. There’s a wholesome vibe far removed from the piss-stained, aggressively corporate-backed wears of elsewhere. If one word could sum up our time there, it would be gratitude. Gratitude from the town for all the musical visitors wanting to experience their home and their state, and gratitude from us to Boiseans for being so welcoming and putting on one hell of a show. 

Words: Sam Walker-Smart

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