Treefort 11 Was an Exciting Discovery Wonderland

Treefort 11 Was an Exciting Discovery Wonderland. Read Leslie Ken Chu's review of the 2023 edition featuring, Dinosaur Jr, DEBBY FRIDAY
Dinosaur Jr at Treefort 2023 photo by Amanda Morgan

Every year, Treefort Music Fest transforms the city of Boise, Idaho into a buzzing hub of eclectic music and entertainment. Its 11th edition, which took place between March 22 and March 26, continued the festival’s tradition of introducing tomorrow’s breakout stars, showcasing local talents, and welcoming iconic artists.

This year’s festival boasted the added excitement of an array of new music venues, namely its crown jewel, the Treefort Music Hall. The massive high-gloss venue, open year-round and to all ages, celebrated its first show merely three nights before Treefort kicked off. Additionally, this year’s Main Stage migrated to Julia Davis Park, which hosted two additional stages.

Treefort 11 had to contend with one of Boise’s top five snowiest winters since 2000. The park grounds got a bit muddy, but as long as you layered up, your footwear bore the worst of it. As with most festivals, it was impossible to catch all the great music Treefort offered, never mind the stand-up comedy, drag shows, panel discussions, workshops, yoga classes, and food and beverage events. But the festival still is one of the best. Here are the top highlights Northern Transmissions saw over all five days of Treefort.

Big Joanie
At the Hideout, located right beside the Main Stage, London-based Black feminist punk band Big Joanie made their Boise debut with songs excoriating toxic hustle culture and tokenism. Big Joanie complemented every song about crumbled relationships with one celebrating love and friendships, like
the tender “In My Arms.” The band also carved out plenty of light amongst the rubble by extolling bell hooks and Audre Lorde and expressing solidarity with trans rights, unions, and Indigenous people everywhere. “This is your land. Thank you for allowing us to be here,” they acknowledged.

Dinosaur Jr.
Simultaneously, at the Main Stage, Dinosaur Jr. burned through expected hits including “Feel the Pain,” but they also threw in “Training Ground,” a deep cut by Deep Wound, DJ’s hardcore punk predecessor in which J Mascis played drums and Lou Barlow played guitar. The outdoor setting benefitted Dinosaur Jr. tremendously: within the confines of a typical club, the band sometimes drowns in sound. At Treefort, though, every note was clear, including J’s vocals.

Toronto’s DEBBY FRIDAY is on track to becoming Polaris alumnus with her immensely anticipated debut LP, GOOD LUCK, out two days after her Wednesday Treefort set. The Nigeria-born audio-visual artist, composer, singer, and rapper captivated her audience at Neurolux, lashing them with aggressive beats that mirrored the themes of power that course through her music. “Wake up!” she repeatedly commanded on the intoxicating title track. The pounding song was all the prompt anyone needed to get on their feet. Between tracks like “GOOD LUCK” and the stalking “Runnin,” she also flexed her versatility with “WHAT A MAN,” a weighty, swooning rock track, all before hopping down onto the floor, where a circle opened around her, and she stared each person on its perimeter in their eyes and proclaimed, “I love to love,” during the pulsating “PLUTO BABY.”

Frost Children
El Korah Shrine played host to a performance no one else at Treefort paralleled. The way Frost Children whipped their audience into a frenzy was marvelous to behold. Atop live drumming and programmed beats, the NYC-based siblings, St. Louis’s Lulu and Angel Prost, sang and rapped and alternated between picking up guitar & bass and going hands-free. One moment, they mashed club music and bubblegum pop into a candy-coated wonderland of sonic expression with garbled, pitch-shifted choruses, the next, they pounded out a chugging riff-rock banger about Whole Foods.

The technicolored L.A. duo of percussionist/singer Brijean Murphy and bassist/keyboardist Doug Stuart hypnotized a packed at the Treefort Music Hall, soothing their spirits with a smooth, tropicalia-tinged blend of ‘70s disco, ‘90s house, and dream pop. Each jam lasted as long as 10 minutes, which can feel like an eternity when performed by less skillful musicians. But the attentive audience was all in, even before Murphy requested that the disco ball be turned on.

From potato province to potato state, Fredericton, New Brunswick’s Motherhood unleashed a snappy set for an audience that dared brave the chilling cold and snow. The Atlantic Canadian trio launched straight into potent, wiry punk rock with “Crawly I.” They barrelled into “Ripped Sheet,” a no-frills punch to the gut. The brightest highlight of all was the stilted freakout “Crawly II,” with guitarist Brydon Crain yelping and whooping as Penelope Stevens and Adam Sipkema loped and lumbered in tandem on bass and drums, respectively. Motherhood are totally in sync, even in their most unhinged moments, a dynamic forged over a decade of making inventive music together.

Margo Price
With three guitarists other than herself, a bassist, a keyboardist, and a drummer in tow, Margo Price was a supercharged rock ‘n’ roll unit. The seven-piece thundered through “Been to the Mountaintop” and stomped through the bluesy “Change of Heart.” Even songs with a tempered start, like “Radio,” “County Road,” “Light Me Up,” and “Hell in the Heartland,” erupted into solo-studded country and blues rock. Holding ardent fans’ attention for an hour and a half with zero hitches, Price proved her star power, a consummate choice for closing the Main Stage on Friday night.

Guerilla Toss
“Whoever’s doing lights tonight, just go crazy. … If someone’s controlling the haze, just go wild on that shit. Have fun,” a member of the wildly unpredictable Guerilla Toss encouraged before their set at the Shredder. It was impossible to see who said it through the packed audience, who moshed and crowd surfed as singer Kassie Carlson yelped and stretched her vocals over the rest of the New York Sate’s band’s unique, head-spinning prog rock/dance punk brew filled with neon synths, slashing guitars, and rapid precision drumming. Guerilla Toss’s exuberance was infectious; the riotous joy shared by both the audience and band was a true highlight of the festival.

The Golden Dregs
Gray, snowy skies cleared up for the golden tones of the Golden Dregs at their Saturday afternoon Main Stage set. Most of the seven-piece band joined in vocal harmonies led by the rich baritone of project founder, South London artist Benjamin Woods. “Congratulations” featured a musical levity that called to mind David Berman, whereas the beautifully somber “Not Even the Rain” was more reminiscent of the National. A graceful set that chased away the afternoon chill was as good a send-off as any for the band whose Treefort appearance marked the final date of their first U.S. tour.

Despite playing a song called “The End of Comedy” at the Main Stage, Drugdealer clearly don’t know the meaning of the phrase. Not only did the sleek outfit, too energetic to be saddled with the term “lounge rock,” bring the fun with bouncy keys, an energetic falsetto (by core dealer Michael Collins), and wailing guitar solos, they crammed in so many white lies and half-truths, it was difficult to parse fact from fiction. Was one of their members really from Nova Scotia? Possibly. Did this member play hockey for the Nova Scotia Oilers? No, because that team doesn’t exist.

Tanukichan, led by Bay Area artist Hannah van Loon, conjured heavy handed shoegazing rock at the Hideout. Their dense songs were taut and buzzed with life, the type of shoegaze that isn’t content to just drift aimlessly but rather rear its head in tidal bursts. And speaking of rearing heads, Tanukichan were captivating enough to pull focus away from a gigantic dragon contraption operated by a few people that wound its way through the crowd during the band’s set.

At the Shredder, Winter played with searing volume you could feel in your chest as your clothes rippled. The band leaned into the more melodic strain of shoegaze pioneered by the likes of Slowdive. “It’s gonna be like the more DIY version of Winter ‘cause I can’t use all my pedals,” singer Samira Winter informed the crowd after a few songs. But the technical difficulties were a blessing in disguise, highlighting her saccharine vocals and the strength of her songwriting without all the dressing of gadgetry.

Though Wisconsin alt-rockers Disq named their latest album Desperately Imagining Someplace Quiet, they made zero attempt to foster such a sanctuary. Instead, they electrified Saturday’s midnight crowd at Neurolux with a high-energy set that spanned Midwestern emo, anthems reminiscent of rock
stalwarts like PUP, and discordant sonic free-play with squealing feedback topped with “boing” sound effects. For those inclined towards late nights, Disq were a perfect shot of adrenaline to carry them into the early morning.

Magi Merlin
Magi Merlin calls herself a cheeky nihilist, but when it came to stage presence, only the former was true of her afternoon Hideout set on Treefort’s final day. With her powerful, dexterous voice, the Montréal artist sang as much as she rapped over funky grooves, breakbeats, and coarse rock riffs, all performed live by drum wiz samaether and Funkywhat on five-string bass, who manipulated his instrument to resemble a chunky guitar and dispensed ripping solos that would have impressed Jack White. The trio left no doubt that they’re one of the best live bands in Canada today, and certainly one of the best sets of the entire festival.

At outdoor courtyard KIN, Mauvey opened his heart in an impassioned performance, expressing through vivid gestures—clutching his chest, punching the air—and contorted, wide-eyed facial expressions an inner galaxy of emotions. The Ghanaian-born Vancouver artist sang, rapped, and spoke, often with a mic in each hand, along to backtracks that glowed brilliantly, brooded uncomfortably, or pooled placidly, like the watery slow-drip of “Day 1.” “If you love each other, this one’s for you,” Mauvey said, introducing “Diamond Ring.” Spanning such an emotional range, it’s hard not to see yourself reflected in many of his songs.

Protomartyr shook El Korah Shrine with a rumbling set at one of Treefort’s final shows. Songs like “Processes by the Boys” and “A Private Understanding” featured a militant marching drum beat. The Detroiters’ bone-dense post-punk songs often hit a dour note, but they were all raucous live. The audience became especially charged for the band’s older tracks including “I Forgive You,” “Pontiac 87,” and “Scum, Rise!” Those who stuck around El Korah Shrine still had hometown heroes Built to Spill’s grand finale to look forward to, but Protomartyr would have stood as a perfectly satisfying cap-off for the 2023 edition of Treefort Music Fest.

Words by Leslie Ken Chu


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