Treefort Music Festival Had All the Jitters and Thrills of the First Day of School

With Snail Mail, Kim Gordon, Indigo De Souza, Men I Trust, Quasi, Ducks Ltd. and more

Treefort Music Festival | Photo: Conner Schumacher

BY Kaelen BellPublished Mar 29, 2022

"You gotta bear with me, 'cause I'm scared." These were some of the first words that left Lindsey Jordan's mouth — after a fear-belying "What's up BOISE!" — as the Snail Mail bandleader bounced and teetered at the head of the main stage, preparing to kick off the 10th anniversary edition of Boise, ID's Treefort Music Festival.

It was a sentiment that would be repeated, both explicitly and implicitly, throughout the freewheeling, city-enveloping five-day festival, which ran throughout the city from March 23 to 27. There was a palpable sense of first-day-of-school jitters in the air; after months (and in some cases, years) away from stages and crowds and beer-saturated pavement, here it was again. For some artists, this was the first live performance after more than a year of cancellations and bated breath, while for others it was a reprieve from the anonymity of SXSW, a chance to play for people who are watching, listening, feeling. 

And while that anxiousness presented itself quietly across the festival — a missed cue here and there, eyes-averted stage banter, forgotten lyrics, apologies and a distinct uncertainty about when, where and how to wear no-longer-required masks — it was offset by a tangible feeling of gratitude and joy. There was a giddy electricity that permeated every corner of Boise's downtown; rushes of kids in Euphoria eye paint and gobs of pearls, gaggles of older hippies and reformed punks, young parents with earmuff-bedecked babies, and more Blundstones than you could possibly count, all co-mingling in waves of dizzying enthusiasm. 

Masks were far and few between, and the spectre of COVID hung beyond the borders of Treefort's jubilant bubble. Just two weeks before the fest began, mask and vaccine mandates were lifted in step with Idaho's new COVID protocols. Some bands dropped from the festival in exhausted protest, while others took to social media asking fans to consider wearing masks at their shows. With a small handful of exceptions, those calls seemed to go largely unheard. Even with testing and vaccination stations on-site, it was hard to shake the feeling that this caution-to-the-wind approach is premature. Perhaps that sickly ghost was part of the festival's unbound thrill; the unspoken understanding that it was a risk to be there together, and yet here everyone was, decidedly together. Still, walking past a crowded bar patio or bopping inside a humid, gyrating indoor set, a small unease might start to climb up your back. 

But the music helped, as it tends to do. Treefort is a mind-bogglingly busy festival, filled to the brim with theatre, film, comedy, art workshops, readings, and demonstrations and roundtables and presentations on every imaginable topic. But, first and foremost, it's a celebration of music. And this year's lineup matched the scope of the festival's extracurriculars, featuring a swath of artists from across the genre spectrum and across the globe — it was genuinely impossible to turn a corner without finding something to hear, and more impossible still to absorb it all in what amounted to a delirious, breakneck five days. So, in an attempt at presenting some semblance of what attending Treefort is like — and really only scratching the surface — here's some of the best (musical) things we saw. 

Snail Mail

Photo by Matt Wordell

Bounding to the microphone with a puppy-like enthusiasm, Snail Mail's Lindsey Jordan radiated a wily, endearing star power before she'd even slung her guitar across her chest. "This is the most nervous I've ever been," she admitted to the crowd, and it's not hard to understand why. Barring late night TV performances, her Friday night headlining slot at Treefort was Jordan's first live set since 2019, and her first since recovering from vocal cord surgery in December of last year.  

However, that nervousness — which Jordan mentioned again and again throughout the set — didn't derail her. Rather, it fuelled one of the festival's most dynamic performances — a nervy, combustible show that saw Jordan bring some seriously levelled-up performance chops to a fawning and enthusiastic crowd. Opening the set with the title track from last year's Valentine, Jordan and her band jumped between older material like "Pristine," "Speaking Terms" and even 2016's "Thinning" and new joints "Ben Franklin," "Automate," "Glory" and "Headlock." Jordan ditched her guitar for some tracks and showcased a newly-developed vocal control and some serious stage presence, spinning and grooving while decked in a dapper vest and silken shirt, every bit the swaggering prince. 

She even busted out a surging cover of the Smashing Pumpkins' "Tonight, Tonight" before bowing out with an encore performance of Valentine closer "Mia." It was a fitting introductory set for a festival defined by a sense of hopeful unease and gratitude, the beginning of a five-day mutual exchange between artist and audience. "You know, it's nice when everyone is so nice," Jordan quipped before launching into "Pristine." "It's like a big hug."

Indigo De Souza

Photo by Conner Schumacher

More than anyone else at Treefort, Indigo De Souza was a casualty of the wrong time slot. The North Carolina-based artist performed a scalding, stage-rattling, crowd-igniting set that could've — and should've — been given a sundown slot rather than her 4:00 p.m. start time. De Souza seemed to recognize this herself: "I know it's like, midday, so, sorry about that," she said, laughing quietly into the mic after wailing through the wordless, punishing breakdown of "Real Pain." "That felt pretty weird." 

However, that slight weirdness did nothing to dull the magnitude of her performance — though she was surprisingly quiet between songs, admitting, "I don't know what to say to you all, honestly" — De Souza and her band tore through their set with an intoxicating mix of bubbly lightness, wild ferocity and focused quietude. She lost her guitar for last year's Any Shape You Take highlight "Hold Me," swaying and whirling her arms like a shawl-free Stevie Nicks, while "Bad Dream" saw her shrieking and shredding with an icy intensity. The breathless, buzzing chatter as the crowd spilled out onto the street following her set confirmed De Souza's crushing star power — expect to see her rightfully take her spot as headlining act before long. 

Dougie Poole

A New Yorker with all the gravitas of an old-school Nashville superstar, Dougie Poole layers performance upon performance with his humour-laden vision of alt-country. His performance at the Sonic Temple — awash in a constantly-mutating light show that seemed to move with the mournful tides of pedal steel — was both intimate and raucous, vacillating between swinging balladry and rambling rave-ups. Playing songs from his 2020 record The Freelancer's Blues, Poole and his band had the tightly packed (and more heavily masked) crowd whooping and undulating from jump, the energy rising in a steady tide as the five-piece kicked, swaggered and swayed into the night. 


Easily one of the festival's most joyous, lighthearted performances, W.I.T.C.H. (We Intend to Cause Havoc) brought their groovy, sludgy Zamrock to the fest's main stage for a blistering, goofy set that saw hordes of teens moshing — and volleying a slowly-deteriorating head of green cabbage that came from God knows where — in the midday sun, losing themselves in the band's slow-boiling riot. Once one of the biggest bands in 1970s Zambia, W.I.T.C.H.'s only remaining original member is frontman Jagari, now in his 60s and still able to entrance a crowd with his impish charisma. Walking onto the stage with a half-eaten apple core tucked into his belt, he radiated an off-kilter magnetism. 

Whether it was stopping and observing his bandmates approvingly while they ripped solos, passing his cowbell into the crowd and blowing kisses to the willing participants, or grinding and gyrating and dipping to his undeniably danceable songs, he had the largely young crowd in the palm of his hand. Toward the end of the set, Jagari announced that they'd be playing a new song: "It's not recorded yet, it's just flying in the air. If you pay attention, maybe you'll catch it." As fans reached toward the stage in anticipation, there's little doubt they did.  


Hot off of what sounded like a somewhat demoralizing run of shows at SXSW — "Thanks for being so attentive, South By is… not an attentive space," bassist Ryan Albert told the crowd midway through their intimate 6:00 p.m. set — Babehoven brought a palpable sense of gratitude and communal exchange to their Treefort debut. Singer and songwriter Maya Bon's aching slowcore and enormous voice filled the room with an entrancing warmth, and Bon seemed genuinely surprised by both the audience's size — "I thought there would be like, five people here. I'm very touched!" — and their engagement and excitement. The highlights of the show were swaying opener "Fugazi" and an elliptical, unnamed new song that Bon called "the best thing I've ever written." Many of those in the crowd were clearly already fans of Babehoven's rickety incantations, but there's no doubt that Bon managed to convert some new devotees. 

Magdalena Bay

Magdalena Bay know how to put on a show. The Los Angeles duo's late-night set at Boise's Egyptian Theatre (a fittingly glamorous, campy venue for their brand of glitzy catharsis) was equal parts ecstatic pop show, punishing psych-rock exorcism and tech-obsessed theatre piece, a tightly-choreographed journey through their giddy mercurial world. Playing through the entirety of their 2021 debut Mercurial World in sequence, Mica Tenenbaum and Matthew Lewin's show was a continuous piece, connected by brief pre-programmed banter with Chaeri, the AI-consciousness whose disembodied face floated above the stage like a curious, benevolent Wizard of Oz.

The shtick could've been grating, but Tenenbaum and Lewin kept things moving at a breakneck clip, the show slowing and surging just as it needed to. More than anything, though, it's Tenenbaum's sheer energy that elevated Magdalena Bay's show to something more than the sum of its glitched-out parts. Donning diaphanous fairy sleeves and a Donnie Darko-esque rabbit mask at various spots, she commanded the stage in a whirlwind of magnetism. Fans screamed and reached for her continuously throughout, and she engaged with them — even hopping briefly into the crowd — with a giddy appreciation. It was unlike just about anything else featured at the festival, a piece of scrappy DIY spectacle that still managed to feel immense. 


Photo by Aaron Rodriguez

Hailing from Lima, Peru, Moldes' gothic, swirling synth-rock briefly transformed the Hideaway stage's sun-beaten parking lot into something magnetic and electrically charged. The four piece's midday show was sparsely attended at first, but their noise-pop eruptions managed to pull dozens of passersby from the street, a sure sign of a show done right. Held down by warped synth workouts and a driving, thunderous low end, the band ripped through a set that split the difference between pop immediacy and extended psych-rock riffage. Though it wasn't their first time at Treefort, they played like they had something to prove.  


Held down by the indomitable force of former Sleater-Kinney drummer Janet Weiss — who can lay a legitimate claim to the title of "greatest drummer alive" — Quasi delivered a tight, rollicking indoor set that felt joyfully unburdened. The crowd that gathered at the foot of stage for Weiss and Sam Coomes' meat-and-potatoes anthems was surprisingly young; a line of acne-dotted faces and trendy haircuts swayed and tossed rock fingers throughout the set, everyone over 25 relegated to the back rows. It lent the show a strangely buzzy slant, like you were listening to some TikTok-approved teenyboppers rather than two longtime punk road dogs. The sight seemed to affect Weiss too, who cracked smiles continuously throughout the show, sometimes glancing at Coomes, sometimes down at her kit and sometimes at the cluster of teen girls who thrashed and wiggled in front of her. The duo played material from their upcoming album — their first for Sub Pop — and if this show was any indication of what's to come, Quasi are about to make a scene. 

Built to Spill

Hometown heroes and Treefort regulars since the festival's inception, Built to Spill — now a trio consisting of Doug Martsch, bassist Melanie Radford and drummer Teresa Esquerra — played a big-hearted, sky-scraping set that felt as much homecoming as it did festival kickoff. "You raised us!" shouted a young man — sporting a woolly beard not unlike Martsch's — at the outset of the show, and that familial affection only grew as the band tore through classics like "Goin' Against Your Mind" and "Carry the Zero." Martsch, Radford and Esquerra sounded much bigger than their three bodies, though they let the songs do the talking, Martsch barely uttering a word during the set. His oceanic guitar playing continues to blow minds and get heads banging, and Radford and Esquerra made marks of their own — Radford's joyous, hair-swinging stage presence in particular helping to balance Martsch's shy stoicism. 

Ducks Ltd.

After a long day spent on hot pavement and lost in sweaty festival crowds, you often need a pick-me-up to get you through the rapidly approaching night. That's where Ducks Ltd. come in. The Toronto outfit's 10:00 p.m. set at Boise's Linen Building was the sort of tightly wound, floor-beating show required to get you back on your feet and back to your senses, sending you spinning into the street once they'd hammered out their closing notes. A headbanging swirl of jangle pop and sugar-rush punk, Tom McGreevy and Evan Lewis's high energy, whiplash-inducing show pulled heavily from their sterling 2021 debut Modern Fiction, with little time for stage banter — though an endearingly nervy McGreevy managed to crack a few sweaty jokes about Lewis and Clarke and wrestling rivalries — and a lot of time for rapid-fire riffs and shout-along choruses. 

Men I Trust

A mild haze — potentially the result of a grass fire in the distance — was settling over the festival as Montreal's Men I Trust took to the stage. The coppery smog helped set the tone for a woozy comedown show that saw the band pulling from across their catalogue and settling into a balmy, liquid groove that they never let up. They had a surprisingly dedicated Boise-based fandom, with shrieks of recommendation and tossed false roses punctuating the music. It was a well-planned Sunday evening set, with the band's gentle miasma — offset by the occasional quicksilver solo from guitarist Jessy Caron — lulling the crowd into a bath of gentle tones before having their hair singed by the incoming firestorm that was Kim Gordon. 

Kim Gordon

For the first few minutes of her monstrous, annihilating Sunday night set, the crowd didn't quite seem to know what to do with Kim Gordon. There was a sense of surprise among the restless audience, a bit of timid restraint, as Gordon and her band ground their way through a pummelling rendition of her No Home Record opener "Sketch Artist." But sometime during the first incinerating chorus of "Air BnB," the energy shifted as if a switch had been flicked. Or, perhaps more accurately, like a black hole had been torn open. It's a testament to Gordon's fearlessness, her unending wealth of cool, that by the end of this strange and abrasive set of songs, the once-staid crowd was screaming for more. 

Gordon and her band played the entirety of No Home Record with a steely-eyed ferocity, but it wasn't all ice and menace — Gordon dedicated the set's final song to "all the women and girls looking for choice in their lives," before sending her still-live guitar into the crowd, where it was clawed and strummed and attacked by a swarm of hungry hands. 

Gordon's set was the fest's final main-stage spectacle, but it was also the final set that would ever be performed on that version of the Treefort Main Stage — after this year's edition, the festival will be moving properties permanently. And so there was a finality and ceremony to the caustic, beautiful performance, a fittingly heightened sense of meaning. Rather than simply say goodbye, she stripped the place clean and demolished it entirely. Here's to whatever's next. 

Photo by Matt Wordell

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