By Zack Perry // Photos By Zack Perry
It’s difficult to be critical of something you have nothing but positive feelings for. This review has taken at least 5 different forms and after nearly pulling my hair trying to figure out how to materialize my feelings on this past weekend, I grabbed my scribble filled notepad to grasp at straws. That’s when I read a note about Charles Bradley and I realized this weekend was really about one thing for me: live music. While Treefort is a lot of things, many more than I can detail in this article, it truly meant that from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, I would be returning to live music. While I have still seen concerts intermittently, I hadn’t been to a concert in a photographic capacity in months.
Full disclosure, photography is my first love. Writing might be a hell of a drug, but taking photos is what I enjoy most, especially of live music. Something about capturing the exchange of energy between artist and audience has always invigorated me. So when I say I hadn’t been to a show in a photographic capacity in months, I really mean that I hadn’t felt alive in months. The sensation I receive when taking a good photograph of an even better live musician is incomparable. It’s the best high there is, to tell the truth.
My second love is music, and if nothing else, Treefort was overflowing with music. At any given time during 10 am and midnight you could walk around downtown Boise and hear at least two different bands or artists performing. Needless to say, there was a mighty hefty lineup of musicians. Seeing as I only had a limited time there, I had to condense it into as many as I could fit while maintaining sanity. To avoid the risk of running verbose I’ve narrowed it down into the ones who truly touched something in me, or made me move like I hadn’t before: Stonefield, Charles Bradley and His Extraordinaires, Thundercat, Oddisee, Aesop Rock & Rob Sonic, and Youth Lagoon. Somewhere in there was a film screening, a panel talk about local food, the best biscuits and gravy I have ever had(shoutout to Capri Restaurant on Fairview), and me laying in a hammock which was later dubbed “Hammockfort” by fellow Forters.
Of all the places I heard people travel from to get to Treefort, Australia is probably the one that really surprised me. Australian band finished out their tour at Treefort, and they went out with a BANG. The four sisters from rural Victoria took the stage and slayed with a rock so thick it sounded almost like doom or stoner metal. Singer Amy Findlay’s vocal chords have a range that would impress even Rob Halford. Watching the band live you could really see the familial bond between the four of them (and live drummer Andrew, as well) as there was a sort of unspoken musical chemistry, being able to riff off one another in such a fluid fashion. I went into Treefort having never heard of Stonefield before, but I left their set completely blown away from the talent that had arisen from the land down under.
Of all the places I heard people travel from to get to Treefort, Australia is probably the one that really surprised me. Australian band Stonefield finished out their tour at Treefort, and they went out with a BANG. The four sisters from rural Victoria took the stage and slayed with a rock so thick it sounded almost like doom or stoner metal. Singer Amy Findlay’s vocal chords have a range that would impress even Rob Halford. Watching the band live you could really see the familial bond between the four of them (and live drummer Andrew, as well) as there was a sort of unspoken musical chemistry, being able to riff off one another in such a fluid fashion. I went into Treefort having never heard of Stonefield before, but I left their set completely blown away from the talent that had arisen from the land down under.
Throughout the weekend I was asked by several people what I thought about Charles Bradley’s set, I will begin this review of his set the exact same way: I almost cried four different times. If you don’t know who Charles Bradley is, that’s okay, neither did I, but that did not stop me from weeping at the man’s feet as he bared his soul to over a thousand people. Charles Bradley was born in Gainesville and moved to Brooklyn, he fell on hard times and ended up sleeping on the street every night. Music entered his life and he found a living for himself performing to people, so in return for the living he has made, he gives his whole heart with every performance, whether for a room of 20, or 20,000. Something he said really resonated with me that night “If I can’t give it my whole heart, I won’t give it at all.”
Aside from sharing his life story on the stage with us, Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires played a medley of soul, jazz, blues, and even a little rock and roll. With a drummer that could light a fire under the ocean, a rhythm section that never missed a step, and a horn section worthy of royalty, Charles sang his heart out into his microphone. During instrumental breaks it was clear that Charles had the music in every inch of his soul as his every movement followed the rhythm of the band, right down to perfectly timed mic stand tricks. Near the end of his set, Charles brought out a bouquet of roses and began to thank every single person in the room. Charles Bradley could be defined by one thing: love. He loves you, he loves me, and he loves life. Even when he really doesn’t. Even when he’s not loved back. Even when it’s freezing outside. He loves. This was evidenced by him tossing roses out into the crowd, then coming down off of the stage to hand them out to individual crowd members before embracing them in a deep bear hug. He went back up and performed a little more, before giving his most earnest thanks to everyone for being there and supporting him.
After Charles’ set I headed back to the motel for a quick recharge, since the next act I wanted to see was Thundercat a few hours later, I thought a nice pit stop would be the right idea. When I got to the venue and saw a line that wrapped around the block, I realized my mistake. “The venue is AT capacity, for every one person that goes in, someone has to come out.” Said the girl standing in line behind me, I was so deterred I had already written a paragraph about how I “even though I missed Thundercat, I know he still melted faces.” because that was how I legitimately felt. Thundercat had already started, venue was AT capacity. I was chatting some people in the line, when all the sudden you start to see swarms of people coming out of Thundercat, like they had just seen a car accident. As the determined masses walked away, I appeared at the front of the line, and what seemed like a hopeless case turned into walking right to the front of the stage for the man Thundercat.
When I say Thundercat is the man, I mean it in the sense that this dude is not actually from this planet and is really an alien that inhabits Earth and transmogrified into a bass playing superhuman by the name of Thundercat/Stephen. If you aren’t sure who Thundercat is, just listen to any Flying Lotus song made in the last few years, or have seen Suicidal Tendencies during a certain era, or listened to an underground hip hop classic called To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar. You know the bass in there? Thundercat did that shit. Thundercat plays the bass with the same ferocity that Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton played their guitars. The things that Thundercat does with his bass are considered illegal in certain parts of the world, he’s just that dude. Did I mention he won a Grammy for that song he did with Kendrick “These Walls”? So what did he do during his sold out Treefort appearance at El Korrah Shrine? He quite actually melted the faces of every person there, with his six string bass, drum FREAK extraordinaire Justin Brown, and keyboard prodigy Dennis Hamm.
“This is crazy, I don’t even know what to say” uttered a baffled Thundercat as he peered over the packed room, continually growing with people. He started right into his next song as he tore through an experimental jazz groove that was basically just energy transfers between the keyboards, drum, and bass. Each one feeding off one another and channeling back into the other. When the show ended, I collected the pieces of my face off the floor and walked out of the venue only able to materialize one thought/sentence the entire walk back to my room: “Fuckin’ Thundercat, man.”
After I rolled out of bed the next day I went right over to Hammockfort and observed the scene there, for about 20 minutes. People told me to relax, I told them nothing, because I was already so relaxed I couldn’t muster the energy to respond. Alefort seemed enticing, but security guards, drat! No sense in sneaking in there, I thought; the view is much better from Hammockfort anyhow. I was getting all the action, taking everything in. I saw things that are considered faux paws in almost every major culture in the world, but expressed freely. I saw police officers, eating poutine. I saw things I’m not even legally obliged to talk about, so I must leave it at that. After a bit more dangling in my cocoon of a hammock, which, ironically, was the pinnacle of my Treefort experience, I decided it was time to stop being the fly on the wall and go be the bee in the hive. I hopped out, quick, like a bunny, and moseyed my way over to Record Exchange. To my surprise, who is playing an unbilled show at Record Exchange? Y LA BAMBA! Now that is a pleasant surprise, one of the many over the course of Treefort. Y La Bamba proceeded to serenade the record store with smooth melodies and Luz Elena Mendoza’s angelic voice filling the room. After a short set and some member substitutions(the quirks of having bandmates with multiple bands playing the same festival), Y La Bamba ceased and made way for Jackson Boone to take the stage.
As I’m walking through the streets of Boise back to my motel, I hear some jams in the distance, so my ear naturally followed them a few blocks to find The Hound Mystic playing in front of a buildings supply store to a crowd of One and whomever was passing by. When I showed up that made two, but these guys deserved way more. At least 5 times as many, their garage psych vibes were gnar to the max, bro. The mix of garage and good ol rock and roll was completely solid, I’m not sure why they were placed in front of an open business, but they definitely rocked it like it was mainstage. After a few minutes of jamming with my newfound friends, I headed back to the hotel for a rest before the inner rap geek in me was fulfilled later with Oddisee and Aesop Rock. One of the best rap albums of 2015 was called The Good Fight and it was by a rapper from Washington DC named Oddisee. Who is Oddisee? Well. Go listen to The Good Fight and he’ll tell you for himself.
Oddisee unabashedly honest and will tell you to your face who you are, but he doesn’t need to. He can rap his ass off. Above all else, Oddisee can really, really spit bars and go to toe to toe with your favorite rapper. Not to mention he’s doing it all independently, he’s been to the label meetings, he doesn’t want to be tied to an exploitative contract a la Birdman v. Wayne. Now that that’s out of the way, his show was everything I hoped it would be and more. There are some rappers who can achieve Super Saiyan status when in the studio, but not achieve that on stage. That is not the case for Oddisee, Oddisee harnesses his power like Gohan and lays waste to anyone who tries to come in his path. When listening to Oddisee records you hear his complex rhyme schemes over jazzy upbeat instrumentals and wonder how he would do live, the answer is, he still murders it. During the middle of one of his songs he got kind of bored and propositioned the crowd(knowing their answer) “I made a trap version of this song when I was bored, do you guys want to hear it?” Even when making fun of trap bangers, he manages to make a legitimate trap banger in the process. By the time Oddisee left the stage the crowd was so energized I wasn’t even sure we could handle Aesop for an hour and a half.
Then Aesop Rock and Rob Sonic came out and all hell broke loose. The safest place in the room was the photo pit, because the crowd went ballistic when they hit the stage. Rightfully so, Aesop Rock is the motor-mouthed microphone monolith and Rob Sonic is the bombastic rap battalion. These are heavyweights who have been making quality rap for longer than some of the crowd members. Age is but a number though in rap, as any number of touring rappers right now will prove to you, but Aesop and Rob are a powerhouse in themselves. Going bar for bar on songs they made together, songs they made individually, and just songs that don’t even feature the other. They are there back to back going bar for bar, tic for tac. Watching these two rap live is akin to watching Olympic pole vaulting finals; these are performers at their absolute highest, doing what they do best. The set list consisted of Aesop classics, Hail Mary Mallon tracks, some Rob tracks, and Aesop even busted out his newest single, “Rings”, in it’s first live performance ever. As someone who has listened to Aesop for years, I can really vouch that the music he is producing now is the best he has ever made. After about an hour and a half of rapping his ass off, Aesop closed the show with None Shall Pass and an encore of “Daylight/Nightlight”, To which everyone (myself included) rapped along to. Aesop Rock would like to remind the people that he has a new album coming out called The Impossible Kid and it is released on April 29th.
The next day was one of recuperation. More time in Hammockfort, more time eating loaded biscuits and gravy at Capri, more time trying to recover from going hard at Aesop Rock. I went to a filmfort screening, which had the most delightful cheese and dessert spread. Then off to see Chairlift and Youth Lagoon on mainstage to closeout Treefort.
It’s hard to pin down the energy of Youth Lagoon; they both soft and airy but hard and rumbling. The shoegaze mixed with heavy bass and dreamy piano made for an atmosphere that had ebb and flow similar to mountain currents with Trevor acting as the ring master. Every buildup amounting into a burst of energy, which he would use to bounce across the stage like a pinball. The tender moments were especially warm and somber, but nothing compared to when they played “17” for their encore, never has a phrase “there wasn’t a dry eye in the house” been more applicable.
Just like that, in the blink of an eye, it was Monday. Treefort had came and went. I had to eat Capri one last time before I hit the road back to Portland, and reminisce on how for a weekend, a small mountain community came together under the banner of a sustainable local festival with international morals and values to create an experience that changed so many. The amount of music that locals were introduced to this week was innumerable, Boise now understands the wrath of Thundercat. Aesop proved that his new stuff will hold as well, if not better, than his “hits”. Charles Bradley proved to everyone that love will unite us all. This is just a select few from my own Treefort experience, who knows what other magic occurred over the course of the five days. What I know for sure was, Treefort may seem fairly common on the surface, but down in the dirt of it, you won’t find another one like it.