Treefort postponement hinders financial stability, creativity for local artists

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As confirmed COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the nation and, more specifically, in Idaho, there is hardly an individual who remains unaffected by the ripple effect that has come from the spread of the virus. For Boise, the postponement of a local gem — the Treefort Music Fest — seemed to solidify the severity of the coronavirus’s impact on the community.

While the change in festival dates may have come as a surprise to the performing artists and the local community, festival publicist Marissa Lovell explained that the postponement did not come without much internal deliberation.

“We had been talking about it for a while. Basically, as soon as the first case was in the U.S., we were like, “OK, what would our options be if this were to get worse?’” Lovell said. “We quickly ruled out canceling and then started talking a lot about what postponing would look like and whether it would even be possible. We were watching everything and more cases and the level of those cases was getting a lot more serious in closer states, and it was our two-week deadline on Wednesday, the day we announced.”

Lovell was not the only one who saw the postponement coming. Lisa Simpson, one-third of Blood Lemon, a local “post-punk, post-riot grrrl” band that also consists of Melanie Radford and Lindsey Lloyd, was close enough to the festival’s planning that the postponement did not come as a surprise. 

Although the “need” for the postponement outweighed the disappointment for Simpson, the lack of community-building can still feel like a loss.

“My husband is the festival director for Treefort, so it wasn’t an all-of-the-sudden thing at my house. My reaction to the postponement was bittersweet,” Simpson said. “It needed to happen; part of you feels like ‘Do you really need to do this?’ But as a festival and a community, that community piece is so important. Even though it was a hard thing and there’s a sadness and a grief to not doing something that is fun and community building and important to the overall community, at the same time, we have to keep our community safe.”

The postponement, as well as the effects of the coronavirus as a whole, have been undoubtedly impactful to the local music community. As a result, Simpson is concerned about musicians who do rely on music as their sole income and how they will be further impacted by these changes.

“For us as a band, I’m less worried about people forgetting who we are than I am about the greater musical community in general,” Simpson said. “We’re at a point as a band and as musicians where we aren’t relying on our music as our sole source of income, but there are a lot of musicians who are and that’s the biggest issue. What are the things that we can do to support our community if we are able to?” 

Even for bands who hold jobs outside of music, the lack of live performances may pose a problem. Thomas Salazar, a member of local alternative rock band The Phets, explained that the band is still releasing work during this period of social distancing and isolation, such as a new music video, but a lack of income could make spreading the word more difficult.

“A lot of our income does come from shows and selling merch at shows, so it’s going to be hard to get money for the band to do things like promote the video and other things that require money,” Salazar said. “It hasn’t been too much of a struggle yet, because we are still financially okay, but in the future, there could be struggles for other people and even us.”

Salazar, however, continues to find optimism in the future of The Phets beyond the struggles that they, and other local bands, are presently facing. 

“It has given me more time to think. With a job and jamming and working out and all these things, my schedule was constantly busy,” Salazar said. “I have a lot more time just to actually create and kind of explore my mind. I would say it’s kind of a positive thing because we can kind of slow down and take life a day at a time.”

Radford, Blood Lemon’s bassist and vocalist, shares Salazar’s optimistic outlook for her own band. With the release of their upcoming album just on the horizon, she believes there is much for the band to look forward to after the storm and productivity can continue in the interim.

“We actually recorded an album last winter, so we currently have that in the works; it’s being mixed. Hopefully by the middle of this year, maybe a little later, we are hoping to get our first album released,” Radford said. “I think individually since we will be kind of staying at home, we might be passing ideas back and forth for new songs, as well as doing our own separate recordings to post online because now more than ever a virtual presence is important for a lot of bands.”

Radford admitted that, while Blood Lemon remains in a solid position, other musicians in the industry may not be as fortunate when it comes to their financial stability, despite the positivity and support from the greater music community.

This snowball effect from COVID-19, though not financially, has also affected Joe Turmes, one half of local doom metal band Chaosmonaut. The March festival would have been Turmes’ first Treefort, but not his first attempt to play.

“I’ve applied to Treefort in the past with other bands I’ve been in,” Turmes said. “It’s the one time of the year where you get a guaranteed draw for crowds and exposure and a chance to play with bands that wouldn’t normally come to Boise, especially for heavy music.”

Turmes’ intended to play his first Treefort Music Fest with his son, Joey, who makes up the other half of Chaosmonaut. Perhaps the biggest impact on the band, according to Turmes, is the lost networking and communicative opportunities for Joey.

“With Joey, he has this cognitive disability; he has brain damage from birth,” Turmes said. “That has created difficulties for him in terms of how to work with other people, so this whole social isolation part has just completely put a stop to all of our work in helping him socialize with people and connect with other musicians. That has really been the biggest bummer for us is losing those opportunities.”

While the two still intend to play the festival in September, the postponement does put a damper on the creative energy of the father-son duo.

“Obviously, for bands who make their living playing music, it’s a huge financial impact to them, right? For us, it’s a little bit different,” Turmes said. “The way we work, essentially, is every time we book a show, we figure out how long their sentence and we write a piece of music for that way. We write a song that’s 30 minutes long, play it once and never play it again. So for us, it’s been hard in the sense that we wrote the 40 minutes song to play and now don’t really have an avenue to play it.” 

Turmes explained that the band’s music “fits a particular moment” and, by the time Treefort comes back around in September, that moment will have changed. As a result, Chaosmonaut will write an entirely new set for the festival.

Although Treefort Music Fest will not take place for just under six months, the show must go on. Simpson explained that, in order to ensure that this happens, the Boise community’s support of local artists is crucial to getting them through the absence of live shows and appearances that would normally provide them with financial stability.

“Now’s the time to buy that album you’ve been meaning to download, now is the time to go online buy that t-shirt from that band you really love that you weren’t able to do before,” Simpson said. “Help everybody weather the storm. Personally, I’m less worried about myself than I am about everyone else. I know we will be able to get our album done, I feel like we have time. We can make decisions without feeling rushed at all.”

For more information on Treefort Music Fest, including ticket information and lineup updates, visit the festival’s website.

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