The Treefort Effect: Considering the Festival’s Impact on Boise & Beyond

written by

Jessica Flynn

March 13, 2019

By the end of next week, more than 23,000 people will have descended upon downtown Boise to get their Treefort on; and it’s very likely that, just like in 2018, more than 30 percent of them will hail from outside of Idaho.

While many will walk away with a new appreciation for a musician, an artist or an author, a countless number will walk away with something even more lasting: an appreciation and/or new perspective of the Boise metro. In a flurry of five days, Treefort Music Fest encapsulates the soul of Boise; but it lives beyond the moment, and that is why it’s an economic and brand driver for the Boise metro 365 days a year. 

In 2017, the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau (BCVB) began trying to measure the impact of Treefort through hotel accommodations, transportation costs, food and beverage consumption, retail activity and recreation. The economic impact of tourists attending Treefort that year alone was estimated at more than $2.7 million, with the total impact closer to $4.8 million. It’s a number that continues to grow as the festival grows and one that will likely exceed $5 million as we head into Treefort’s eighth year. 

As noted by BCVB Executive Director Carrie Westergard in an interview with the Boise Weekly that year, the festival also functions as a “first date” with the City of Trees for many. “We’re the intro, and we’ve heard time and time again from many of our clients that they had no idea Boise had this much to offer. The second thing they say is: ‘I could live here,’ or ‘I could move here.’ It’s a first step.”

Think we’re overstating the impact? Consider Austin, Texas, and what many placemaking experts say about “The South By Southwest Effect.” The emergence of South by Southwest (SXSW) truly raised Austin’s profile and helped define it as a center for creativity and commerce.

In the book Eventful Cities, the authors note: “Festivals influence people’s idea of a city … the need to establish new civic identities has prompted cities to utilize ‘cultural’ assets and resources in an attempt to become distinctive, to regenerate the urban fabric and to create economic, social and cultural prosperity.” 

Like SXSW, Treefort is what’s known as a “confetti festival,” spanning multiple venues across the city. “Confetti festivals … creatively embed events in curious and varied places. Such a pattern of activity increases accessibility and spontaneous and unscripted interactions,” said sociologist Jonathan R. Wyn, author of “Music/City: American Festivals and Placemaking.”

My favorite memories of the past few years are those unscripted interactions while walking between venues: stumbling upon performance art that has sprung up on a street corner, watching kids experience music and art alongside their parents, hearing visiting artists rave about the welcoming nature and vibe of our city, and rediscovering pockets and corners and views of our city that I don’t stop often enough to recognize and fully appreciate.

Treefort is an experience that transcends the official event itinerary. It’s a series of micro-experiences that make up your whole impression instead of one massive event where everyone interprets it the same way. It’s like Boise in that way: You show up expecting one thing and are blown away by what you hadn’t planned for, and those micro-moments leave you with an impression all your own. 

In essence, Treefort for me is the most concentrated amount of Boise-ness you can get. All the best aspects of Boise are present. It shows the Boise we all love to tell stories about. As a self-proclaimed “Festival of Discovery,” it’s about what others can discover about us and what we (re)discover about this place we call home.

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