Treeforts have been built since prehistoric times, constructed as a way to provide shelter and safety to people. Fast forward a couple thousand years, and Treefort Music Fest is similarly providing a safe platform for its community. With this idea in mind, the organization has made the decision to postpone the festival again because of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the safety of all the artists and attendees.
“Really what is comes down to is our community and safety, and we have to put that above everything else,” said Hackfort Director Sean Wakely. “We don’t want to be tied to an outbreak.”
In March, Treefort postponed its festival until September 2020 due to growing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. Those concerns have now prompted the Certified B Corporation to push the ninth-annual festival out until Sept. 22-26, 2021, and the 10th-annual Treefort until March 23-27, 2022.
Idaho’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was on March 13, but the day before Treefort’s official announcement that it would postpone for a second time on Tuesday, July 15, the state had 10,902 cases and 102 deaths due to the disease. Ada County had also reverted back to Stage III of the recovery plan on July 7 due to rising case numbers, resulting in the closure of bars and nightclubs. The county is expected to open back up at some point but Treefort organizers didn’t want to take any chances.
“Even from state to state there have been varying approaches, but it seems like most of the industry is looking to 2021,” said Director Eric Gilbert. “Some are more optimistic but for us, a big part of Treefort is the actual rowdy experience, and its got to be safe.”
Other major festivals have also postponed or cancelled, as well. South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, has put off its festival until March 2021, and Coachella in Indio, California, has shelved itself until April 2021. In Seattle, Bumbershoot will return for its 50th year in 2021. Treefort will honor all tickets that have been bought for the 2020 festival in 2021, and will also offer different options for those that choose not to attend.
In lieu of the in-person festival, the nonprofit plans to schedule some smaller events with local businesses as it's able, and Gilbert said that one possibility is to put more content online to keep fans engaged with the music and various forts.
As attendees know, all of the additional forts that have been added over the years are just as big as the music. For Hackfort, Wakely said that he and Assistant Director Mike Taylor were already looking to expand the fort to have a more online presence. They created Hackfort Live, which delves into all things computer-related, including virtual news and video games and Hackfort is also sharing up-to-date information on its social media.
"We want to inspire people who come to Hackfort to build the online community,” said Wakely. “What we’re doing here is kind of backwards. A lot of times conferences start from online forums. We already have a festival community that we want to get online.”
Wakely said that his team at Hackfort is coming up with creative and new virtual ways to move forward, and that they totally back the Treefort organization in postponing the events. Christian Winn echoed that sentiment. He’s the co-founder of Storyfort, and he said that all the different fort leads have been discussing options to keep connecting with festival-goers and partners.
“We’re going to adjust and people can keep their eyes peeled on our social media platforms and that way they can get a taste of Treefort while sheltering at home,” said Winn.
Storyfort has always offered year-round programming with its podcast and through various events and Winn said moving forward they’ll be looking at a lot of different options. Storyfort has rolled out its Bloom series where it has partnered with the Idaho Botanical Garden to provide socially distanced summer readings.
For the future, Winn said nothing is set in stone, but some options could include establishing collaborations between musicians and writers, virtual literary trivia and partnerships with literary organizations like The Cabin and Rediscovered Books.
Organizers said the main issues for the Treefort organization moving forward is to stay relevant between festivals, keeping the music and fort scenes alive, and ensuring the community that’s been built around Treefort remains safe.
“It’s been hard because the pandemic is hurting the music and festival industry,” said Wakely, “but the community has been amazing and instead of being sad, we’ve been seeing everyone involved with the festival being supportive to each other. I’m so excited for when we can get together again, but until then I encourage fans to support the festival as they can and keep connecting virtually.”