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How More Than 1,500 Volunteers Built Boise's Treefort Music Fest

Frankie Barnhill
Boise State Public Radio
Volunteers Brian Anderson (foreground), Holly White (back left) and Mariele Malana (right) build chalkboards that will be used at Alefort, the craft beer part of Treefort Music Fest.

Treefort Music Fest would not be possible without the help of volunteers. When the indie music festival began in 2012, about 100 people offered to help get it started. This year, 600 volunteers will donate their time to Treefort. 

Volunteers allowed the festival to go from three days and 130 bands, to five days with more than 400 bands. Other genres like writing, film, and technology have also been added over the years.

No one knows the value of donated time better than Elizabeth Corsentino, the festival's volunteer coordinator.

Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
Volunteer Coordinator Elizabeth Corsentino says the festival would not be possible without help from the community.

"We were able to grow because of how many people were supporting the festival," says Corsentino. "Otherwise, we would have been stagnant at a certain point where, 'well, nobody else is willing to come and help us we've got to stay at this level.' But that's never been the case."

By the end of this year's festival, more than 1,500 people will have volunteered over the last four years. This year's group will put in a combined 5,400 hours of labor; about 15 percent of them will go over their required nine hours of volunteer time.

Corsentino says that willingness to help makes her job a lot easier. She says it's kind of like being a matchmaker. Volunteers help with dozens of tasks before and during the festival. Depending on a person’s interest and background, they could end up checking wristbands at venue entrances, selling T-shirts and other merchandise at shows, setting up music gear backstage, or selling tickets at the box office. Maybe the most coveted gig is to work in the artist lounge, giving a few dozen people the chance to work up-close to a band they love.

“It’s awesome to volunteer for a food bank or a homeless shelter, and all of that stuff’s really important to do in the community too," she says. "But for some people who are younger or really passionate about music, it’s like, ‘Wait a second – I can be a volunteer but in this thing that I love.’ So that’s really cool that we can connect that."

In exchange for their time and talent, people who help out get discounted tickets. Right now a regular festival-goer would buy a ticket for $159 – a volunteer can get that ticket for $30.

Volunteer Holly White says the cheaper ticket was what first got her interested in helping. Last year she helped sell merchandise at venues around town, and got to meet some bands while she was on her volunteer shift.

"It was a great way to go see Treefort without spending an arm and a leg," says White.

This is her second year as a volunteer, and now – it’s about something else.

“The more you’re involved the more you can definitely feel a part of the community," White says. "You just meet amazing people, and the bands – it's a great way to even get your eyes opened to people playing music around here."

This year the 27-year-old is on the "decorfort" crew, the aptly named volunteer group focused on building and staging the decorations at all the festival’s venues.

On a recent Sunday, White and a group of six other 20-somethings built 46 custom chalkboards at a woodworking shop on the outskirts of Boise. The amateur carpenters cut, sanded and stapled the boards – which will be used as displays at Alefort, the craft beer portion of Treefort Music Fest – for most of the day.

Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
Holly White is volunteering with the festival for the second year in a row. She's helping with decorfort, the group tasked with creating signs and other decorations at Treefort.

White's already gone over her minimum of nine hours, but she's OK with that, she's happy to go above and beyond to make Treefort happen.

For festival producer Lori Shandro, the growth in the number of volunteers like White has sent organizers a clear message.  

“It’s definitely telling us that we’re doing something that people want," says Shandro. "And as long as it’s something that the community wants I’m pretty happy to have a part in providing it and guiding that experience.” 

Credit Frankie Barnhill / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
Volunteers built this countdown sign in downtown Boise. The festival runs March 25-29.

The 4-year-old festival has yet to break even. The work volunteers put in has allowed Treefort to survive – and even let it grow, adding hundreds of bands and different genres.

Volunteer coordinator Elizabeth Corsentino says she’s amazed by the community spirit on display each year. She says that even if the festival were to start making money, she can’t imagine a time when volunteers will not be involved. 

“For Treefort to continue and to have the cultural and economic impact in the Treasure Valley that it does, I don’t think we could function without volunteers.”

The multi-day festival takes over venues in downtown Boise next Wednesday-Sunday.

Song "Means of Freedom" by Boise band Marshall Poole was featured in this story.

Find Frankie Barnhill on Twitter @FABarnhill

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio

Frankie Barnhill was the Senior Producer of Idaho Matters, Boise State Public Radio's daily show and podcast.

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