Storyfort Aims To Bring Treefort Music Fans Into Boise's Literary Scene

Mar 23, 2015

Boise's annual Treefort Music Fest isn't just about up-and-coming bands, there are "forts" for techies, beer enthusiasts, and yogis. Plus there's a fort for people who love words and stories.

Treefort kicks off this week and this will be the second year of Storyfort.

One of its two creators, Christian Winn, surveys the upstairs room in Boise’s Linen Building. He’s picturing the setup for this year’s Storyfort. Maybe a small stage at the narrow end of the room. Or maybe against the wide wall with just a few long rows of chairs. Or maybe no stage, just a mic stand and a podium.

It takes some doing to imagine how Storyfort will look because this space -- with its wood floors, high ceilings and exposed brick walls -- is transitioning away from a performance venue and has already been taken over by a church. Yellow curtains divide it in to rooms now occupied by things like a box of Bible-themed kid’s books.

But Winn is a professional imaginer. He’s a fiction writer and will be reading at one of the Storyfort events. He walks up the hypothetical aisle between the 75-or-so chairs that will be set up by Thursday.

“Let’s say Britt introduces me,” he narrates. “Everybody’s like, ‘yay Christian,’” he claps his hands as the audience undoubtedly will. “I’ll get up here and I’ll introduce the story.”

Writer Christian Winn thought Treefort should include storytelling. That idea became Storyfort.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

The person introducing Winn in that scenario is Britt Udesen, director of Boise’s literature center The Cabin. Udesen is the other person who came up with Storyfort.

“I had this idea that The Cabin wanted to be involved in events throughout the community not just events that we ran,” Udesen says. “Christian Winn had this idea that Treefort should also include storytelling, should include some of the great writers in our town.”

So Udesen and Winn went to Treefort director Eric Gilbert and pitched Storyfort.

“And the great thing about Eric, and everybody else on the Treefort team, is that they’re so welcoming and generous about including other people in their grand vision,” Udesen says.

Treefort’s grand vision includes highlighting local talent and exposing local audiences to nationally-known artists.

This year’s Storyfort out-of-towners include journalist Jeff Chu, poet Adrian Kien and fiction writer Laura van den Berg. And there’s Idaho artists telling stories and talking about telling stories in five mediums. There’s a well-known blogger, there’s history, fiction, performance storytelling and poetry.

Winn says last year fiction dominated, but this year poetry has the most time at Storyfort. Udesen says poetry sells in Boise.

“There are several events you can go to, almost any week,” Udesen says. “And people show up.”

Boise based poet and poetry event organizer Megan Williams is behind the poetry part of Storyfort. Williams says Udesen is right, Boise is a poetry town.

“A reading here in Boise, when we bring in someone from Portland or New York or wherever, we get 40 to 50 people there,” Williams says.

She says readings by Idaho poets are often just as well attended.

Udesen estimates about 1,000 people came to Storyfort last year. But it’s hard to count. People come and go between other Treefort offerings. She says they schedule the Storyfort events carefully so they won’t be competing with Treefort concerts. She wants the music lovers to wander over for a poetry reading between bands.  

Udesen sees Storyfort as a way to get more people involved in the Boise literary scene. She says The Cabin has been doing what it does for 20 years -- and doing it well, but Treefort music fans could be the audience for the next 20 years.

“There are a lot of people who are at Treefort who may not even know who we are, even though we’ve been here for so long,” Udesen says. “I’m sure some of the people who have series tickets to our lecture series will be there. But the bulk of people who will be there probably have never come to our events and we’re really excited to meet them.”

Christian Winn also says Storyfort is partly about the exposure. He says hearing a writer read his or her own work can get people hooked.

“Once you see one thing then you get exposed to the next, and the next and then next you see [a writer] is going to be reading in a month, and they’ll say ‘that was fun, so we’ll go to this one too.’”

Winn says people who do go to a lot of Boise area fiction readings have probably heard him read from his book “Naked Me.” So at Storyfort he says he’ll read a new short story called “Arco Idaho” that was just accepted by literature journal Ploughshares.

“It’s about a young woman who’s traveling up to Grand Teton National Park with her father.”

And then he starts the reading for his imaginary audience.

“Please Sylvia, give me a moment to think," it begins. "And those are the last words you hear your father say.”

Winn and many others will be performing for real audiences Thursday through Sunday at the Linen Building. Storyfort is free to the public.

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio