The sidewalks were winding in downtown Boise on weeknights.
When Ivy Merrill and Rachel Koch first hit the Boise music scene in the early 2000s, things were much quieter. The musicians were as dedicated as ever, but there were fewer fans, fewer bands, and fewer places to play. Boise and its musicians rode on the influence and success of indie rock legends Built to Spill and other rock acts coming out of the Pacific Northwest, but Idaho was still largely a musical backwater living in the shadow of Seattle and Portland.
Things are different now, as Merrill, Couch and bandmate Angela Heileson take the stage as French Tips, a garage rock outfit inspired by elements of “disco damaged dance-punk.” They see pent-up demand for live music after nearly two years of pandemic-fueled anxiety, and a new infusion of sounds and styles from a wave of up-and-coming musicians.
“Sundays were like crickets downtown,” Merrill said over the phone from the first night of the latest French Tips tour. “There’s a lot more vibrant city life and music here than was booked in the last 20 years.” It’s always been a really tight-knit community of musicians playing in the city, but there are so many more amazing bands playing than there were 20 years ago.”
The Treasure Valley may not yet be Austin or Nashville when it comes to music, but the influx of new people coming to the area in recent years and the growth of the music community through events like Treefort Music Fest has led to a boom in live music . Venues big and small across the region are selling more tickets than ever before and the 2022 concert season has had hit national acts from every genre, from country to a variety of Spanish-language and EDM artists.
Growing crowds, diversifying tastes
Boise may be one of the most isolated state capitals in the United States, but at least we’re on our way.
Now that the population of the Treasure Valley has grown dramatically, our market has become a more attractive place for contractors who stop midway between major West Coast metropolitan areas like Portland and Seattle en route to Mountain West powerhouses like Denver and Sault Ste. Lake City. This is the reason you see so many of Boise’s bigger concerts on weeknights, because it’s a stop between the big weekend acts either east or west.
Andrew Luther, general manager of the Ford Idaho Center, said national concert promoter Live Nation has become “very aggressive” in Boise to capitalize on the growing demand for concerts here that our area didn’t even have a few years ago. This led to new shows that would never have booked the Treasure Valley until recently, such as a rap show by the group Suicide Boys, which drew an audience of 9,000, or national electronic music acts such as Odesza and Rufus Du Soul. Spanish-language artists in several genres, such as Norteño group Los Tigres de La Norte and singer-songwriter Pancho Barraza, also took the stage.
These new shows also added to the Ford Idaho Center’s typical blockbuster agenda of sold-out acts such as country stars Morgan Wallen and Kenny Chesney. This year, Ford Idaho Center booked 35 shows with just over 200,000 attendees. That’s up from 2019, when he booked 18 shows and sold 86,000 tickets.
And it’s not just ticket sales that are increasing. He said merchandise sales and other spending by concertgoers are also up.
“I think if the pandemic has taught people anything, it’s that experience is what kind of craft your life is versus just having a toy or something,” Luther said. “It does cool things and it has those memories of it. It sounds cheesy, but sometimes merchandise is that thing you have so you can remember the experience you had.
Are high costs forcing concertgoers to choose?
Concertgoers are going to more shows than ever after years of being stuck inside on the sofa, but artists are also hitting the road in ever greater numbers.
Touring is one of the biggest sources of income for music artists, and nearly two years of pandemic restrictions and health concerns have hit the music community hard. Now that vaccines are widely available and most Americans have stopped quarantining, musicians have been touring more than ever in 2022 to try to make up for lost time.
But as rent, groceries and other costs in Boise have risen, so have ticket prices. Danny Glazer, senior talent buyer at the Knitting Factory and works on bookings at smaller clubs The Olympic and the Botanical Garden, said concerts at smaller venues that used to cost around $20 are now running from $27.50. Shows at mid-sized venue The Knitting Factory are now over $30 each with tickets to see larger acts at Outlaw Field, organized by partner C Moore Concerts, now ranging from $40 to $75 each. Shows in big arenas usually go on even longer.
This new live music ecosystem gives fans more choices than ever before, but it’s another wallet drain Boiseans haven’t had.
“You have this interesting problem where we have all the shows in the world, but the big question is, are people spending what they would spend, or are they picking and choosing?” Stucklar said. “You’re trying to pick the shows to go to and there are 8 I want to go to but I can’t afford all 8.”
Like the Ford Idaho Center, the Idaho Botanical Garden and the Knitting Factory had a record season. Stucklar said his staff had to work extra to keep up with everything booked at the knitting mill during the month of August. And throughout the summer, the Idaho Botanical Garden booked over two dozen shows for the first time. This includes big name acts such as rock band Rainbow Kitten Surprise, US trio The Avett Brothers and Australian EDM powerhouse Flume.
Small but mighty
No one browses the Duck Club Presents website expecting to see a superstar.
Instead, the concert promoter (of Treefort Music Fest fame) focuses on smaller indie acts and mostly books shows at small clubs around Boise, like Neurolux, The Shredder and Visual Arts Collective in Garden City. Treefort Music Fest, which specializes in up-and-coming artists from a variety of artists, also helps create some buzz because attendees will see a band as part of the larger music festival lineup and want to see the same band play a solo show a few months down the line. -late when they are on tour.
Eric Gilbert, CEO of Duck Club Presents, said the majority of ticket buyers for his company’s concerts are music superfans who closely follow low-profile up-and-coming artists or who play music themselves.
“There was a time in Boise when gigs were a ghost town and bands would cross us off their roster,” he said. “As long as people are showing up, these groups want to keep coming. Their first time in Boise is playing Treefort, so they get an initial boost from that and then come back. There is also a growing audience, so there are more people who want to explore what new bands are coming.”
For example, in 2019 Duck Club booked 180 concerts and sold 17,000 tickets. So far in 2022, the promoter has booked 147 shows in the three and a half months until the end of the year and sold over 23,000 tickets. The company also added a smaller, more locally focused music festival for September called Flipside Fest in Garden City.
Duck Club is hosting some of the better-known acts on the indie scene this year, such as the female-fronted pop-punk band Beach Bunny (who sold out El Korah Shrine with hundreds of teenage fans even on prom night) and the Wild Hearts tour featuring the powerhouse singer-songwriters on songs by Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen and Julien Baker. But even with those big names, Gilbert said his goal is to continue to foster a scene where smaller bands have an audience in Boise.
Like most things in the Treasure Valley, however, housing is inextricably linked to the music ecosystem. Merrill said indie bands like The French Tips, who frequent the Duck Club circuit, won’t be able to get a job in Boise unless the artists can afford to live here and create here.
“One of the challenges with how expensive it is to live in Boise is that people who make art for a living aren’t going to have the opportunity to live near downtown or where the shows are,” she said. “In Boise, you used to be able to rent a house with your friends and play music in the basement, and that’s not easy to do anymore.”