By Kaige Hawker
Photos Courtesy of Preston Valles
Doug Martsch has been a big name in the Pacific Northwest for the past 30 years and continues to lead his band through it all. Built to Spill keeps the indie and alternative sound right at home and has never lost sight of its roots in the state of Idaho. As the Treefort festival moves from its 9th to 10th operation, so too does the group headline the bill. Every year the indie rockers will always be at the festival’s helm to show how important local music is for the City of Trees.
I am always looking forward to spending five days surrounded by music, food, and people. We all can share in at least one of those things given the right circumstances. Treefort 9 was no different in these factors. Everything you could expect was present. Venues with a welcoming atmosphere and smiling faces were always providing a good experience for those going for a show or two. Grove street was busy with food trucks and vendors and kept the atmosphere alive until the late evenings.
I saw Built To Spill on Thursday evening at the main stage. The line up was terrific with Melanie Radford on bass, Teresa Cruces on drums, and Doug on guitar. They all carried their own energy that filled its own space while also being entertaining as a whole band.
Teresa Cruces and Melanie Radford performing during the last day of Treefort | Preston Valles
The shows were incredible, as was the band, but it was what happened on a Friday night that really made my experience something special. After a few late night shows that included the names of Joshy Soul and Charlie Purr, I then made my way to the Matador for a snack with my brother and his girlfriend. I was hungry and quite frankly unsure if I had the energy to continue with more shows at midnight. I went to the restaurant to meet my brother for nachos late one night and was surprised to see Doug seated by himself in the front patio area. I quickly ran inside to tell my brother who was out front and ran back out. I introduced myself and told him I was doing coverage for University Pulse at Boise State and that I was shocked he was still out so late (everyone was tired by 10pm every night). He warmly said hello and asked my name before telling me that he was having a bite before a show. I was curious who else was performing and he said that he was. Where would he be playing at midnight? Doug said that he would be picking up a few tracks for a late night Neil Young cover band – the Ragged Hounds.
Uh. Of course. That would ROCK.
I was able to contain myself during this conversation but I couldn’t help but get excited that I was going to hear Cortez the Killer with guys that were trying to sound like Crazy Horse. In contrast, Built to Spill now has only three members, two of which are guitars whereas Ragged Hounds had 3 (minus Doug). This show was going to be loud.
I arrived at El Korah Shrine and there were only around 30 or so people in the audience. Half of them looked like they were about to fall asleep where they stood. The sound rung out so loud from the amps that I could almost put myself back in a dirty bar in the 60s, listening to the real band play. These guys certainly rocked and it was a great time. They had the gear that really made it sound true and I was there for the experience of hearing these songs live for the first time, but in the corner Doug sat patiently waiting for his turn.
After about an hour they called Martsch up to join them for a song. The band slowly rumbled into Cortez and Doug found his place in the far right side of the stage; almost so you wouldn’t know he was there. Doug sang and played in between verses with his red Fender Stratocaster with such ease. The melody and improvisation sprang out of his fingers, and it was at least 2 minutes of instrumentals before his lone vocals came in. One of the guitarists for the Hounds was concentrated on plucking the strings repeatedly for the progression with determination. The song marched on, telling the story of the Spanish inquisition and the band didn’t miss a beat. Doug lent a hand that night by playing among musicians who were ready for him to paint time with his notes. The solo and improvisation lasted for around 12 minutes, not losing steam until the very end.
This 12 minutes ended up being the most important part of the festival for me. It showed me musicianship and the art of being able to jump in and contribute. It isn’t a shock to some that the indie rocker has been crafting his skill for more than 30 years, but to see him change styles from his normal playing field was special. All that took up the stage were the four guitarists, a drummer, and the lights for the set, and yet the sound was the loudest it could have been. Afterwards, Doug said a quiet “thanks” and then the band started to pack up. That was it for the night. I really couldn’t believe I was able to see such drawn out playing and talent.
Built to Spill ended up playing on Sunday at the same venue and time as the Ragged Hounds show two days prior. The show would last an extensive 2 hours featuring hits, deep cuts, and almost all of the tracks off of their 1997 album Perfect From Now On. That was also a huge highlight. The people that Martsch chooses for his group are those who will elevate the experience of rock music to something more than what was put on record. He encourages taking different paths and really expanding songs to more than what they ever were. Maybe it is because I have only been seeing them live for a few years now, but they sound as fresh as can be. They are a must see for any music lover and for those who are trying to see Treefort next year.
Perfect From Now On (1997)
Overall, my meeting with Doug taught me two things: that musicians can be humble, welcoming, and friendly as ever. It is this type of approach that I think will be the most helpful to showing others that all music has merit and worthiness of being checked out. It is much easier for me because I am constantly listening to music and willing to try things out, but having an open and kind heart can go a long way for someone who is unsure. Secondly: Treefort is a playground of music to let loose and enjoy the effort and time that has been spent to put together an amazing experience for musicians, artists, and supporters alike. Treefort is full of opportunities, it just takes an open mind, an open heart, and a passion to get a little lost. I’ll catch you at Treefort in the spring!