Following their muse has made Aka Belle hard to categorize over the years - from bittersweet laments and folksy protest pop songs, to heavy guitar driven feedback mixed with sultry, retro tropicalia jazz vibes, they’ve been anything but predictable.
With numerous line-up changes, their sound has evolved with each incarnation, allowing various members to lend of themselves in the overall sound, not to mention the eclectic mix of special guests (international jazz saxophonist Curtis Stigers; rock guitar wizard Brett Netson of Caustic Resin/Built to Spill/Earth; to name a few).
At the core, Aka Belle remains the same (Catherine Merrick, Sam Merrick and Michael P. Waite), but now with two new members who push this Boise band towards “Supergroup” status: Gina Gregerson (Dirt Fishermen) joined as backing vocalist and guitarist, and was followed closely by the addition of Troy Wright (Treepeople, Hand of Doom), on drums.
“Don’t be afraid of time or change - it’s constant-” Aka Belle sing in their 2021 release, “New Highs in Leadership;” clearly acknowledging and prophesying their own organic transformations as well as pushing their own boundaries.
““Kelly: Go catch artists you’ve never heard of! One of the best things about Treefort is its commitment to showcasing local and emerging talents, and there are so many hidden gems in the lineup. I personally discovered Y La Bamba, Smokey Brights, and Boise-based Fest opener Aka Belle this year. Back in 2017, Lizzo also performed at Treefort, before the release of her breakout album Cuz I Love You. It’s not hard to imagine that hiding somewhere in the lineup is the next superstar.” ” - Kelly Liu
After the 2020 Treefort Music Festival had been cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we - like so many artists and performers - didn't know what the future held for us. Not being able to create or rehearse or perform was hard; though we eventually managed to record and release a double A-side lathe cut record, but of course, we were unable to release it with the usual fanfare.
Treefort was then rescheduled for September 2021, and we were determined to get ourselves back in the saddle - when we were told we would be opening the festival on the Main Stage on Day One, we were speechless. To be selected as the first band to play this amazing festival - after such a traumatic period - to be the first sounds the festival attendees would hear as the gates opened - was kind of a heavy concept, and one we felt absolutely honored to accept. (Also a little scared - we were chosen for that particular place in the line -up for a reason, and we wanted to live up to whatever expectation there was in that decision!)
Day One of TMF #9 arrived. After sound-checking, we kept peeking out from behind the huge banners separating the backstage area from the "front of house." It looked so big and empty. Were people going to show up? Covid had stopped so many events from happening, and here in Idaho, folks were refusing to get vaccinated. Refusing to wear masks. Treefort's entry requirements were strict. You had to prove you'd been vaccinated at least once or be tested at the entrance. You had to wear a mask. We weren't sure what to expect - were people going to comply? Or even come?
Our set time approached. We nervously milled around the stage steps, smiled for a few photos and waited for the signal to take the stage. It felt extremely surreal walking onto that big stage - but as we took our places and picked up our instruments, we could see people streaming into the festival, gathering in front of us, all wearing masks. You could tell by their eyes that they were happy; excited. People came with open hearts and ears; we gave them all the love we could. (Some of us might have cried a little bit.) The image of hundreds of people coming together wearing masks to protect their community, all standing right in front of us as we began playing our first song is forever etched in our memories; a sort of healing took place in that moment.
The reaction from the crowd after each song was amazing - there was so much love being transmitted back and forth - you could literally feel it in the air. We ended our set with our (self-proclaimed) anthem, "(Keep on Fighting The) War On Love," which we segued into a rollicking and heart felt cover of Cheap Trick's "So Good to See You" - it was poignant and perfect.
We owe a huge thank you to the organizers of Treefort, for believing in us; for believing in our community; for taking the precautions to make sure all of us were safe; for putting themselves in the line of fire/criticisms and proving those nay-sayers wrong. It should be noted that out of 695 tests, only 18 came out positive - those folks were turned away - and 76 people were actually vaccinated at the festival.
Treefort Music Festival #10 is scheduled for March 2022. We really hope we will see you there again.