You’re not alone if you hear the word “Idaho” and your brain replies “potatoes,” but I am going to let you in on a little secret. Recently coerced into a trip to Boise (long story), I discovered it is actually a very cool little city. The locals we met were friendly, stopping what they were doing to have long chats with us. Cabbies were cheerful and gave unsolicited, but appreciated, history lessons. Beautiful brick buildings from the late-19th and early-20th centuries comprise the downtown, and street art—some municipally sanctioned—is prevalent. The compact city center is host to dozens of independent coffee shops, restaurants and bars, many using local ingredients. One of my favorite (and weirdest) discoveries was that the Bittercreek Alehouse—besides offering delicious local food and brews in a classy atmosphere, keeps a huge worm farm in the basement where almost all of the waste of the establishment is recycled.
On top of all this, Boise is also home to a healthy music scene. Record Store Day hit in the middle of our trip, so my companion and I searched out an independent music store called The Record Exchange. We found it in the mural-covered Hitchcock Building, taking up almost a city block. It was stuffed with records, CDs, DJ equipment, local crafts and an espresso bar. People of all ages had spilled through the front doors, grouping on the sidewalk; musicians mingled and passed out fliers for upcoming shows; and Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats rocked out on the corner. A few Boise bands impressed me, but these guys took the cake. Two percussionists slapped a cajón and a hand drum, a banjo picker’s fingers moved too fast to follow, and a cellist added a fervent undercurrent. Singing with a voice alternately anguished and gravely, Warren walloped his guitar and stomped his well-worn boots like he was trying to crack the pavement. Self-described as “progressive psychobilly folk grass,” Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats emitted so much raw energy playing acoustically in the street that I experienced love at first sight. The band’s newly released second album, A Little Something Stronger Than Wine, does justice to the band’s mashed up old-time / bluegrass / rock and roll sound, as well as its live intensity. Give the album a listen next time you’re drinking a little something stronger than wine.
Boise. Now you know.