Hackfort Brings High-Tech Discovery, Inclusion and Good Times to Treefort

By Amy Atkins

When the 2020 iteration of Treefort Music Fest was postponed from March to September and then pushed out a year to September 2021 because of COVID-19, it was disappointing for everyone involved: festival organizers, venue owners, sponsors, scheduled speakers and performers, and attendees. It was also the right thing to do. As Hackfort Director Sean Wakeley told Boise Weekly in a July 14, 2020, interview, “Really what it comes down to is our community and safety, and we have to put that above everything else. We don’t want to be tied to an outbreak.” 

Now, with strict COVID protocols in place, the beloved fest is scheduled to launch Wednesday, Sept. 22, and run through Sunday, Sept. 26. And Sean Wakeley, the director of the steadily growing—both in size and popularity—Hackfort plans to take full advantage of the opportunity and make this year’s tech-based arm of Treefort one to remember.

A lot has changed since 2019, but Wakeley’s longtime involvement with Hackfort has him well positioned to adapt in his second year as director. 

“I’ve been around Hackfort and Treefort almost since Treefort started,” he said. “I first got involved in Hackfort because I was working at Boise State and when Hackfort started, Boise State was leveraged—they’re a big sponsor—and Phil Merrell, who works there, is great friends with (Treefort co-founder) Eric Gilbert, who pulled him into conversations about having something be part of the festival that is cultivating the culture of technology,” Wakeley said. “So they started Hackfort. I was, at the time, a student employee working in (Merrell’s) department, and we all got invited to be part of the first Hackfort (2014).” 

Before long, Wakeley’s passion for tech—and tunes—had him becoming more involved. 

“I showed up as a festival-goer, and I loved it,” Wakeley said. “Technology has been a really big part of my life, and it’s something I hold dear. I love the culture and anything around innovation and technology, so I was really attracted to that (aspect of Hackfort). When you combine that with my love of music, it was a win/win,” he said. 

To make sure Hackfort 2021 also scores with attendees, Wakeley and his fellow organizers have an impressive list of more than 50 tech-minded luminaries and events slated—as well as a Hackfort expo hall—which will cover a wide range of topics, such as navigating technology and education in healthcare, a gamers’ gym, cybersecurity, politics, interactive media and mobile technology, artificial intelligence platforms, and and much more. Wakeley said most event hosts and speakers are local, including Hackfort founding organizer Greg Hahn, former Associate Vice President of Communications and Marketing at BSU, who will talk about how the post-pandemic workplace has changed. 

For those people who think the word network refers only to the channel that airs their favorite singing/dancing/baking competition, Hackfort may feel a little dry or out of their comfort zone. It’s neither. Along with the music, art, performances, and other “forts”, Hackfort organizers strive to offer something the festival as a whole has become known for: discovery and inclusion. With the help of BSU Office of Information Technology web analyst, Hackfort assistant director, and friend Mike Taylor, they have been successful.

“When Hackfort started, we were a lot more academic in how we handled topics and themes. That’s not a bad thing. I think it was a really good start,” Wakeley said. “Since Mike and I took the helm…it’s a music festival first and foremost, and I really wanted to turn this into an event to celebrate technology, and the people and the culture surrounding that. I want to create a space as well for people that maybe don’t know a lot about technology but are interested. I want to get people in the door. I don’t want to scare them away. If we just have 10 panels on coding and C++…this isn’t the right place for that. Again, it’s a festival. It should be fun.”

And if all goes according to plan, it will be. Along with Hackfort, and more than 400 musical artists, fun-seekers can enjoy Alefort, Artfort, Comedyfort, Dragfort, Filmfort, Foodfort, Kidfort, Skatefort, Storyfort, and Yogafort. The festival offers so much, it can be hard to decide where to go and what to do, but Wakeley wants to make sure that attendees who choose to make Hackfort part of their Treefort experience will be glad they did. 

“I want people to leave learning something new, and making connections. I want them to be inspired,” Wakeley said. “And I want them to have a rad party!” 

*New Entry Requirements for Treefort Music Fest 2021

Below is a short overview of the festival’s COVID safety protocols. Please visit treefortmusicfest.com/safety, for more information and FAQs. 

All attendees, vendors, staff, artists, volunteers, performers and anyone aged 12 and older will need proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (physical or digital card accepted, so is a photo of vaccination card from your phone) or have proof of a negative PCR test (the nasal swab one) within the past 48 hours. Upon proof of documentation, you will receive your “TMF Pre-Check” wristband that is to stay on your wrist, like your pass, for the day(s) you’re attending Treefort.

Upon entry, we are requiring all guests to provide proof that they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test within the past 48 hours.