Hey Alex, Diana, and Charlsey! Thanks for chatting with us! Can you tell us a little about yourself.
Alex Wisner: Musician at AKW/Founder of Treehouse
Diana Mantis: Photographer
Charlsey Kellen: Founder of Dog-Eared Records
We are beyond excited to be the official submission platform for the First Annual Treehouse Festival! Can you tell us a little about Treehouse?
Alex: I’m so happy to be working with you guys. I know that this site has such a plethora of artists waiting to be found and that’s truly what we’re all about. Treehouse Festival is a one-day festival taking place in Los Angeles on October 15th. This festival is the result of a monthly event that I’ve been holding every month for the last year and a half. These monthly events started in my living room and quickly grew too large and became pop-up events all around Los Angeles. We showcase musicians, writers, actors and filmmakers. Each person has a 8-10 minute slot and we’ve ranged from 8 artists to sometimes 20 artists in one night. People submit via our website and we curate a night in a random location adorned with Christmas tree lights, an attentive audience and very memorable, touching performances.
What made you come up with the idea to start Treehouse?
Alex: I’m a musician and it’s what I do professionally. I’ve been making art consistently for thirteen years. I was born and raised in Los Angeles and being so, I am surrounded by so many different kinds of artists- whether that be fellow musicians, writers, actors or filmmakers. Every artist in LA trying to build their own artistic empires and have little time to pay attention to anyone else unless they happen to catch it on social media. It was a shower thought. I was literally in the shower when I thought it up. I wondered if anyone else felt this way. I decided to post on Facebook about it. “Would anyone be interested in a small event at my house where we could showcase our art to each other?” and the response was immediately and explosively a yes. So, the first Treehouse happened in my living room. There were around 15 artists who performed. Some were friends and some were people I had never met before. It was magic watching the audience watch the artist. They were so attentive and so there, listening, taking it in. The people who performed were so talented. I felt like I had just tapped into some alternate dimension where everyone, even the not so seeming, had something magical to offer. And because that night was such a success, It made me realize that artists don’t have enough avenues to showcase their art, the ability to network with other artists in person or a safe space to be listened to. After this, I decided to do it monthly. As the months went on, and through word of mouth, it became too crowded, too many strangers to have in my own house and we had to move it. So, I decided to make Treehouse a pop-up event. Through friendly support, we were offered the Hollywood Tower rooftop. We threw the fifth one there and nearly 200 people attended. The next one was in a big backyard in Eagle Rock, then an Art Gallery in Silverlake and we even held one at Think Tank Gallery in downtown LA as part of one of their installations and 800 people showed up throughout the night.
Treehouse is completely free. We do not get charged for the spaces we use, we do not charge for admission or to perform. The most we spend is on Christmas lights to decorate the mic stand with, wine and chips. Our only form of support is a subscription donation service called Squad where members donate $5-$10/month and this pays for our monthly events.
We have been doing this for awhile now now and it’s done nothing but expand every month. People who perform or attend rave about the experience. The artists who perform are nothing short of rad and there’s almost a natural selection in that if you’re good, you play treehouse. If you’re unprepared, you wouldn’t dare. We all collaborate to try to build the best experience possible.
Treehouse started off an intimate event on your backyard which eventually turned into a pop-up event in L.A bringing in over 200 people. That’s impressive! What would you say has made this event so successful?
Alex: I’d say it’s the lackluster of the venue culture we’ve built as a society. You get to a venue, you have to find parking, you have to pay to get in, you’re watching a band on some sort of stage that may or may not have good sound or lighting, you sometimes feel completely disconnected from the artist and it’s like the artist has been given an almighty, smelly pedestal to stand on and potentially fall from. It’s very inconsistent. Don’t get me wrong, there are some beautiful venues and events out there, but there’s a stillness to Treehouse that I haven’t seen anywhere. It’s like we stop time for a brief moment to remember how beautiful humanity can be.
You recently won a grant to throw your first annual Treehouse Festival. How did this happen?
Charlsey: We were lucky enough that we were approached by a very generous person who had been attending Treehouse almost since the beginning. They had seen how much we had been growing and wanted to help out for awhile. But it wasn’t until Alex and I had talked about actually having the festival that we brought the idea to them, and they were instantly in love. So it wasn’t so much winning a grant as we received a donation from an anonymous lover of the arts.
Tell us about the Kickstarter campaign. How much money needs to be raised?
Alex: The Kickstarter campaign is going to be launched this coming week. We’re looking to raise $10,000. The reason we decided to go this route is that in the entire essence of Treehouse is community. If we’re going to keep this festival true to Treehouse’s values, we’d rather look to the community that got us here in the first place to help make it possible. We want this festival to be all of our accomplishment.
Diana: We decided to start a Kickstarter to make it easier to broadly promote what Treehouse is all about-not just to sponsors, but to anyone who wants to support our cause. We have so many dedicated members that make this all possible and would love to make more people part of this creative process. We minimally need $10,000 to make it happen not including the money we will be spending on artists, and anything on top of that will allow us to go even more over the top than we already have to give all of the attendees an incredible experience.
Charlsey: Our goal is $10,000 so that we can walk away from this mostly debt-free. We would love to hit $15,000 or so so that we can go all out and make this festival over the top incredible.
What has been the most memorable experience so far?
Alex: This question immediately brought back a single memory. It was at our Halloween Treehouse in 2015. There was a girl who signed up to perform and she had never sung in front of anyone before. Being that most Treehouse performers a very well-rehearsed and have been doing this for years, I think she was a tad intimidated. I told her she was going up next and she stared at me like I was about to draft her into battle. I asked her what was wrong and she said she needed some words of inspiration to get up there and perform. I said that there was nothing I could say to ease her stage fright but that there was something I could do. The performer before her ended their set and I grabbed this girl’s arm. I pulled her up in front of the microphone and told the crowd this girl’s name and that this will be her first-ever performance. I told them to say hi to her. They did. I then hugged her and whispered in her ear that she was going to kill it. I ran to the back and stood atop this water fountain. She sang a song acapella. It was this bluesy sort of old-time feel song and she was a siren. It was dead quiet other than her precious voice. The whole crowd felt each line with her. Then, one by one, everyone in the crowd started stomping slowly to the beat of the song. I saw her fear turn into a confident smile as she sang the rest of it. The applause was endless. It was memorable for me as someone who lives to see another’s potential shine through but I can’t imagine anyone else could ever forget that moment either.
Diana: For me, the most memorable was the Treehouse at the Think Tank gallery. I saw so many random people I had met through various things that happened to be there through friends of friends. We had an incredible line-up and it was our biggest Treehouse to date but it still managed to feel so intimate and personal. A lot of connections were made that night because of the amount of people Treehouse was exposed to. There was a total of about 800 tickets given out of people that cycled through and I think it made it more real to me of what something like a Festival could do for a community of artists through exposure and networking.
Charlsey: The first Treehouse I ever went to was on the roof of the Hollywood Tower Hotel. As the last band was playing, somewhere down the street fireworks began going off overhead. The band were perfectly silhouetted against the fireworks and most of us were pretty sure that this had been planned. I remember Alex laughing and telling everyone that it was not, in fact a Treehouse fireworks show. It was like something out of a movie.
How do you think Treehouse has helped emerging artists advance in their career?
Alex: This is so hard to track because every other day, I’ll notice via social media, these people who met at Treehouse that are now in each other’s bands, booking shows together, collaborating on projects, commenting on each other’s work and promoting it. Not only has Treehouse become a safe space for people to showcase their art, but it’s a meeting ground for your aesthetic endeavors to find their counterparts. I’ve watched not only people create pieces solely to perform at Treehouse but people who had never pursued an art before, go up there and tear the audience apart. Music Supervisors, booking agents, editors and all sorts come and walk away with their new favorite artist or project. Treehouse has built this environment that drives people to keep creating. So, whether that’s for cathartic reasons or the strive for success, I’m happy to provide an avenue both.
Diana: I’ve seen so many of these artists start working together on new projects, gaining new fans, new support. We’ve even helped artists find management or get inspired to release EPs, finish albums, make videos, market themselves and give them the confidence to continue making art. I’ve seen people who started at the first Treehouse, trembling at being in front of a crowd and baring themselves and only a few Treehouses later, owning the stage and making their presence known.
Charlsey: Yes. After attending event after event, you can see artists who have performed previously collaborating with each other on new projects that they bring to the table. We also put out a compilation of Treehouse artists on my label, Dog-Eared Records, and it’s awesome to see how people can discover new artists just because they recognize one band or song on a tape.
In what direction do you see Treehouse going?
Diana: I think that Treehouse will continue to expand, we have many ideas for how we can best serve the artist community long-term wise (which I won’t get into QUITE yet) but we definitely intend on continuously growing and adding members to our community to get these amazing talented individuals able to use our platform as a way to stabilize and progress further in this competitive industry
Charlsey: I think this festival is going to show everyone that these small, tight-knit music communities are still alive and well and so so desperately needed. With the internet and the rise of Tumblr bands and social media, it is so easy to find music you love from all over the world, but it is also so easy to miss the talent that is hanging out down your street or playing that residency that you never get around to checking out. It’s so important for that physical community around music to exist, so it is still truly an experience. A safe space. That’s why Treehouses are popping up all across the states. We need this. We just didn’t know it. Treehouse is going to take over the world.
Alex: I’d love to say that I’ve mapped out the next ten years but I can’t. This was never suppose to happen but looking back, as a musician and writer myself, I had always had the urge to create a very specific universe that people could step into and feel understood and safe. I had always strived to write songs and stories that mirrored the most intimate emotions. It’s almost as if those reasons for making art have taken life and we’ve gathered to do it together.So, I want to keep going with this. We will continue to have our monthly events. We’ll expand to other cities. Treehouses have popped up in other cities around the country including Florida, Oakland, Las Vegas, Lake Michigan and New Jersey. I’m thinking we could create a tour circuit across the U.S. We’ll have a festival in Los Angele once a year. We’ll keep gathering and instead of going at this artistic struggle alone, we’ll have each other. And anyone is welcome.
The inaugural Treehouse Festival has one purpose – to expose upcoming artists to the crowd they deserve. Taking place right outside of Los Angeles at The Ambassador Auditorium, Treehouse is offering two (2) unsigned ReverbNation artists to play the main outdoor stage and be a headlining act for this year’s festival. The all-day event will feature many Los Angeles area bands and acoustic acts on an outdoor and indoor stage, both with room for 1,200+ music loving festivalgoers.
Photo credit: Marcus Meisler