Upstream! Music Festival
May 11-13, 2017
By Andy Bookwalter
When I was a kid, Pioneer Square seemed like some kind of magical, grownup party wonderland. There were bars on every corner, each of which you could visit for a few bucks on the joint cover (kids: Google this) and seemingly all of them featuring live music from Jr. Cadillac (pictured above) – Northwest rock in the style of the Sonics and the Wailers , played by guys who used to be Sonics and Wailers.
Every once in a while, we’d drive in from the sticks so my parents could look at art or something, and, after the sun went down, the whole area that hosted the 2017 Upstream! Music Festival sparkled with what I now know was 100 percent hobo pee.
Since then, Pioneer Square has gentrified and become expensive, of course, with blues bars giving way to nightclubs and DJs. (Also those weird years with the Colourbox and the Fenix Underground, yuck!) Jr. Cadillac was allowed to die with dignity, I assume, as was the joint cover.
Saturday night at Upstream! felt just like those days, minus the Jr. Cadillac, with a bunch of local artists performing at several small venues all within walking distance. Also: more shiny lights.
The day started, as all music festivals should, with Wimps. Let me say this up top: NadaMucho.com loves us some Wimps. Wimps are pleasant looking without needing artificial lighting or the merciful blanket of night, so you can enjoy them before the sun goes down. Also, punk songs about couches, vampires, and dog pills (which I’m not 100 percent sure is actually about dog medicine) play well during daylight hours.
I was strongly encouraged to check out The Black Tones (#41for2017), but I wasn’t paying enough attention to the onerous and complicated bag policy that’s been reviled against in every Upstream review I’ve read. So it’s my turn: 30 venues, each with their own bag policy ranging from no bags at all, to only clear bags allowed, to only tiny “clutches.” You’ve got 2-3 security personnel per venue, each with their own interpretation of the policy, which not surprisingly results in chaos and a lot of half full venues because people need to carry their crap. No interpretation of the bag policy allowed my checkered man purse, so I got to listen to The Black Tones through a plate glass window out on the sidewalk, in the rain. They sounded great, a little crunchy blues punk thing that went great with wet sidewalks and self pity (mine).
I had a hankering for some cheese cubes, and no one cubes cheese like the house elves that stock music festival media lounges, so I figured I’d stash my man bag there, get cubed up, and head back to try to catch the end of The Black Tones. As often happens, I got distracted by saxophones, in this case coming from Cosmos playing on the KEXP Stage in Occidental Square. Their jazz/hip hop sucked me in… I predict good things from this group. Or maybe good things are already happening for them? I really don’t pay enough attention to local hip hop, but this indicates I should.
I tried to see Ayron Jones & The Way, but even without a weird bag rule the line to get in went all the way down the block. Tough shit for me, but as it should be for Ayron Jones, who is electrifying live and needs to break out soon. He’s been real good since at least 2012.
Dinosaur Jr. tempted me, but while they always have a piece of my mid-90’s, young Andy heart, I just wasn’t in the mood for guitar wankery in a football stadium. Not that there’s anything wrong with guitars, wankery, or football. I just wasn’t in the mood.
I wrote a review of Danny Newcomb and the Sugarmakers’ great debut album Masterwish a while back, and he must have liked it because he touches base every once in a while, which makes me feel like a big man with semi famous friends. I figured correctly that a delicate blend of power pop, harmonies, and a tiny bit of country would close out the night nicely. Danny is a sheep farmer on Vashon, but he used to be in Goodness with Carrie Akre, Shadow with Mike McCready, and a bunch of bands with Rick and/or Chris Friel, both of whom are now Sugarmakers (or were on Saturday night; it’s a bit of a revolving cast). Fun fact: bassist Rick Friel has NEVER stopped smiling. If Rick ever stops smiling, run the other way because shit’s about to get real weird. Danny and the band didn’t disappoint. The older songs sounded great and the new stuff, from the very-soon-to-be-relesed second album, were solid as well. I keep calling it power pop, and there’s some of that, but it’s probably more accurate to just call it rock and roll and leave it at that.
Whatever you call it, it gave me the energy to walk the eight miles back to where I parked, thinking at 6 p.m. that I scored a pretty good spot. Special shout out to the drunk kids who warned me right before I stepped into a pile of what I’m going to assume was dog crap the size of my car. Thanks, keen-eyed drunk kids! I was home by 11:30 p.m. which for some reason is some kind of a triumphant thing for these old old bones.