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Upstream 2018 Preview: A Pre-Game Pep Talk

Posted by May 31st, 2018 No Comments »

2018 Upstream! Music Fest + Summit
Jun 1, 2018 – Jun 3, 2018
Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA
By Matt Ashworth, Graham Isaac, Nicholas Anderson, and Todd Terry

Hey kids. Friday, June 1 marks the opening day of the 2018 Upstream Music Fest, a three-day musical gathering that takes place at a series of outdoor stages and indoor venues in and around Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood.

It’s a game plan I’m particularly fond of, having seen it employed successfully for years in Austin at SXSW and locally at the Capitol Hill Block Party. All three events couple big name headliners with emerging and local talent within the heart of the city, among the familiar landscape of locally-owned venues, shops, bars and restaurants. It works for both music fans in search of the bigger names in music as well as those of us who feel more comfortable in smaller spaces, closer to the artists, amidst anywhere from 30-200 others.

The festival’s ample backing has allowed it to form partnerships with other local and national brands and curators to help with programming, with big names like Amazon, Miller Lite and Starbucks alongside local entities like Trinity Nightclub, the mighty KEXP and co-working space Galvanize.

With one blush through the lineup, you’ll spot a requisite list of must see acts like Cut Copy, Hot Snakes, Flaming Lips and Miguel, as well as a nice overall range of options in a variety of genres. It does seem like more of the middle of the lineup is comprised of artists already in the national system than local and regional acts, in comparison to last year, but there’s still a great number of: area bands we just recently included in our yearly list of emerging acts to watch like Tres Leches, Strawberry Mountain, Otieno Terry, Paris Alexa; pre-tech boom throwbacks like Murder City Devils; cool, rising artists from elsewhere in the country, like the one Cameron told you about in his regular column Band Camp Counselor; old TBASA Lo-Fi All-Stars favorites like singer/songwriters Sue Quigley, Champagne Honeybee, Tobias the Owl, Champagne Sunday, Christa Says Yay; and good choices in throwbacks to old punks, like Jawbreaker. So there’s a lot to take in.

Last year I was out of town and heard there were some bumps logistically in the first year, but overall everyone had a great time. If you missed it: Nick wrote about the first night; Cameron the second; and Andy the third (in which he references 80s/90s Seattle Pioneer Mainstays Jr. Cadillac FYI).

So the plan is for everyone to go in with an open mind and follow the inertia to what seems the most interesting vibe all weekend. We’ll have a swarm of music dorks walking around checking everything out and sharing thoughts and photos on our Twitter, Instagram and Flickr feeds (the latter of which was just updated with 10 shots from that Judas Priest show earlier this year. Also FYI).

Below are a few acts the #squad is excited to see. Graham’s gonna send his thoughts before Sunday, but here’s some recommendations for Friday and Saturday.

Also: Protomartyr are great. You should totally check them out.

Get all the logistical details at:


Tobias the Owl

8:30 p.m. Busking in Occidental Park

I haven’t been able to catch this act but I’m intrigued that he’s just busking in Occidental Park, which seems to be a new feature for Upstream this year. Looking forward to some stripped down folk with Tobias the Owl, who you can sometimes catch playing at the airport or putting on the yearly Seattle Acoustic Festival, out in the open air. – Nicholas Anderson

Paris Alexa 

10 p.m. Visit Seattle Stage at Axis 1

We just told you about Paris Alexa last week you guys. She’s one of 41 emerging local acts we’re especially excited about this year. Get with the program. – Barbara Carmichael


10:30 p.m. Deschutes Stage at the J&M Cafe.

I have such a dude crush on Dryland’s frontman Bradley Lockhart. I’ve loved every band he’s played in from Black Eyes and Neckties to Baltic Cousins. I haven’t been able to catch Dryland yet but I’m looking to remedy that this Friday on the Deschutes Stage at the J&M Cafe. – Nicholas Anderson

Blood Drugs

11:45 p.m. Deschutes Stage at the J&M Cafe.

Really, I guess I’m just planting myself at the Deschutes Stage this year. This sets going to get hectic, real quick. When it comes to Blood Drugs music, you’ll hear it one of two ways: from a stereo or a stage. Either way, someone’s getting hurt. I might have to hit the pit for this one. – Nicholas Anderson



5 p.m. Amazon Stage Pioneer Square

Tacocat is easily one my top five palindromes, and they combine two of my favorite things: tacos and cats. Oh, and pop and punk. And feminism and sarcasm. And loving Seattle and hating the weekend. Tacocat shows are always vibrant, joyful, and oh so colorful affairs that should be fully embraced whenever possible. – Todd Terry

Hot Snakes

8:15 p.m. KEXP Stage Pioneer Square

I saw Hot Snakes at Chop Suey last November and they brought in all of ‘da noise with none of ‘da funk. Since then they have released their first album in 14 years, the excellent slab of post-hardcore, Jericho Sirens, on Sub Pop, so their Upstream set should include plenty of new material. Come for the broken glass vocals and monster riffs, but stay for the rotating cast of drummers. Without further ado, let’s do this. – Todd Terry

Great Grandpa

8:30 p.m. Visit Seattle Stage at Axis 1

We already told you about Great Grandpa. You should definitely go see them. – Barbara Carmichael


9:30 p.m. Amazon Stage Pioneer Square

Jawbreaker has returned! No, it’s not a screening of the 1999 Heathers-like film Jawbreaker, or a show by the confusingly named band Jawbreaker Reunion, but the actual legendary emo punk band themselves. “24 Hour Revenge Therapy” and “Bivouac” were in heavy rotation in my ears in the 90s, but I somehow never managed to see them live during their original run. I am going to try to table my natural cynicism about band reunions and make up for the oversights of my youth. – Todd Terry


Sunday is either going to be the slow come-down off the high of the previous two nights, or the day when the party reaches it’s apex, depending what you want out of it. The lineup is packed with more than enough opportunities to party, though, so let’s look at those. – Graham Isaac


9:30 p.m. Starbucks Stage at the Ninety

If you want to dance, and you do want to dance, Tacoma’s Mirrorgloss are here for you. They make electro-dance-rock that’s alternately smooth and spikey, perfect for getting feet out on to the floor.

The True Loves

6 p.m. KEXP Sound Lot Stage

Want something still funky, but a little more old school? Seattle’s instrumental group The True Loves play hot, sweaty, r & b/funk. Buoyed by Jimmy James’ searing leads and one of the tightest rhythm sections in town, The True Loves’ daptone-inspired revivalism never fails to start a party.

Murder City Devils

10:45 p.m. Visit Seattle Stage at Axis 1

If you want your party accompanied by a bit, well, darker vibes, the return of the Murder City Devils‘ classic garage-goth-n-roll can have you howling along to Spencer Moody’s tales of whiskey, lost love, the devil, and more whiskey. If,  you know, you’re into that sort of thing.


10:15 p.m. Tito’s Vodka Stage at Elysian Fields

If you want similarly discordant rock vibes but with a little less post-spiritual angst and a little more world-observation, then Protomartyr are the band for you, with Joe Casey’s wry observations about America Right Now outlining both empathy and outrage over arrangements that split the difference between New Order and Pissed Jeans. Probably the best band on Hardly Art records right now.

Kung Foo Grip

10:15 p.m. Axis 2

Kung Foo Grip have been plying their hip hop mischief with abandon around town for a minute now, if you haven’t caught them yet, now is a good time.

The Flaming Lips

9:30 p.m. Amazon Main Stage Pioneer Square

The headliners: The Flaming Lips are known for their solid live performances and fan interactions, and are a reliable festival closer, but I can’t get past what a massive tool Wayne Coyne has become (look up how he treated Erykah Badu) and the general psych-broness of a lot of their fans. But that’s just me; I’ll be missing their show, but I’m sure a lot of folks will show up just for them.


11 p.m. Buttnick Stage at 109 Washington

Oakland’s rising hip hop star Kamaiyah will likely be seeing her name in bigger and bigger fonts on these sorts of festival posters, so see her now. You won’t regret it.

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