Upstream! Music Festival
May 11-13, 2017
By Cameron Deuel
Do you smell that? It smells like Upstream?
You: What’s Upstream?
I’m glad you asked!
Seattle is home to countless music festivals that not only range in genre, but also in purpose. Upstream Music Fest + Summit is meant to serve as a microcosm of the music scene in the Pacific Northwest, boasting thoughtful discussions led by music industry experts and creative collaborators, which are neatly tied together with music programming that highlights both regional artists on the come-up and established artists alike.
Upstream Fest is a Paul Allen Joint™, which means you already know there’s a state-of-the-art app involved. The Upstream app truly felt like a digital enhancement of the festival that allowed for more ways to interact with artists. My personal favorite feature is the “Tip The Artist” function, which gives the user a chance to send a few bucks to any artist on the lineup at any time. If you’re curious about an artist, you can check their bio page for details and, if you’re a new fan and want to purchase their music, you can do so through the app as well. My only gripe is that the map function was difficult to use and I constantly had to refer to the giant map in Occidental Square for directions.
This is very good use of mobile app and of twitter and just overall varsity level festing. https://t.co/1uYjFRYDFk
— Upstream Music Fest (@UpstreamFest) May 13, 2017
The main difference between Upstream’s layout versus comparable “city takeover” fests is that the venues are consistently accessible; hundred-year-old bars, industrial basements, backrooms of trendy eateries, a stage smack in the middle of Occidental Square. Even the mainstage is safely nestled in the bosom of CenturyLink Field.
Plus, the set times allow for constant, agile exploration. This isn’t a buffet where it’s easy to inundate yourself with heavy main courses. These are smaller, more intimate spaces that each provide a different feel and flavor. This is tapas, baby. I’m talking small platas.
As a Seattle resident, I’ve only explored Pioneer Square in conjunction with Seattle sporting events, so I appreciate how Upstream uses this opportunity to spotlight a neighborhood that has so much going on underneath the surface. For as low as $40 per day, you gain access to some unique spaces and all the music you can handle, which is what I did on Friday, May 12 while applying the 5-saxmoji scale to every artist I saw.
The festival promises a “walking mixtape” experience, which is accurate in that there’s something for everybody and you can (literally) skip around until you find something you like. In the span of one hour I was able to catch a surprise set from Portland legends The Thermals in Occidental Square (????), Nada Mucho sweethearts Deep Creep (????) in the Comedy Underground, Canadian songsmith Louise Burns (???) in Quality Athletics, and Greatest Upstream Discovery Award Winner Moon Dial (??). While trying to get my bearings I continued to dart from location to location until Dude York (????) stopped me in my tracks. Bands like Dude York are why we write love letters to Hardly Art.
The mainstage lineup varied and, interestingly, wasn’t abbreviated into a representation of the festival as a whole, which leads me to believe that Upstream attendees are general music fans who might also have an interest in the climate of the music industry. Instead of highlighting the most popular artists, Upstream released a series of stage-centric line-ups that focused on the programming itself.
I only made it to the mainstage for one act but I made it count. Flying Lotus (?????) has successfully managed to create a set that transforms the Bodies exhibit into a musical, visual experience that transmogrifies the finality of death into something greater. This might sound unreasonably grand but, after watching quartered cartoonish human bodies float through a pulsing screen to Lil Uzi Vert’s “XO TOUR LIF3,” You’re Dead! becomes less of a threat and more of a yoga instructor-style command.
I was able to catch Seattle’s newest darling indie rock outfit, Great Grandpa (????), at the Central Saloon, which hosted my favorite stage of the festival simply by the fact that it stands, like, ten feet off the ground. I’m not going to beat around the bush: support this band. They are a very good band.
The night ended as the day had begun, with The Thermals. As their set came to a close I noticed that the crowd – shiny Capitol Hill youths, long-haired metalheads, aged Microsoft managers, outdoorsy bros, fashion goths, etc. – were all in high spirits. While there are countless ways this city celebrates art, music, and their surrounding communities, Upstream Fest is not only a welcomed addition but a necessary one at that.