The Lowdown on Upstream

Upstream Music Fest + Summit

What to expect from Seattle’s brand-new Upstream Music Fest + Summit

written by Corinne Whiting photos courtesy of Upstream Music Fest + Summit

Upstream Music Fest + SummitThis news is music to our ears. In true Seattle style, a brand-new festival, Upstream Music Fest + Summit, will soon launch in Pioneer Square—taking well-researched cues from other successful events but delivered with a unique twist. Many have already likened this three-day lineup of concerts, exhibitions and conference-style presentations to that not-so-little Austin extravaganza, SXSW, which has grown exponentially since its 1987 inception.

Addressing the preliminary buzz, an Upstream spokesperson said, “We love the energy and impact of SXSW, but we’re not trying to be a carbon copy of it. We’ve spent the last two years looking at several festivals and summits—Pickathon, Treefort, XOXO, TED—to learn how we can support artists better. Our model gives artists a platform to create and impress, rather than just play their standard set. We’ve worked really hard to build unique, collaborative experiences.”

From May 11 through May 13, Upstream Fest will transform Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square into a “walkable mixtape,” showcasing 200-plus emerging artists from around the region and beyond. Spaces range from a main stage at CenturyLink Field’s North Lot (think Flying Lotus, AlunaGeorge and Shabazz Palaces) and a free public stage in Occidental Park presented by KEXP to more than twenty-five intimate stages scattered throughout the neighborhood. At the Upstream Summit, emerging artists, industry experts and creatives gather at WaMu Theater. Keynote speakers Macklemore, Quincy Jones and Portia Sabin will lead discussions on the most pressing opportunities and challenges currently faced by the music industry.

Flying Lotus
Flying Lotus will perform on the main stage at CenturyLink Field’s North Lot.

The idea for the event stemmed from conversations that Paul Allen, investor, philanthropist and Microsoft co-founder, has been having for years with those in the music and entertainment industries. As someone who’s passionate about Seattle and its local music scene, “[Allen] is committed to seeing Upstream succeed as an event that supports local artists and can find new solutions for the music industry,” said an event spokesperson. “We believe there’s a need for an artist-centric festival and industry summit. The Northwest is a natural melting pot of creative industries; the people here are also open-minded trendsetters.”

Organizers received more than 1,200 submissions from both emerging and established talents. “Seattle has a vibrant music community that deserves more exposure, resource and attention,” a festival spokesperson commented. “This was at the forefront of our minds throughout the process. We were blown away by the response we received from artists here.” The lineup covers genres including hip-hop (:30, Grynch, SassyBlack, The Flavr Blue, ZELLi), folk (Kuinka, Laura Gibson, Mike McCready & Friends, Star Anna) and rock (Iska Dhaaf, The Grizzled Mighty, Smokey Brights, The Maldives, Versing).

The Flavr Blue
The Flavr Blue will perform at Upstream Music Fest + Summit in May.

The locale for Upstream seemed a natural choice. “The arts have always been important to Pioneer Square,” a festival spokesperson explained. “It is not the sleepy neighborhood it once was, and we’re excited to show everyone in Seattle and beyond that something special is happening there.”

“If someone comes away from the festival with a new favorite local band or a new appreciation for the diversity of our music scene, then that is a win.”

Find tickets and event details at

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