Tingting Wu

New Year, New Changes for Upstream Music Fest and Summit (DMNW Review)

This year has been a year of changes and improvements for music festivals, from the brand new and improved EDC Las Vegas, to an improved Upstream experience in Seattle. Upstream had a date change this year from May, to June, and with the date change, we were able to (mostly) avoid the rain.

Overall, Upstream this year had major improvements, and was more exciting and engaging than the inaugural year in 2017. Dance Music Northwest was able to attend this year, here’s our break down.

The Summit

odesza upstream summit

Odesza at Upstream Summit

Last year the Summit brought in big names like Quincy Jones and Macklemore, but booking the entire WaMu Theatre for a two-day summit ended up feeling like a bit much. This year, the Summit was streamlined to one day, and was spread across four of the venues that would later host music. Suffice it to say, the use of space and time were vastly superior.

The Summit was full of interesting talks for artists and industry personnel alike. Odesza spent time chatting about life on the road and how to stay healthy. Next Big Sound stressed the importance of managing your songwriting data and learning from analytics. PlayNetwork, Sub Pop, and Add3 all talked about how to rock social media as an artist.

The favorite panel, however, was with storied musician and Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. You might expect that Krist is still playing bass, and he is, but did you also know that he has political ambitions? How about that he’s a pilot? Or that he’s a bean farmer? If we learned anything from his talk, it’s that even being a part of the most seminal grunge band of all time doesn’t have to be your final act, or the only thing that defines you.

The music

The main stage at Upstream had a complete makeover this year. The area’s space seemed more like a music festival and had many activities for the festival goers. The VIP section improved from last year’s iteration, including a view deck, a fully-stocked bar, and lawn chairs directly facing the stage. The food area also included many local favorites.

Photo: Tingting Wu

Beyond the main arena, what makes Upstream so special is the assemblage of smaller venues that are spread throughout Pioneer Square. During the three days of the festival, police shut down the surrounding streets to the public, making it a true walking festival. You could even walk from venue to venue in the middle of the street! The setup for the smaller venues seemed better than the year before with more variety in each venue. For future attendees, note that many venues are 21+, so if you are not of age, you will not be able to enter.

Photo: Tingting Wu

The lineup this year topped last year’s in our opinion. The first day catered to the younger and more mainstream crowd, with Super Duper Kyle, Little Dragon, and Miguel as the headliners. The crowd was packed when Miguel came out for his performances. For the second and third days, it was not as mainstream.

We saw a lot of great electronic acts at Stage Nightclub (Walker and Royce), and unique artists at Trinity and Comedy Underground. The variety this year was broad, from electronic, to folk, to underground rap. All in all, it was clear that the festival was trying to expose artists to potential fans and music lovers, all in a large-scale setting.

Photo: Tingting Wu

We can’t wait to see what Upstream 2019 has to offer, as things continue to trend upward for this Seattle festival. What do you think about Upstream 2018? Let us know in the comments below!

Additional contributions to this article from Glen Sears