Mike McCready at Comedy Underground during the 2017 Upstream Music Fest + Summit Sunny Martini

Behind the Music:
Upstream Music Fest + Summit 2018

Pioneer Square’s annual music festival is back for year two—here’s what you need to know.

By Anna Edlund


Last spring, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen brought a taste of South by Southwest to the Pacific Northwest with the inaugural Upstream Music Fest + Summit. The breakout festival returns to the Pioneer Square neighborhood June 1—3, this time with an ambitious lineup of more than 200 local and big-name artists playing at two main stages and 15+ venues spanning trendy restaurants to tucked away courtyards.

Known as Seattle’s “first neighborhood,” Pioneer Square’s musical roots run deep. From the Jazz Age to the grunge era, the area served as the “epicenter of the sound and culture of the Northwest,” says Upstream producer Rebecca Camarda. Upstream has embraced the area’s history by working closely with the neighborhood to utilize historic buildings as venues. Many are guest curated by music experts, from Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic to local music mainstay Sub Pop Records.

Aluna George on the Main Stage at the 2017 Upstream Music Fest + Summit Brian Oh

While last year’s festival focused largely on regional acts, this time around there are plenty of heavy hitters with headliners like Miguel, The Flaming Lips, and the recently reunited Jawbreaker. There will still be a strong emphasis on local artists, says Upstream Programmer Meli Darby, noting that 65 percent of the lineup hails from the Pacific Northwest (think groups like Tacocat, Sol, and SassyBlack).

“When we set out to program this year, we wanted to accomplish a few different things: present a diverse lineup that spans genres, create an interesting dialogue between local, regional and international bands, and specifically at a regional level, provide a snapshot of music in our region right now,” Darby says.

With last year’s attendance clocking in at upwards of 30,000 festivalgoers, Upstream expects an even bigger turnout this summer and has expanded to two main stages (the Amazon Music Main Stage and KEXP Stage) in its Sound Lot for headlining performers. Befitting any music festival worth its salt, plenty of food and drink spots will be scattered throughout the neighborhood for a bite between sets.

Mike McCready at Comedy Underground during the 2017 Upstream Music Fest + Summit Sunny Martini

Whether you’re an aspiring artist or just interested in how the music industry works, the one-day Summit on June 1 offers more than 12 sessions on navigating the music world, led by producers, creative directors, and other leaders in the field. (Keynote speakers at the inaugural summit included Macklemore, Quincy B. Jones, and Portia Sabin.)

This year, Upstream has partnered with the Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter to “focus in and leverage” the Recording Academy’s depth of experience across all factions of the music industry, Camarda says. “What we heard from Summit attendees last year is they really benefited from the breakout sessions—small group discussions with industry professionals that provided actionable and technical takeaways. With this partnership, the Summit will tap into local and regional industry experts, as well as national guests, to help artists and industry professionals succeed in their careers.”


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