The inaugural Upstream Music Fest and Summit began this morning with an onstage interview between a Stranger Genius (Seattle musician/writer/treasure Ahamefule J. Oluo) and an unqualified genius (musician/producer/wizard Quincy Jones). Despite rumors of low ticket sales (UPDATE: On Thursday night, an Upstream rep said "that rumor is totally untrue. We have been pleased by the response we've received from musicians and fans."), this event was well-attended and inspiring.
As the rest of Upstream's events and performances roll out over the next few days, I've heard a lot of people keep asking the same questions about the festival's conception, while others have raised more pointed concerns about its relationship to the city's arts community. I asked Jeff Vetting, executive director of Upstream, to address some of the lingering curiosity. Herewith, an FAQ:
Upstream Speaker/Artist/Curator @SassyBlack_ SO HYPED to meet the legend @QuincyDJones. Showed him her Thriller tat at the #UpstreamSummit! pic.twitter.com/iFsm4Fvywx
— Upstream Music Fest (@UpstreamFest) May 11, 2017
1) There’s no delicate way to ask this, so here is the blunt way: Do we need another festival?
Absolutely. Emerging talent is the heart of any music scene and this event provides a unique platform for those artists. We see a need for an event that incorporates both a fest experience and a summit experience and have been really pleased with the response we’ve received so far. In addition to providing 300+ artists the opportunity to play at a music festival, we are bringing together the regional music industry with other major industries like tech, gaming and design to dig into the most pressing opportunities and challenges currently facing the music industry. We hope to give working bands more exposure and opportunities to make a living here and not have to move to another city to make it to the next level in the industry.
2) Why Pioneer Square?
Pioneer Square is a great neighborhood for this type of event and we’ve enjoyed working closely with the Alliance for Pioneer Square and the neighborhood. It has such a rich music history, fantastic businesses that will serve as unique venue spaces and it’s a hub for public transportation making it easily accessible. We’ve partnered with the Seattle Streetcar to offer festival-goers free rides and to operate later than normal, as well as with ReachNow to establish Drop Zones at the festival.
3) Why the emphasis on unconventional venues?
Pioneer Square is a neighborhood with a rich history and super cool venues that we really want to showcase. The variety of traditional and non-traditional venues in varying sizes is unparalleled and will provide attendees a unique experience with the artist.
4) Leaving aside the sheer volume of talent on display at Upstream (which is obviously formidable), do you think that a price tag between $40/$65 per day and $325 for the weekend is fair and realistic—particularly when a high percentage of the artists on the bill play regularly in town?
With 300+ artists performing at Upstream it’s a lot of band for your buck. While you can see many of the artists around town, you won’t find another event where you can see and discover this volume of artists from across the region. We have options for a range of interests — from single day tickets to the full fest and summit experience. In addition to providing the opportunity to see 300+ artists play at the music festival, we are bringing local musicians together with the regional music industry and other major industries like tech, gaming and design to dig into the most pressing opportunities and challenges currently facing the music industry.
5) Are all the artists who are performing being paid?
Yes, and this was important to fulfilling our mission of supporting emerging artists. It is not often local artists are paid to perform at festivals and we think it is important to provide monetary compensation in addition to exposure playing at a festival offers artists.
6) Did the artists have to agree to blackout periods to be hired? (If so, how long?)
We made a real conscious effort to have a fair radius clause for our main stage artists and waived any radius clause for our regional artists to ensure they are getting as much work as possible.
7) Have advance ticket sales met your expectations?
We have been blown away by the response we’ve received to date from music lovers and artists and are looking forward to a great event.
8) Obviously, these questions have emphasized the music performance element of the event. The themes of the Summit (Streaming and Beyond, Data and Analytics, Globalization, and Industry Collision) and the questions posed by the panel titles seem to lean heavily toward the industry side of the music + industry equation, though there are obviously several reputable musicians involved. Do you think there is sufficient industry in Seattle to make the Summit Sessions a draw?
We do and we are bringing together the regional music industry with other major industries here like tech, gaming and design to turn the Summit into a premier event if you are an emerging artist or a company wanting to find ways to collaborate with the music industry, especially here in the region. The topics that will be addressed at the Upstream Summit will help prepare our regional artists be savvy as the music industry shifts from traditional to more dynamic business models.
9) We know there are lots of people working very hard to make Upstream happen. What exactly is Paul Allen’s role?
Upstream is Paul’s vision and he is dedicated to supporting Upstream and helping it to eventually stand on its own. As you know, he’s passionate about Seattle and the local music scene, so is committed to seeing Upstream succeed as an event that supports local artists.
10) Presuming you have time to see any, are there shows you’re especially excited for?
Everything! If I were a fest-goer I would really have a hard time narrowing down my schedule, but a couple that really stick out to me personally are the Wimps at Axis, Constant Lovers at Central Saloon, Hibou at Court in the Square, COSMOS at Buttnick Building Washington and The Last Artful, Dodgr at Trinity.